I grew up in a minister’s home in Mexico. My parents, my siblings, and I migrated to the US and experienced all of the blessings and challenges of moving to a new country and ministering in a different culture. I experienced culture shock, and it affected me spiritually for some time. By God’s grace, I overcame that struggle and surrendered to God’s call on my life for ministry. During 33 years of ministry, I have had the privilege of pastoring small, medium, and large congregations in both primarily Hispanic and Anglo contexts. As the child of an immigrant pastor who has ministered in multi-cultural contexts in both Spanish and English, I have learned much. Here are five great truths that have helped me minister in such congregations:
1. The Great Commandment (Being and Doing)
As an evangelical, it has been the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) that has often driven my ministry. But the longer I have been in ministry the more I grow to appreciate the centrality of the Great Commandment. While I still believe that the Great Commission is a priority, I believe that it should flow from the Great Commandment: Mark 12:30-31.
Whether we serve in a small or large congregation, there is always the pressure to do more. We need to make disciples, preach the gospel, provide leadership, and give pastoral care to our congregation. The danger is that we get so caught up in “doing” that we forget about “being.” The risk is burnout, spiritual drought, and fruit that won’t last. Focusing on loving God with all of our being helps us to start with the “being” and let the “doing” be an outcome of that love relationship (John 15:5). Let your ministry flow from the Great Commandment. Love God and from that relationship love others as you serve them.
2. The Great Ministry Assignment (Marriage and Parenting)
What do you consider your greatest ministry assignment? If you are married, I submit that your greatest ministry assignment is to be a loving husband to your wife. If you have children, that assignment includes caring for your children well.
Growing up in a minister’s home and watching other minister families, I observed how some church leaders assumed that “Seeking first the kingdom” meant sacrificing your family. But that’s a wrong understanding of the minister’s priorities. One of the most important qualifications for a pastor in the Scriptures is to be a good husband and father (1 Timothy 3:2a, 4-5). The Bible calls for the pastor to lead out of his ministry to his own family.
The most important church members in your congregation are your wife and your children. (If you are a single pastor, you must give priority to your friendships and relationships, which are like a family to you). I have seen ministers who neglect their marriages and their families. I have seen divorce in a minister’s family, and children who stray away from the faith. When that happens everyone loses: the minister, the family, and the ministry. For what shall it profit a man if he wins the whole world but he loses his own family?
3. The Great Fallacy (Ethnocentrism)
In my observation of Hispanic work, one of the greatest contributors to conflict is lack of cross-cultural awareness. Often church people assume that, because they share the label “Hispanic” or because they speak Spanish or because they share similar last names, they have the same culture. Some first generation pastors who come from various parts of Latin America assume they are coming to minister in the same cultural context. I have been in congregations where there are second- and third-generation Hispanics, Argentines, Puerto Ricans, Panamanians, Mexicans from urban and rural regions, Cubans, and Colombians. When conflict arises, people often attribute it to lack of spirituality or lack of respect and maturity, when it is simply cultural differences. We assume that our way is the only right way and we spiritualize it.
JULIO S. GUARNERI