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God seen in both gutters and high-rises

Pastor Derek DaPena of New Community Church of Vista

Derek DePena
  • Derek DePena

New Community Church of Vista

165 Eucalyptus Avenue, Vista

Membership: 250

Pastor: Derek DaPena

Age: 35

Born: Bellflower

Formation: Biola University, La Mirada; Azusa Pacific University Seminary, Azusa

Years Ordained: 8

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Pastor Derek DaPena: I think it’s a wide spectrum because I always want to get a sense of what God is doing in our community and what he wants us to hear as a church. I also want to look at what’s happening in our neighborhood and have God speak to that. The third piece is that I have this expectation when I read scripture that God will move in me. It’s not just me reading and teaching the people, but my mind and heart have to be changed by what I’m reading. When those three elements come together I land in a place around 10 to 15 hours a week preparing the sermon.

SDR: What is your favorite topic on which to preach?

PD: One word: Death. That’s for two reasons…. I want people to know the death of Jesus Christ and I want people to know what it means to die to themselves. This life isn’t about glorifying ourselves but about living like Jesus and modeling the way that he lived.

SDR: Why non-denominational?

PD: I love the traditions of the past but I also love cultivating a culture of taking risks in innovation for the future. That’s what this church has allowed me to do.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PD: For 90 years New Community Church has been located in historic downtown Vista. We’re this community that is shaped by the teachings of Jesus and the values of the early church. Our desire and hope is to create a movement of authentic followers of Jesus who live their lives on a mission for God, rather than just going to church once a week.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PD: I see God in both the gutters but also in the high-rises. I am always taken aback when I see God in brokenness, in our wounds, in our tears, and in the stories of injustice and the oppressed, in the people marginalized in our neighborhoods and communities. When we can give these people permission to have every right to complain about life, not be thankful for life, but so many times when I find these people and visit these places, there is this strange posture of hope, light, and redemption. You see a new story being written and a new starting line in all this brokenness and all this mess; you’re seeing God because that person, that relationship, and that story is being redeemed.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PD: I don’t see heaven as the ultimate gift, but being with Jesus and sitting at his table, being in his presence as the ultimate gift…. If we choose God for who he is, we go to the presence of God in heaven. We go from black-and-white to full color, from mono to stereo. We get this full sound and get to see Jesus for who he is for the first time, face-to-face. At the same time, there is this freedom to choose and some don’t want to be in the presence of God and long to run from the presence of God. That path leads to hell, which is the absence of God, a place where God’s presence doesn’t exist.

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