Q&A with Sandra Van Opstal

Q&A with Sandra Van Opstal


Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Author, preacher, liturgist

Sandra is a second-generation Latina, pastors at Grace and Peace Church and lives on the west side of Chicago with her husband and two boys. She is a preacher, liturgist and activist reimagining the intersection of worship and justice. Sandra served with Urbana Missions Conference, Chicago Urban Program and Latino National Leadership Team (LaFe) of InterVarsity. Sandra’s influence has also reached many others through preaching globally on topics such as worship and formation, justice, racial identity and reconciliation. Sandra is a board member for the Christian Community Development Association and holds a MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Her most recent books include <em>Still Evangelical and The Next Worship.</em>

Q: How should church teams account for a variety of household structures as they put together ministries and programs to reach families and individuals? 01

The first thing I think of is how we understand and view child care in the role of the ministries, especially in small groups. The small group structure is integral to the church experience. But you can’t assume, for example, that people can have a sitter come and stay with the kids. In an economically diverse congregation, that could be a financial burden for some. In our church, the small groups that have been successful are ones that have provided child care within the small group setting for the families that needed it. We have a small group that meets in our house, and it’s made up of young married couples, families with kids, single people who are not married and don’t have kids, single parents. Because the small group is being held in a home where the children are being taken care of on the premises, it makes people in any of those situations feel welcome in that space. Especially for single moms or dads, they know they can physically be in the same place with their children, but also be in community with other adults. We actually have youth from the church watch the kids, and each different age group forms their own community. We’ve found it increases the level of commitment people have to the church overall. When they go on Sunday, the children also have connection to one another. They have a place of belonging outside of Sunday as an entire family unit, and it makes for an easier transition from one affinity community to the next affinity community within the church.

Q: Knowing that congregations are collections of households, and most practicing Christian households only live with people who share the same background, how can church leaders provide opportunities for inclusivity and integration in their church communities? 02

Whatever church leaders want to see, they have to model it for their congregants. Leaders have to model it and share about what they’re experiencing, the good and the bad. And then leaders have to intentionally design worship practices that form disciples who care about the world around them. The practice of worship, which includes the preaching, should form disciples who see Jesus’ heart for hospitality, solidarity, mutuality. But if we sing songs only about ourselves and God, and we close our eyes, and leaders say things to the congregation like, “Ignore everybody else in the room, it’s just you and God, just have a moment,” then we will never create disciples who go to the uncomfortable places of being in a relationship with people who are not like them. If the altar call is an invitation to be in a personal and private relationship with an individual God, just you and him, and not an invitation to a people or to a purpose, then we will never create disciples who go to the uncomfortable places of being in a relationship with people who are not like them. That is not an invitation that prepares you for the messiness and the disruption of cross-cultural, socioeconomically diverse relationships. The invitation is to be a part of this movement that God is creating in his people, to be pointers to his kingdom, to disrupt the order of the world around you so that people can see God’s goodness and glory, to push against evil in the world, to stand up for peace, to love those who are unloved. We need a corrective to our Western theology— the idea that “all of it is about you”—that has infiltrated not only our preaching, but our worship practices.

Q: What are some practical ways that you might encourage church leaders and lay people to practice hospitality by welcoming immigrants and refugees into their households and extended households? 03

Without immigrants and refugees and newcomers to our country, the American Church will dwindle. Just based off population growth, migration patterns and openness to spirituality and faith, the future of the Church in America is immigrants and people of color. Most of them are Bible-reading, passionate Christians whose faith has survived persecution, poverty, famine, oppression. They’re bringing with them a level of faith in a God who sustains you that white American Christians could never understand.

Anybody who has an extra bed or an extra room could become a foster parent, receive a detained child or partner with a family. If you have space in your home, you should be asking yourself, why is it not occupied by someone who is in need? If you’re a leader in a large church that’s majority white and you don’t have a lot of connections with ethnic minorities, start with the people you have on staff—if you don’t know the stories of people working in your building, why have you not asked? I know a lot of churches have a pre-school that serves the neighborhood, and it might be of a different demographic than the church body—what have you done to have some kind of mutual relationship with them? Are there jobs that people in your church could provide for immigrants?

We can partner with immigrant churches or minority churches doing fantastic work in our communities and just say, “Hey, how can we be of help to you?” Then ask, “Is there anything you can help us with?” to have mutuality and reciprocity in our relationships. We can all work with organizations that are looking for churches and homes to house children who are in transition and waiting for sponsors. We can march together, we can pray together, we can fast together. There are a lot of practical things we can do, but it will require some proximity and some relationship, and if it’s not already woven into the structure of the church, your family or your church community will have to find ways to do that.

Back to the Study

Faith Heritage & Histories

Read Section