As the plane began its descent into the Los Angeles airport, I saw thick columns of smoke billowing up from the city. That day in 1992, the Los Angeles riots opened my eyes and heart to the needs of my community. As the overseer of 50 churches in the area, I was haunted by questions about the strife that had overtaken my city: “Why is the city on fire? Where is the salt and light?”
As a pastor, my quest to better serve my community is deeply connected to my faith. In this context, the 1992 riots were a violent manifestation of the brokenness of the city. As I pondered the best way to address this need, I began to focus on the importance of Latino pastoral ministry that meaningfully speaks to the broader community.
Shortly after the riots, I transitioned from my position as a denominational officer to academia, where I spent the next two decades. While at Azusa Pacific University and Vanguard University, I taught racial-ethnic minority students, particularly those interested in theology and pastoral ministry. Although I enjoyed working with these students, I felt a nagging concern that the church was still failing to address the needs of the entire population.
Shortly after leaving Vanguard, I was interviewed by The Economist magazine for a special issue on Latinos in America (March 14, 2015). Reading the article, I was struck by the journalist’s description of my community. In his estimation, Latinos can solve the demographic issues descending on industrialized countries: “America has been granted an extraordinary stroke of luck: a big dose of youth and energy, just as its global competitors are greying.”
As I felt the magnitude of my community’s potential contribution, my conviction deepened that Hispanic pastors and churches needed to better equip people with an understanding of ministry that extends beyond the pulpit. As the Latino population rises, we will play an increasing role in the American family and our flourishing will be intimately connected to the flourishing of the broader community.
In the Latino evangelical community, we refer to experiences like the riots and the article as “God moments.”
In these moments, the Spirit directs us to act in response to a new and deeper apprehension of what it means for us to exercise God-honoring dominion in this world. In my case, these moments led me to expand churches’ capacity to promote human flourishing through whole-life discipleship, particularly surrounding work, economic freedom and development.
John L. McKnight, co-director of Northwestern University’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute, said that “communities are never built on needs and deficiencies, but rather on gifts and capabilities.” Today, the Jesse Miranda Center at Latin American Bible College is developing the gifts and capabilities of Hispanic pastors in Southern California by closing the divide between the sacred and the so-called secular, between the Sunday worship experience and the Monday workday.
We are also closing the divides between cultures (North/South) and language (English/Spanish). By closing these gaps, we can engage more deeply with the community and promote its flourishing.
In addition to creating a new curriculum and certificate program promoting the integration of faith, work and economics, we will train six cohorts of pastors in Southern California — both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking — to better minister on issues surrounding vocation and economics. In this effort, we will draw on support and resources from Made to Flourish: A Pastors’ Network for the Common Good, an organization out of Kansas City that helps pastors encourage and equip their congregants to live integrated and flourishing lives.
All Christians are called to ministry by virtue of their baptism. The connection between faith, work and economics answered my questions about the involvement of the church in every area of life for the betterment of the community. By equipping God’s people for works of service, many of which will be offered through their paid and unpaid daily work, pastors can minister to the entire community in every aspect of their lives.
We can help to heal the broken city through our diligent work. As pastors and churches celebrate the contribution workers and entrepreneurs make through their labors, whole communities will flourish. “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices” (Proverbs 11:10).
• Jesse Miranda, D.Min., is president of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, CEO emeritus of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and executive presbyter for the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Fred Oaks is a director for the Faith, Work, & Economics Program at The Kern Family Foundation.
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.