In 1998, as Victor Rodriguez planted Life Church on the south side of San Antonio, the core team had a desire to reach a community in the midst of change. What was once a predominantly Anglo population of German descent, had transformed into a more Hispanic community. As his team began going door-to-door, they expected to meet mainly Mexican American families and individuals; however, they soon found that the Latinos in the area were from a variety of cultural backgrounds—Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Columbian, and many other Central and South American countries.
Over the last 20 years, Life Church has reached out and embraced the different Hispanic cultures and adapted many aspects of community ministry and their weekly worship services to minister to those around them. Now, the church is comprised of individuals from many different Latino cultures, first, second, third and fourth generation Hispanic Americans, and both English and Spanish-speakers.
Each Sunday morning, Life Church has three distinct worship services aimed at different generations and cultures within their fellowship. The 9:01 a.m. traditional service is for “those who prefer hymns and a calm approach to creating a relationship with God,” according to the church’s website. The second service, at 10:15 a.m., includes teaching and worship completely in Spanish. The English Contemporary service is at 11:30 a.m. and is described as a place for “those who like the music louder and who prefer a more energetic approach to church.”
As a Hispanic church reaching a multi-generational, multi-lingual congregation, Life Church embraces the opportunities of meeting needs in the community and sharing the hope of the Gospel.
The community ministry is as varied as the congregants who enter the church every week. From hosting t-ball and soccer league for area children to hosting block parties for hundreds of neighbors, the church members seek opportunities to meet needs and get to know their neighbors. Volunteers mentor students at the local junior high, and families pack Thanksgiving baskets to deliver to others in need each November. Other church members organize the Father’s Day Car Show each year, which features antique cars on display in the church parking lot. Life Church does not have a large budget for events, but they find ways to include local businesses to serve as sponsors and give back to the community.
“The common denominator in all we do is to connect with people and share the Gospel,” said Rodriguez. “Everything started with the intention that God wanted us to make a difference in the community.”
Raising up leaders to expand and adapt ministries
Throughout his ministry, Rodriguez has committed to raising up leaders and providing on-the-job training in pastoral care and ministry. Two young pastors on the Life Church staff are preparing to transition into the role of senior pastors of Life Church. Rodriguez joined the Texas Baptists staff as the full-time Hispanic Evangelism Associate in August 2019. Josué Rodriguez and Osmán Picholá will both serve in pastoral leadership over Life Church.
Josué, a graduate from the Baptist University of the Americas (BUA), has served on staff at Life Church for several years and had attended the church for more than a decade. He assists with audio/visual needs, young adult ministry and preaches in the English service. Under Rodriguez’s leadership, Josué felt empowered to lead in areas from children’s ministry to mission and community outreach.
“Pastor Victor would ask me, ‘What’s your idea? How can you make it happen?’,” said Josué. “I’ve felt empowered through hands-on training to learn and grow in ministry.”
Within the English service, Josué said the church strives to reach out to third and fourth generation Hispanics and create an environment where they feel comfortable to worship. Many come from a Catholic background and although they may not speak Spanish fluently, they were raised in homes where Spanish was spoken and are familiar with many common references and phrases.
Through sermon illustrations that play off of Hispanic identity, intentional focus on Baptist identity and doctrine, and providing a contemporary worship experience, Josué said the church is meeting the needs of a “Chicano city” and third and fourth generation Hispanic Americans.
“We don’t fit in completely Mexican environments, but also don’t fit in Anglo environments,” he said.
Osmán is a native of Guatemala and came to the United States in 2011 to attend BUA. He has served on the church staff for five years and started by serving in the nursery. He has ministered to youth, children and community members, and is the primary preacher in the Spanish-speaking service, which is comprised of many individuals from Latin American countries.
“In order to serve them well, we have created a service where they feel welcome and where we can serve the people God has brought to us,” Osmán said. “We have seen many first-generation individuals come in the last few months. They are surprised to have church service in their first language [Spanish].”
Osmán shared that it is not always easy to have different groups and generations within the same church. The cultural and language differences can be hard to navigate, what Rodriguez referred to as “organized chaos.” Some individuals were hesitant and resistant to changes, but ultimately, great ministry has resulted from hard work and pushing forward.
“As Pastor Victor says, ‘Look for challenges, because it motivates you to look for solutions,’” he said. “We may have cultural differences. We may have language differences, but we serve the same God.”