Restoration: Our work.

It is our desire to put into words what we, as a church, believe is our dream, our work, and our purpose for being. This is no small task, and, yet, it should be the simplest thing for us to articulate, because if you want to defend your right to have a voice, to contribute, and to belong, you have to let people know why you are here.

Now, much is made of what a church should be, and almost everyone has an opinion on this subject. What we would like to do is make a biblical case (albeit, a fairly short one) for what I am calling a theology of presence. Our hope is that you would come to see that this is indeed a shared theology—one we can all amen and rally around in times of need. In essence, it is our mission statement as a church. Here it goes: Our work is to be on the block, for the city, showing off the glory of Christ.

Presence

To be on the block is to be present. It is to be with neighbor and community in the good and the bad, in the ups and the downs (Romans 12:15). Samuel Wells writes, “The Christian faith is that God originally made, and has endlessly reiterated, a decision never to be except to be with us. And our way of embodying that faith is constantly to look for ways to be with God, with one another, and with the creation.”

“Being with” starts in the creation narrative of Genesis where God creates man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9) and is with them in the garden (Genesis 3:8). This “being with” culminates in what is called the incarnation (literally, in the flesh) of Christ. Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of what was to come (Matthew 7:14), and He did indeed show up! We are on the block because Jesus was on the block and because Jesus became a friend to all (Luke 15:2; Luke 7:34).

This was always the way it was supposed to be. Our presence starts and ends with Jesus (Revelation 21:6). He is, like Joshua Ryan Butler writes in The Pursuing God , our “Once upon a time” and our “Happily ever after” (1 Peter 1:20).

Justice

To be for the city is to join Jesus in his mission to see that every child, woman, and man in the South Bronx gets to experience Christ and His justice. The book of James tells us that to practice pure religion is to care for the most vulnerable in our society (James 1:27). Jesus Himself rebukes the religious elite of His day because they kept flawless records of their deeds, but ignored the weightier issues of compassion and care of all (Matthew 23:23). In Isaiah, God calls for a breaking of chains, an untying of ropes, and freedom for the oppressed (Isaiah 58:6). In the middle of a synagogue study session, Jesus stands up and is handed the scroll containing the words of Isaiah, the great prophet, and just so happens to read the part that states that the Lord, the Holy Spirit was on/in him and he was set apart to preach the good news that he has arrived, on the block, to set the prisoners free and give sight back to the blind (Luke 4:18).

In Jeremiah, God, through the prophet, tells the people to seek the peace of the city that he sent them to. He goes on to state that this pursuit of well being is good for the flourishing of the people (Jeremiah 29:7). He encourages the people to build homes, get jobs, plant gardens, and start families there.

Biblical justice can be defined as “Divinely righteous action, whether taken by humanity or God, that promotes equality among humanity. Used in relation to uplift the righteous and oppressed and debasing the unrighteous and oppressors.”

Our work is to see that every person who breathes oxygen and calls the South Bronx home will have an opportunity to experience Jesus and His justice.

Witness

To show off the glory of Christ is to witness with our words and deeds that there is One who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). Jesus was sent, and now He sends us to preach the good news (John 20:21).

The church—universal and local congregations—are called to show that the hope we have in the gospel creates a community that believes in biblical truths, meets regularly, encourages one another, acknowledges each person’s gifts and calling in the church and the world, and submits to authority (Hebrews 10:19–25).

Jesus sends witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), but that’s not all He does. He also promises to be with us until the end of time itself (Matthew 28:20). We are to witness, make disciples, and plant churches (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48). The church—meaning us—is called to do all of this while doing justice and serving those in need.

Our work is to show off the glory of Christ, to bring the good news to those who need to hear it (Romans 10:13-15), and to evangelize while giving equal attention to the ministry of the word and acts of grace and kindness. We are to witness in word and deed.

Parable, Paraclete, and People – The Art of Pastoring

“Although I didn’t believe in Jesus, I still believed you were saved, and that the grace of God was real in your life”. Words like these of my sister are intriguing, and you almost cannot put your finger on the situation–but many of us who follow Jesus have experiences of this nature with close friends of family. I cannot attribute this to anything other than the surprising grace of God breaking in and through me.

David Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring put words to experiences like this, and broke down for me three realizations necessary for pastoral work: parable, the Paraclete, and people.

Parable

We are living parables of Jesus Christ to those around us. Since Jesus Himself is our Good Shepherd (John 10), pastors follow in His footsteps of shepherding work-leading, feeding, protecting. Through that work, the pastor is able to convey in the flesh the very person of Jesus. When I would listen to my sister, she was experiencing Jesus’ ear, when I would comfort her it tragedy, it was His heart she experience, and when I prayed for her, she knew Jesus had desires for her. This is no small calling. For the pastor, everyday, mundane situations are “Holy Ground” opportunities into which another can be invited. Any day could be the day that God uses you to bring someone into His presence and then have you getting out of the way. The possibility of someone receiving Jesus through me as His parable (Matthew 10:40) is an immense privilege, and I seek to have that mindset in my planned and unplanned ministry.

Paraclete

Walking parables of Jesus must be united to God, which happens through the work of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is the verb...The Holy Spirit is the love of God” (Hansen, 47). Pastors must be filled with this love of God, for how else will they be equipped to convey it to others without first abiding in it themselves?

The entire ability for the pastor to be seen as a faithful, walking parable of Jesus Christ is contingent upon his staying united to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It was the “verb-love” of the Holy Spirit through me that my sister saw and He profoundly impacted her understanding of God’s love–initially towards me, and then later towards her.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is the ‘verb-love’ of God also gives the pastor the ability to serve their congregation by helping them understand what God is doing inside of individual hearts. To congregants that lean heavy on feeling, the pastor can help tie truth to feelings their experiencing. They can point that the goosebumps they sense when pondering the love of God is actually the work of the Holy Spirit inside them to receive these feelings.

Then there are some congregants who understand truth conceptually, but don’t know if the Spirit is at work. To them, the pastor can encourage that those deep times of their sense of the abiding love of God in their heart–those ‘feelings’ they don’t know what to do with–is God’s pouring out His love on us through the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). So when they’re unsure if the Spirit is at work, the pastor can tie their unsure feelings to the truth they know conceptually.

People

Lastly, it’s imperative that I be a deep lover of people. Hansen said, “It is easy to confuse loving being around people with actually loving people” (Hansen, 40). When the pastor himself hurts for those whom he loves when they’re hurting, his love and compassion reaches close towards Jesus’ (Matthew 20:34).

I must feel that type of love for the people around me. This pastoral love-work often looks like spending time with those in great need in my congregation and community. It’s sad and convicting to reflect on my lack of time spent with people who are sick, elderly, or imprisoned–oftentimes I am more concerned with ‘progress’ and ‘building a team’ then ministering as Jesus did. Jesus didn’t spend time with people based on their return on investment, as as a parable of Jesus, neither should I.

The Pastor has a great opportunity to be filled with the Spirit and be a walking parable of Jesus to the people around him he loves. This may not always feel like sermon preparation, board meetings, or pot-lucks...but it may. Pastoral ministry implores us not to take any situation too lightly, understanding that we may, in any moment, be used as a conduit of the surprising grace of God. And who knows? You may have an experience like mine, where after five years of praying and asking, God opens your sister’s heart up to the reality of His grace.

 

Art, Poetry, and Pastoring

By Rich Rivera

Pastoring is personal work lived out in a public space. I deal with mysteries, I pray, and I help people manage those mysteries. I find myself telling a lot of stories.

That is why I Found Dave Hansen's The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All of The Answers so refreshing. It spoke a language I need to help me make sense of the work of ministry that is both private and public. This book is not a how to book at all. It doesn't;t give you a net list of ten things to do in order to become an effective pastor. It is not a book about productivity. It is a book about pastoring. An easy to approach collection of little stories packed together to paint a bigger picture of the work we, as pastors, are called to live in. That said, here is my little list of things that are a great help to me, and one thing about this book that I just ain't feeling too tough. 

Language

There is a poetry to this book and to the work we have been called to do as pastors that often goes ignored. I have always felt drawn to poetry and feel as if it comes natural to me. I understand that there is feeling in everything we do, and that feeling is not always easily expressed. Sometimes it (feeling) needs to find a creative way to say it plainly. Hansen uses the idea of poetry really well. He, at some points, messes with me. 

Hansen writes, “people meet Jesus through my life.”, this is frightening and maybe just a little cocky. Well, at least that is the case until I remember the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That always seemed a little arrogant to me and not humble at all. Until I began to pastor. Then, it made all the sense in the world. Pastors love and lead. Often, the chief means we have to do those things are our lives.

Direction

If we are leading people, we must be sure of where we take them. I am learning that I am positionally always going to Jesus. 

When Hansen says that, “Pastoral ministry must be following Jesus Christ.” (p.22), I get it. It helps to make the work I do, or the call I live out and pursue, personal. I follow only because I have been called. Jesus is the one who calls. I walk as I follow him, and the walk is not the same old walk, it is always new (Romans 6:4). It is always good as well (Ephesians 2:10). Pastoring is personal work lived out in a public space.

Parables

I was shocked and happy to learn that, at least in Hansen’s eyes, I am a parable. I convey a message. I become a picture of something to help someone understand or identify with what is way outside our normal capacity to comprehend.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus goes and doing what Jesus says to do. Jesus and the Father are one (John 17). When Hansen writes that Jesus is a parable of God, and that we are parables of Jesus, I want to cry and run away but I get it. It makes sense to me. We look at Jesus to see the Father’s love. Jesus is the parable of God. The bible says it (Philippians 2:5-11) and it goes on to say that it made the Father happy to live in, to abide in, and to dwell in his son Jesus (Colossians 1:19). This is a mystery indeed and I often marvel at the fact that I get to see it and say it every week in many different ways, to many different people. 

Hansen notes that it is crazy that he gets paid to pray, preach, teach, love people, and follow Jesus. It is a huge honor to pastor and lead in this capacity. It is weighty, and I love it. 

The Holy Spirit

I don’t know how I would even do any of this without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes any of this a remote possibility for me. Without the Holy Spirit opening up my eyes, and softening my heart, and making me aware of the creator God’s work and love, I could not do this. No one could. One of the reasons I resonate so much with a fairly large portion of this book is that he gives much attention to the work and importance of the Holy Spirit. Much of our theological pursuits do not allow room for the mystery and the miracles of the Holy Spirit. 

I have, from time to time, tried to find language to help articulate the work I do in a way that honors God and his enabling and sustaining role in all of it. Hansen helped me a lot in this regard. The way he helped me was by bringing it all back to love. 

He calls the Holy Spirit the love of God. This is so good to hear. This is the poetry that helps me be ok with the mystery. Theologically speaking, I may need more to help me understand, but my heart likes this a lot. Thinking of the Holy Spirit as God’s love helps me by reminding me that I am filled with his love and that has to be helpful as I seek to live and to love God’s people. 

Preaching

Hansen mentions preaching with an end in mind and that is very helpful to me as a leader of a church plant. The temptation to preach people pleasing sermons is always there. You want to grow, and you know that everyone comes to church knowing that they are going to give you a nice slice of their time so that you can talk about God to them. You always want to give them a good word. Yet, Hansen rightly states that if we want to preach with power, we need to be “preaching with consequences, thus preaching with power” like the early New Testament church (p.85). he writes that the preaching in the New Testament was eschatological. He encourages the reader to preach with an end in mind. That is powerful and if we are honest, not something we do all the time. If the Holy spirit is both the wind and the wings for my following Jesus, then the Holy Spirit is also the one sitting the people down to hear me preach every Sunday. What do you think he wants me to say? 

I will always remember this when I look out on a Sunday and into the eyes of the people who come to Restoration. It is a great responsibility and it is quite mysterious, but as I have already mentioned, I am ok with mystery. I find it a joy to preach resurrection and gospel courage. Preaching gospel truth makes leading easier. It helps me have difficult conversations, conversations that need to happen, because in preaching resurrection and gospel truth week in and week out, there already exists a framework for loving challenge to take place. 

Prayer

The only point in Hansen’s book where I was not thoroughly encouraged, and I found myself a little less than clear, was in his chapter on prayer. For me, prayer is such a beautiful gift to the church and it is especially beautiful to those who have to pastor. I can’t say that I have a problem with his way of painting prayer, but I found it fluffy and a little weak in places. I tend to lean towards a Baxter or Sanders view of prayer. It is powerful it is scary. It is all of grace. What prayer is not for me is a conversation. It is a pleading and an act of reverence rooted in love for the people the Lord has placed me among. It is not a dance with a partner. That is how I left his section on prayer. I left feeling like it was a something I could do if I wanted. He didn’t seem as passionate about prayer as I would have anticipated. This chapter just didn’t have teeth and I did not find it helpful for my development as a leader. 

Conclusion

If you are a pastor or are aspiring to be one, read this. God will use it to confirm, convict, and clarify your call. 

Seek The Lord

By Rich Rivera

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself once again going down a YouTube rabbit hole. I have found that this habit can be both a blessing and a curse. This particular day, I ended up watching a Cornel West video where he was being asked a series of questions in regards to the plight of the African American community. He said something that moved me deeply. In talking of how slaves kept their faith by hiding it, Dr. West said that slaves would steal away at night to go down to the river where they would hold hands and lift their voices up as one. Then he said this: "Voices create community." What a powerful little sentence: Voices create community.

Beloved, the time has come for the folks who call Restoration home to lift our voices as one. The time has come to raise a joyful noise as a joyful people. I believe we have already begun to do so. And in all integrity, I can say that we as a church are on the precipice of blessing and growth. Not just numerical growth, but spiritual maturity. We are so close to what we have been asking for: a church that is present, in every way—on the block, at the bodega, and at the parks of the South Bronx.

How do I know this? Because we got Satan’s attention. He has taken notice, and we are now faced with what the "old" church called demonic opposition. To some this is a new thing, but to many who come out of particular church traditions this is a known reality. When God is moving in a people and things are changing, Satan intensifies his presence and begins the work of disrupting the move of the Holy Spirit among a people. 

Now, this scares me, but by no means do I feel defeated. I am not tapping out. In fact, this leads me to pray and seek God's Word for His voice in order that we would find our collective voice and lift it up as one.

The Lord graciously led me to 2 Chronicles 20. In this passage, King Jehoshaphat learns that his enemies have come together as one to beat down the people of God. Jehoshaphat was afraid, but not defeated. He resolved to seek the Lord. He proclaimed a fast for the nation, and everyone came together as one to pray and to fast. In the assembly of the people, Jehoshaphat lifted up his voice in prayer. He was confident. He was bold. He knew that all he knew was that they needed to seek the Lord. And guess what happened? The Holy Spirit came upon one man among them who stood up bravely and spoke what the Spirit spoke to him.

What do you think God had to say? God said the battle was His. He said that the people were to position themselves and stand still. God tells them to not be afraid or discouraged, because He is with them. Jehoshaphat postured himself before the Lord and the people followed his lead. Jehoshaphat and his people came up with the idea of having some people assigned to sing and others assigned to praise the Lord.

What do you think happened after that? God turned their enemies against one another. They beat themselves. The people learned that the fight was the Lord's and their job was to show up, fast, pray, sing, and praise. We can learn much from this. We have to learn much from this. God will fight for us. We jsut have to show up.