Every church has unique DNA. Even among like-minded churches, distinctives exist which demonstrate the diversity of the body of Christ, spread across every region of the planet, among countless cultures and subcultures. As the new lead pastor of Emaus Church, I have observed with delight how God has crafted this local church. With joy, I want to share both what I am already observing and where I envision us going.
Emaus is a diverse church. We are multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-generational, and diverse along social lines. Because of the outward nature of these kinds of diversity, this is typically one of the first things that people notice. A majority of our church is Hispanic, but a significant minority has other ethnic backgrounds. God has blessed us with people who are Asian, Middle Eastern, African-American, Pacific Islander, and Anglo. We also have several inter-racial families in our church that further display the glory of the gospel. A large portion of our church is bi-lingual, with some who speak English as a first language, but many who do not. A portion of our church that is primarily Spanish-speaking meets in another building on the property,
Although our church polity is elder-led-congregational, Emaus is a lay-empowered church. I am the only full-time staff member at the church. Lay-people oversee and drive the majority of our church’s ministries. Although we honor the office of pastor, the pastor is not a one-man show. Everyone in our church is encouraged to work in one of our ministries. One of the greatest joys in joining this fellowship is observing how God has raised up many men in the church who feel called to preach or serve in a pastoral role. We are blessed with three lay elders, several other men who are seeking training, and a host of other members actively ministering together.
Emaus is unapologetically and intentionally urban. Urban ministry is not a trend for us: it is an essential part of our DNA. We worship in the largest city in northern California, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, in the shadow of our better known neighbor—San Francisco. The church property is in east side San Jose—known for crime, economic distress, and a high percentage of immigrants. A majority of residents in the east side are Latino, with most having roots in Mexico, but the close proximity of Little Saigon and Japan Town illustrate the significant Asian presence as well. African Americans and Anglos make up a small minority. Our immediate neighborhood, Santee, is one of the most impoverished and violent in the Silicon Valley, which itself is one of the most affluent regions in America; the contrast is stark. However, we relish our opportunity to minister in such a context. We pray and labor with boldness, without any regrets. We are a community of missionaries and we take this charge personally. We are up for it.
Emaus is a family. We know this is true theologically and most churches might say that they are a family, but we certainly are. This is true to such an extent that if a person hopes merely to slip in and out of a service unnoticed, Emaus might not be the best church for him. We seek to know each other. We welcome visitors from all stripes, but we believe in covenant membership, which implies biblical fellowship, accountability, and responsibility. You would be hard pressed to find a Lone Ranger Christian in our fellowship.
We are a theologically-driven church. We are evangelical and Baptist. These descriptors are not in our church name, nor on our sign, but they are essential to who we are. We identify with the evangelical tradition in America which goes back to the Puritans, the eighteenth century revivals, and which also underwent renewal in the middle of the twentieth century. We believe in the necessity of the new birth (being born again), biblical authority, gospel mission, and the centrality of the cross. We are Baptist in that we seek a pure church, made up of genuine believers. We believe that baptism is by immersion, only for believers who profess faith. We also believe in congregational polity, that the “buck” of accountability ultimately stops with the local church. For us, theology is not an abstract collection of ideas. Theology sustains and drives us. It tells us who God is, who we are, and what we are to do about it.
At Emaus our preaching is expositional. Soapboxes, empty-therapeutic talks, and mere speeches for inspiration are absent at Emaus. In our preaching, the point of the text is the point of the sermon. We believe that the Word is sufficient in and of itself and represents the means through which God builds up his church. We revere the preaching moment, which represents the center of our worship gathering.
Although we have far to go, Emaus has made intentional moves to be outwardly focused. We do emphasize discipleship and know that much work exists to be done among us, but we acknowledge that a central part of our mission exists beyond those who are already among us. Perhaps most churches would echo this, but our context particularly drives us to this posture. We minister at a local elementary school weekly, in which we share the gospel with children from our neighborhood, and which also leads to ministry to their families. Our missional communities meet across the city to give us a ministry presence beyond our own neighborhood. Perhaps the greater work still remains, for us to grow as intentional missionaries in our daily lives.
I hope this post encourages our people—our church family. I am certainly encouraged by them. This post gives me the chance to restate who Emaus is and where I envision us going, reminding our people, clarifying for guests, and perhaps even encouraging outsiders to join us. I am blessed indeed. I feel like I am pastoring a New Testament church.