On Kingdom Soil
On Pentecost Sunday, Joseph M. Lear asked anyone in the congregation able to pray the Lord’s Prayer in another language to do so.
The approximately 75 people in attendance at Resurrection Assembly of God in Iowa City that morning prayed in 13 different languages.
Lear, the church’s lead pastor, says moments like this among the multiethnic congregation reflect the diversity of the community where the church is located.
“That speaks to the sheer number of languages we have represented from Sunday to Sunday,” he says.
Iowa City is incredibly diverse for a Midwestern city of 76,000, Lear says. It has large Latino, African, and Asian communities. A handful of refugee resettlement agencies relocate many who are fleeing conflict in central and eastern Africa, and the University of Iowa draws hundreds of international students.
Lear — the son of Assemblies of God world missionaries Joseph and Alice Lear, who served in Burkina Faso and West Africa — says the church has long reflected the community around it. Since being appointed by the Iowa Ministry Network to lead the congregation in 2016, Lear says he has made it clear the church is not a “white church where black and brown people happen to attend.” Rather, it’s a community that emphasizes and celebrates the diversity of the kingdom of God.
“I say from the pulpit that we need to think of the church as an embassy of the kingdom of God,” Lear says. “The moment you step through the doors, you’re on kingdom soil, and you’re in the same kingdom you were when you worshipped in a church in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), or Lome (Togo), or Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).”
The church is intentional about using unifying practices that reach across cultures, such as praying the Lord’s Prayer and serving Communion every Sunday. Whoever prays during the service is invited to speak in his or her own language. Whispering in the pews is common and encouraged as people translate the sermon to others, he says.
Lear and associate pastor Abby Anderson also make frequent home visits. It helps them minister on an individual level to those in the congregation, including some who aren’t as comfortable attending small-group meetings in homes.
“Hospitality is at the core of everything that we do,” Anderson says. “That’s how we build community despite the walls that might divide us.”
People from the church accompany those going to asylum or citizenship interviews to support them and pray for them. The congregation also works to help those who are struggling to find housing, meet rent, or pay electric bills.
Located on the south side of Iowa City, Resurrection Assembly is in an area with much low-income housing and many students who receive free or reduced school lunches. Anderson, who leads the church’s children and youth ministries with her husband, Kyle, works to build community among the church’s teenagers by inviting those who live in the neighborhood to eat breakfast every weekday morning before school. During that time, students learn biblical truths and pray for each other. The church also serves breakfast on Sundays and a meal on Wednesday nights.
Lear and Anderson credit the Holy Spirit for the church’s recent growth. In the past three years, the congregation has grown from about 20 to more than 75.