I am sitting at my desk and chair at the church I’ve served for 9 years for the last time. The hugs and goodbyes have been heartfelt and encouraging as we step into this new challenge in downtown L.A. I couldn’t help but be nostalgic as I sorted through books and files that I’ve collected while pastoring here.
One paper I came across was 15 years old. It was my application essay for Fuller Seminary’s MDiv program that I applied to in 1996. What struck me was my description of the ministry I served at that time as the College Director for Bel Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles. Back in the spring of 1996 when I wrote the essay there were about 100-200 of us who gathered each Sunday night for worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship that I helped build as a volunteer. What I didn’t know at the time was that the following fall when I would come on staff full-time, it would miraculously swell to 400 students coming each week. It was nothing that I necessarily did except to continue to be faithful as a leader of God’s people and to do my best to help each student grow in their relationship with the Lord and understanding of God’s big kingdom picture.
What an encouragement it was to me to remember God’s faithfulness 15 years ago to bless a ministry in numbers and spiritual vitality. Those were very good times of God’s unexpected blessings. I am praying and dreaming for a portion of that blessing as I serve Union Church of Los Angeles in the coming years. Our God is faithful to finish the work that He began in each one of us and I believe that applies to me and my family right now and our churches as well. I am praying for God’s blessing as I begin my new ministry this weekend to a new group of parishioners who have already welcomed our family even though we don’t know exactly what lies ahead. Thank you for all of your prayers for us in our new adventure. Lord, give us Your dreams!
I recently finished Peterson’s autobiographical work and found myself underlining something on dozens of pages. Perhaps it’s because I have just embarked on a new journey of leading a city-center church that seeks to reach the diverse neighborhood of downtown L.A. that I found his words deeply challenging while refreshingly empowering.
His reflections on starting and leading a church on the East Coast provided rich insight into the challenges of pastoring regardless of your context. In the American Church there is a great emphasis on “getting things done” and I certainly have been one to focus on the pragmatic aspects of church leadership. Peterson encourages a different way:
“the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with one another and with God–this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.'”
Can I learn to be a pastor that is attentive to the subtle realities of what God is up to in people’s lives and in the neighborhood over-and-above the more obvious metrics that I am so accustomed to be attentive to (attendance, budgets, etc.)? I know I cannot ignore these traditional metrics but I will need the discipline to pay attention to the subtle work of the Holy Spirit that isn’t as easily measured. Peterson believes it is this less obvious activity that is most joined with the revolutionary work of the kingdom of God:
“the most effective strategy for change, for revolution–at least on the large scale that the kingdom of God involves–comes from a minority working from margins…a minority people working form the margins has the best chance of being community capable of penetrating the noncommunity, the mob, the depersonalized, function-defined crowd that is the sociological norm of America.”
What is Peterson encouraging? Don’t assume the Holy Spirit is working only in the pragmatic, amongst the majority and on the center-stage. Look for God working in everyday relationships, amongst the minority and in the margins.
As our church seeks the shalom of the city (Jer. 29:7) may we be attentive to the people who come each Sunday and treat them as holy people made in the image of God. Though it may not look like God is working at times, the Holy Spirit is always up to something for the community of faith to discover and then to join God in.
Kati and I said farewell to our St. Andrew’s family of 9 years last Sunday March 20th as we prepare to join the Union Church of Los Angeles in downtown’s Little Tokyo. I was honored to not only give my final pastoral prayer in the services but the children laid hands on Kati and me and prayed for our sad hearts, for Union Church to grow, for Avery to make new friends and for Avery’s sickness to go away (she is on her second day of antibiotics and feeling better). At our goodbye reception between the services, hosted by a stellar team of individuals (too many wonderful people to name), a decadent spread of fruits, chocolates, teas and cookies were laid out amidst a beautifully decorated fellowship hall decked out in cherry blossoms in honor of our new Japanese church family who will be welcoming us to Los Angeles. Pictures from our time at St. Andrew’s scrolled on the screens as we hugged friends, shared stories and cried. It was hospitality at its best. I personally was touched by the dozens who shared an encouraging word of what our ministry meant to them whether through teaching, a pastoral visit, a meal in our home or just a casual encounter. Sometimes you don’t know how much impact you’ve made until you leave. It almost felt like being at my own funeral!
If there is a word of encouragement you haven’t shared with someone who has made a difference in your life, make it a point this week to let them know exactly what they did. I promise that you’ll bless their life by doing so.
Kati and I are sad to leave our St. Andrew’s family but so encouraged knowing that literally hundreds are praying for our new ministry at Union Church. Many have promised to come and visit in the months to come. We hope they do visit so we can show them what God is up to in downtown Los Angeles as we seek the shalom of the city.
Los Angeles is one of the great global cities in the world. It will be one of only nineteen cities that will reach twenty million in population in the 21st century (www.192021.org). Whereas in the year 1800 only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities, by 2005 over 50% did and by 2050 over 67% will live in cities. Cities influence the arts, politics, the economy and media in such a way that as the city goes so goes the culture. But historically the church in the West has abandoned the city for the suburbs leaving shells of formerly great cathedrals and buildings being torn down or renovated for other uses. There is a need for churches to be planted in city-center environments like downtown L.A. and for church renewal to be encouraged as well. Union Church is one of a handful of churches seeking to bring renewal to the great city of Los Angeles by focusing on the burgeoning downtown L.A. renaissance of the past decade. Over 15,000 new residents have moved downtown between 2000 and 2010 creating a timely opportunity and great need for more churches to be reaching out to its new neighbors. Cities attract the rich and poor, the white-collar professional and the artist, a variety of ethnic groups and people from all walks of life. The gospel is needed in this vital city-center downtown which is a significant part of the Greater Los Angeles Metro area, one of the great global cities of the world.
I’ve spent the last 9 years living in the beautiful suburb of Irvine, CA (the nation’s safest city) and working at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA (the nation’s richest city). My wife, toddler and I have had a great time ministering in this environment amongst some great people. In the fall of 2010 we were challenged to consider a very different kind of call to serve a small church in downtown L.A. that was seeking to reach its changing neighborhood. On March 13, 2011, I was unanimously voted in as the new senior pastor by the 80 church members in attendance and began the new adventure of ministering in downtown LA just a few weeks later. This site tells shares the experiences and insights of taking this missional adventure.
Thanks for visiting LApastor.com and learning about our adventures ministering in the great city of Los Angeles. I’ll post material a couple times a week about life in L.A., theology, culture and our family life. I hope you’ll find it interesting and offer some feedback when something grabs you. I hope this can be a place of interaction, mutual learning and relational connection. God has a heart for the great global cities of the world and this is my small part in furthering that value.