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Hispanic American Preaching

Selena is the Mexican American pop star killed by a friend at age 23. The movie Selena is based on her short life. As her fame in the U.S. increases, one scene shows Selena (Jennifer Lopez) being invited to return to Mexico to perform at an important event. Her father opposes the appearance because he thinks his daughter's Spanish is terrible. When Selena protests that her singing in Spanish is fine, her father says singing is one thing, but interviews are another. He then goes into a tirade about the difficulties of being Mexican American. "The Mexicans think you aren't Mexican enough, and the Americans think you aren't American enough."

This is also a concern in Hispanic American preaching. There are differences between how Hispanic and non-Hispanics communicate. Keeping both perspectives in balance is crucial, but we need to focus more on the Hispanic than the American.

The distinctives of Hispanic American preaching

Hispanic preaching values family

Hispanic preaching is shaped by the high value Hispanic culture places on family relationships. American culture tends to be individualistic, while we think in terms of us more than me. The idea of family is not limited to our close relatives but extends to the family of faith and the surrounding community.

This affects preaching particularly in the approach to holidays. While some non-Hispanic churches may give little attention to special days, all special days are significant for us. Obviously Christmas and Easter are days of tremendous importance. We also make Mother's Day and Father's Day a great celebration. While it is necessary to clarify the spiritual focus—such as the Fatherhood of God on Father's Day—the connection to family is considerable.

Latino preaching is not content with just an inward focus. It calls people to link our discipleship back into our community. Our preaching calls people to community involvement and service. In the name of Christ we must care about the good of the larger family.

Hispanic preaching links the biblical story to the story of our people

The circumstance of many Latino people includes limited opportunities and material want. We preach biblical themes that speak to the issues of marginalization, poverty, and liberation. We build bridges between the biblical narrative and the personal story of Latinos through storytelling.

A great example is Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. We connect through the historical-cultural lens of the conflict between Jews and Samaritans. In the sense that Samaritans were not totally Gentile and not totally Jew, Hispanic Americans have a "Samaritan" identity. We can recognize the inferior treatment of the Samaritans, the otherness of a minority people living in a dominant culture. We can address our sense of inferiority and its relationship to the good news through the lens of Samaria. We show how Jesus crossed the street culturally, socially, politically, racially with a spiritual agenda. This scene is one way we declare that the gospel goes beyond human limitations and prejudices.

Our preaching addresses the key issues of Hispanic Americans, which include identity, significance, and freedom. With stories like the woman at the well we bring the message of liberation and transformation. The New Testament "Samaritan trilogy" provides a pattern. The trilogy is the woman at the well, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Samaritan Pentecost in Acts 8. These accounts provide a paradigm for evangelism, ethics, and ecclesiology. They are a theological basis for intercultural relations.

Hispanic preaching is passionate

Latinos tend to be more inspirational than instructional, more emotional than expository. Emotion is extremely important because it is a part of who we are. We speak forcefully, poetically, and with a raised voice. Those familiar with Anglo American preaching may wonder why the Latino preacher seems to be angry. Our sermon delivery is fiery because we focus more on persuading than informing. This is not for the purpose of manipulation, but a sincere expression of how God made us.

We try to preach in the universal language of love. Whatever else is said, we speak from the heart with love. The mind and logic is not our primary concern; rather the heart is the essential issue.

As with every culture, this can be overdone. Some Hispanic preaching takes emotion to an extreme at the expense of sound teaching. Good Hispanic preaching blends both passion and instruction. The best means to accomplish this is storytelling. In the Hispanic context, stories are a better vehicle for truth than a logical, systematic presentation.

Hispanic preaching is vulnerable

Friendliness and sincerity are part of Hispanic culture. Hispanic preachers communicate that by personalizing our message. We are careful to put ourselves and our feelings into the sermon. Distant, impersonal theories do not reach our people. Latino preachers must be willing to share their own struggles and tie that into the life experiences of their people. We openly admit the tension of living in two worlds and then address the conflict we all face as we seek to follow Christ in this society.

Our vulnerability must be true and natural, authenticated by and consistent with our spiritual life as lived out among the people. Our responsibility is to put the struggle of the people into words. We give expression to the problems they face and offer the hope that is in Jesus.

Hispanic preaching expects responsiveness

We must involve the congregation in our sermons. When we preach, we expect to be answered. Not only does the congregation listen to us, we also listen to them and respond. Hispanic preaching is about give and take, and audience participation, much like African American churches.

That response may not occur if we don't take into account our distinctives. When preaching to Hispanic people in the United States, one size does not fit all. Although we share one basic language, Hispanic congregations are very different. The differences include country of origin, culture, economic conditions, and education. Preachers cannot assume they are communicating clearly when speaking to various groups of Hispanic people. Speech patterns, styles, expressions, and even the meaning of words may be different. We are tied together by language and shared experiences, rather than by geographical location.

When Anglo preachers speak to Hispanics, it would be good for them to try to express more passion in their sermons. Work at inspiring the people as you instruct them. Use stories. Be aware of issues faced by our communities and acknowledge the cultural tensions faced by Hispanics. Do not be afraid to address the problems of materialism, racism, oppression, and so forth. As members of the dominant culture, Anglos can make a great impression with Hispanics if they learn to communicate with some of our language and know some of our customs.

In the early days when Noel Castellanos was planting La Villita Community Church in Chicago, they held a potluck supper at Christmas time, and Noel thought he should bring something suitable for the occasion. In a cookbook he found a recipe for Holiday Salsa. The ingredients included pineapple, cranberries, nuts, and chili peppers. He thought people would love his festive salsa but was disappointed to see that no one even tried it. Finally one of the men explained, "Noel, you can't make salsa without tomatoes."

Hispanic American preachers live in two worlds. If we leave out the tomatoes, no one will like the salsa.

Noel Castellanos is founder and CEO of the Christian Community Development Association in Chicago, Illinois, and coauthor of A Heart for the Community (Moody). Jesse Miranda is founder and director of the Center for Latino Leadership at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, founder and president of the Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales, and founder of the Latin American Theological Seminary. Alfredo Ramos is pastor of Hispanic ministry at Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois.

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