the shape of leadership

Go and Do Likewise!

A Q&A with Wilfredo ‘Choco’ De Jesús

Influence Magazine on January 15, 2020

Prior to becoming general treasurer of the Assemblies of God in 2019, Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús served as senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago. New Life is a multisite congregation in city-center Chicago with over 100 holistic ministries serving the entire community. In this interview, De Jesús shares how churches can contribute to the holistic transformation of their neighborhoods.

INFLUENCE: Churches care about the spiritual state of their neighbors. Why should they care about their physical, material, and social states too?
DE JESÚS: Because that’s what Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Here you have a guy — broken, bleeding, abandoned. He didn’t need to be prayed about or left by the side of the road. He needed to be cared for.

The Samaritan made a significant investment of his own time and resources to care for this victim. And Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “Go and do likewise.” So, it is crucial for local churches to have that type of compassion, not just for the spiritual part of people, but for the whole of them.

The phrase “redemption and lift” describes how spiritual commitment transforms the totality of a new believer’s life. How did you see this work in Chicago?
I’ve seen women who were prostitutes become ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). I’ve seen that happen when people who were drunks and drug addicts totally exchange their passions. The money they were spending on abusing substances they now spend promoting missions.

“When you see a need no one else is meeting, step into that gap and fill it!”
— Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús

But I’ve also seen change happen in less dramatic ways. New Life has a grocery ministry that feeds 200 families weekly; ministries to teach people how to write a resume, get and keep a job, and improve their financial situation; a ministry to help people expunge their legal records after incarceration so they can get a fresh start. Even when people don’t attend the church, we must try to help them in practical, life-changing ways.

What can churches do to tangibly demonstrate their commitment to neighborhood transformation?

First, look for others doing good work in your community. There are nonprofit charities and federal, state, and local agencies whom you can work with to better your neighborhood.

Second, bring those resources to bear on the needs in your neighborhood. For example, New Life sponsored outreaches where we brought together nonprofits and agencies so our neighbors could meet with them.

In 2014, New Life received the Good Neighbor Award from the Chicago Association of Realtors because we were making a measurable impact on the quality of life in our community. We can’t just sit in a corner, not pay taxes, and do nothing else to transform our neighborhoods. We need to be engaged. So, third, try to be a good neighbor.

Fourth, engage the gaps that exist in your communities. When you see a need no one else is meeting, step into that gap and fill it!

Finally, as pastors, see yourselves as the pastor of the entire community, even if they don’t attend your church. Or, to put it a little differently, see the entire community as your church.

How can pastors and churches do these things without losing sight of evangelism, calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?
If we preach the gospel, there is never conflict between repentance and social concern. Repentance as preached by John the Baptist and Jesus Christ always calls for total life-change.

Unfortunately, there is a watered-down gospel today that accommodates the culture in one way or another. Pastoring is like refereeing an NFL game. We’ve got to be on the field, ready to throw the flag when there’s injustice or unnecessary roughness. We’ve got to be impartial, calling out the sins and flagrant violations of whoever is playing, not showing partiality, but encouraging everyone equally to play by God’s rules in every aspect of their lives.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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