Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ministering the Ordinary Means of Grace in a Booming International Community

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a planned series of articles written by Greenville Seminary alumni describing their current ministries and the role their GPTS education plays in it. Lou Veiga is Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. He is currently the Stated Clerk of Houston Metro Presbytery and also serves on the Review of Presbytery Records Committee of the General Assembly. Lou (Luis) was born in Havana, Cuba, and became exiled with his family to America in 1960 after Castro’s communist revolution. He and his wife, Suzi, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and they are the parents of two beloved boys, Daniel (14) and Michael (12).

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By Pastor Lou Veiga

If I could summarize my ministry to the saints at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Houston, I would say that mine is a regular ministry in an unusually opportune time and place.

By a regular ministry I mean that the Biblical mandates for pastoral leadership and service have been in place since I was installed as the senior pastor (and practically the sole pastor) at Covenant in 2009: the church meets to worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day, the ordinances of consecutive Bible preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are regularly administered, the discipleship of youth and adults is accomplished in the Sunday School and at various Bible studies by gifted elders and teachers, and nouthetic counseling is offered to any in need. Regular visitation of the elderly, the sick, and our members and church visitors is now in place. The church has, through God’s blessing, grown significantly in number and in spiritual maturity since my arrival. But a regular ministry of this sort may be found at most any Reformed church, and that is hardly anything exceptional to write about. 

At the same time, this regular ministry is situated in place that is drawing the whole world to itself. As you may have read in World Magazine, or perhaps witnessed first-hand at our recent PCA General Assembly, Greater Houston is a 6-million strong port city that handles more freight by tonnage than any city in North America. At a time when the rest of the country is supposedly inching out of recession, Houston is experiencing a booming economy, with the gas and oil sector flourishing because of innovations in mining and liquefied natural gas. This has induced over 90 language groups from over 120 countries to live here at this time. What has made matters so interesting is that Covenant is smack-dab in the middle of the “energy corridor” – the home offices of petroleum giants such as British Petroleum (BP), and the epicenter of all of this commotion.

Covenant PCA in Houston, Tex. with Pastor Veiga (center, red necktie)
So as I looked forward in 2009 to my move to Houston to assume the pastorate, I knew that my Spanish and bi-cultural experience would come in handy, Texas historically being a land of gringos and Latinos together. But my ears would soon hear many more languages and dialects than my own native tongues: French, Dutch, Farsi, Afrikaans, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Eritrean languages can all be heard in our congregation. Together with this mix is added the further contrasts of wealthy and poor, highly educated and hardly educated, white and blue collars, young and old, healthy and sick, single, married, widowed, divorced, Reformed and not-so-Reformed, all packed into a congregation of about 180 people.  Our time here at Covenant represents an unusual opportunity to reach a great diversity of people. The Lord has simply led them right to our doorstep.

There are no special programs in place with which to draw such people. We do not advertise (maybe we should). Our neighborhood outreach is small and still developing. Our minimalist web site deserves much more attention than it gets, but there is really no time or resource for that. We are not on the radio, or the television, although people seem to find us easily through SermonAudio.com. I have published nothing, and I am not a gospel celebrity. I do not blog. And yet the people find our church.  They come because Jesus Christ is preached here simply and in a manner that, hopefully, is faithful to the Bible. God sends out His Spirit, and He leads them to his sanctuary to be shepherded, fed, dressed, and loved.  That’s what is happening at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Houston.

There are two basic things that are in place which are working very well here, and I attribute these to my years of study at GPTS, and especially to the godly examples of my professors.

The first is the stress on the devotional, study and prayer life of the pastor. At seminary, it was hammered into me that piety comes first, then study and ministry. Ministry, but especially sermon preparation and delivery, is birthed in the prayer closet, in private devotion, in Bible reading, and in contemplation. If this discipline had not been in place, the sheer span of pastoral duties would have overwhelmed me; subsequently, the quality and quantity of the work would have suffered. All ministry is to be done from the overflow of the heart, with gratitude to God and in joyful surrender. That’s the first thing and of prime importance.

The second thing that I learned at GPTS which is bearing fruit in Houston is an interest in a truly Biblical catholicity. It may seem a paradox to many that subscription to the Westminster Confession and its standards, that narrow English Puritan production from the 16th Century, would lead a church into catholicity. Yet Westminster is arguably the best Bible-based consensus, the broadest and deepest agreement among any people anywhere concerning the faith and practice of the church. Westminster’s Biblical catholicity commends itself marvelously well to the multi-nationalism of this time and place. You see, many well-meaning American Christians are so ensconced in their monolingual, mono-cultural, 21st century, individualistic castles that they are challenged to correctly see themselves as they relate to extra-nationals – especially in the worship, the preaching, and in the life of the church. Visiting foreigners have a clever nose and can discern between a godly spirituality and niche marketing, between a church that is safe because there are few differences among the people versus a truly Christ-centered sanctuary that embraces the nations. The more Biblical the worship and life of the church, the more it will satisfy the universal saint of all time. So we sincerely and unabashedly subscribe to the deepest and broadest consensus available in history; yet to the visitor it just feels like the Bible. This is an important lesson for any pastor, or any Christian, to learn.

One of the goals of the pastoral search committee that originally interviewed me was to have the Covenant membership reflect the neighborhood in which we live. By God’s grace that goal is being more and more realized. The neighborhood has changed, and so have we. Please pray that Covenant Presbyterian Church will be faithful in serving the needs of all of God’s people in this unique time and place, to the praise of His glory.