Anonymous Letter —  February 1, 2013

I am a 2nd generation Hispanic-American, born and raised in the United States. I am also the pastor of a 1st generation Hispanic, mostly immigrant congregation. You could say that I’m an anomaly by statistical standards since there is no lack of evidence suggesting that many young, 2nd generation young people are leaving the church. Yet, I’m one of a handful of Seventh-day Adventist young adults still actively in church, and even a pastor! If anyone deserves any credit for my journey, it’s only God and His mercy.

I felt the need to share my experience as a 2nd generation young person ministering in a 1st generation Hispanic community. However, I am sharing this anonymously because this could obviously create an issue within my church for being so forthright in my experience. Therefore, no identifying information will be given, but the cases are true and my experiences real. If I were to boil down my main thought that I’d like to share with the leaders of 1st generation Hispanic churches today, it would be the following:

It’s time to accept the fact that the church of today is not the same church that you grew up in. And if you insist on forcing your young people to conform to the way you saw “church” in your own country of origin, you will preserve your culture at the expense of your youth… therefore, choose wisely what you’re more willing to let go of.

I don’t say this lightly or to be sensationalistic, either; this conclusion is based on what I’ve seen and heard during my time as a pastor. To give you an idea of why I said what I did, in many of our board meetings this past year the biggest discussions revolved around:

• Whether the board should discipline a young person for playing drums at home.

• Whether the church should hold a baby shower at our church for an unwed mother.

• Whether to uphold a previous vote of the board to outlaw sugar at potlucks… yes, you read that right.

• Whether unbaptized members were allowed to perform special music during the service.

• Whether the youth and young adult class should be switched to Spanish so that they could talk the language of the church (even though most young people speak more English than Spanish).

• Whether the aforementioned unbaptized members should perform on the platform or from the floor because the pulpit is considered “holy.”

I could go on, but I won’t. Now, my church’s case may be more extreme than others, but this kind of nonsense isn’t foreign to me. Why? Because I grew up in Hispanic SDA churches, and these are the kind of experiences that I, along with many others of my generation, have had. Most have chosen not to deal with it, and have left the church. I’m sure that many of you may have also known of a church or church board who spent more time working as the “holiness patrol” and punishing people for not being perfect, instead of focusing the real purpose of a church board, namely: “evangelism in all of its phases.”

It’s a sad fact that it seems that, at least in my church, the majority of people are more interested in recreating their home churches from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean instead of recognizing that they live in a multi-cultural, multilingual, and multiethnic community. I’m not even going to get into the issues that they’ve had with me because I don’t look, talk, or preach like their
pastor back home. I don’t walk around with a suit and tie and with a Bible under my arm like their other pastors did (I preach from my tablet, but that’s apparently “not the same.”)

I’d like to ask a serious question to all of you readers out there. How can I, as a 2nd generation Hispanic pastor, reach or better understand a 1st generation Hispanic community? Because of the generation and cultural differences that I’ve faced (and because the Adventist church doesn’t have many 2nd generation churches), I’ve sometimes felt like only pastoring English churches from now on. However, I don’t want to give up on “mi gente,” especially since Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographics in our country.

So these are my thoughts. Please feel free to share any thoughts on what I’ve said. Is it just me, or is my situation not as uncommon as some would believe?
-Anonymous 2nd Generation Pastor

Posts Google+

3 responses to Anonymous Letter

  1. It took many years of indoctrination into
    This school of thought and it probably take many more years to “reprogram” them (if possible). Continue to share what the Bible says and how that comes against many of the traditions

  2. i’ve pastored only English speaking churches. I grew up in a Hispanic church. yep, they wanted to do things exactly how they did them in Mexico or Guatemala or (enter your country of choice)! I felt “isolated” growing up in/attending a Hispanic church. why? because I was born and raised here. at the young age of 8 and 9 i think i already understood, well, at least could observe the generational and cultural differences that existed/exist. i longed to go to an “American” church because surely it would be different.

    well, having pastored English speaking churches, “Iglesias Americanas,” i can tell you that i’ve had the sugar discussion (oh my!), the drum issues, the baby shower dilemma, and the list could go on. to meat or not to meat…it’s the same thing here, there, everywhere.

    but you’ve heard of the “kill them with kindness” bit? well, i took the stance (and continue in it) of showing them Jesus. be who you are. pastor in the context and understanding that you grew up in while at the same time being sensitive to the differences of opinion and ideas that exist. you know, agreeing to disagree. the end goal is the same and that should be our driving force whether we’re all for sugar or all against it. you know…

    don’t give up, bro. i get invited all the time to Spanish churches and i always ask them if they are sure because i’m not the typical pastor they are expecting. i have found that just being true to the calling God has placed on me/you, we can’t go wrong. He’s got our back. He’s got our front. He’s got us covered. HE’LL stand out in our ministry even we have differences of opinions and ideas with our church members. HE’LL neutralize it. HE’LL help you minister, educate, and love your “gente.” not too necessarily “win them over to your side of ideas,” but to at least recognize and be able to work within a framework that will best serve the entire congregation, old and young, 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation…courage, bro.

  3. I agree with Trinidad; the overhaul task is huge, lenghty, and difficult. But with that said, a valid question to ask would be, do these churches need to be “changed” or updated? Is that our priority? I believe some churches simply don’t want to change because they don’t see the need, the right vision has never been cast. Don’t want to open a can of worms but you can probably thank your predecessor and the organization for that. I’ve also seen other churches that sadly don’t want to change and drive out the pastors who dare try. In my opinion, urban congregations do have the task of evolving versus the 30 member congregation 4 hours outside the city. But even this evolution has to be purpose driven. If this is the case, and this is your desire for the church, you’re exactly where you need to be. Yes, it’s actually much easier or exciting in perspective to pastor an english church or go out and plant a 2nd generation project. But the transition will never take place for these congregations if pastors like you, who are 2nd generation and can begin a new dialogue with 1st generation, don’t prepare the way of the Lord; a John the Baptist of some sort. I think when you begin to look at your ministry through that lense it changes things, because the project is long term. And you have to accept the possibility of not seeing the bigger results during your stay there, but that’s ok. Look for the smaller changes, changes in relationships. What writer Manny says is true; persecute them with love. When I came to my current church for example, I found that both hispanic/english congregations at first didn’t understand or see where I was leading them. But that changed, they trust me now because they feel we have a relationship of love, they know the pastor is not just casting vision, leading projects, preaching etc, you’re looking out for them. This is a huge tool for me; ministry one on one with families, mentoring their kids, socializing with the old and the young. With that said, be yourself. Be consistent, and in the right times, be vulnerable. They will love you for it.