Restoration: Our work. by Richard Rivera

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 Samuel Wells writes, “The Christian faith is that God originally made, and has endlessly reiterated, a decision never to be except to be with us.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.

Art, Poetry, and Pastoring by Richard Rivera

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.