SYNERGY: Share the kind of ministry you do.
RACHEL TRISKA: Life in Deep Ellum is a church in a historic arts district of downtown Dallas. In a very general sense, there are two components to our ministry – the faith community and the cultural center. The faith community gathers on Sunday mornings, in life groups and engages the community through our cultural center. Monday through Saturday our building serves as a community cultural center, complete with an art gallery, coffee shop, space for Deep Ellum neighborhood meetings and an event space used by our community partners.
For the first five years I oversaw the cultural center and Joel worked primarily with the faith community. Two years ago we switched roles. There’s a lot of overlap in what we do but at the end of the day – I spend my time thinking about what God wants to do in and through the faith community and our resident philosopher, Joel, reflects on the possibilities of what God might accomplish through the cultural center.
SYNERGY: How did you come to do this type of role? What were you doing before you entered this role?
RT: Early in life, I dreamed about the type of church that engaged its community seven days a week. I understood the incredible impact a church can make in just two days a week and felt led to ask the question: What if people outside the faith had a reason to be in the church throughout the week? What if they believed the church existed primarily for them? This dream (and a very strong sense of calling) is what made me willing to give up my aspirations of going into judicial law to become a pastor.
Before we came to Deep Ellum, I worked at Evangel University. I was the Residence Director for Spence Hall and served as an adjunct professor in the theology department.
SYNERGY: What’s the biggest thing you had to overcome to find success in your ministry?
RT: A mistaken understanding of what “success” is. I believed “success” equaled a large congregation. God made it very clear that success for us was not that. He didn’t Life in Deep Ellum to be a big church. The understanding that success was a big church with a big budget was hard to let go of early on but I’m so glad God helped us surrender it. It’s a incredibly freeing reality – God calls churches to different things. It’s a mistake to buy into the idea that the only way to succeed in ministry is to pastor a mega-church.
SYNERGY: What is the risk in pursuing what you love?
RT: Love makes you vulnerable. Love requires you to show up in ways that move you beyond what you know and what you can do on you own. The risk in pursuing what you love is finding you actually need God.
SYNERGY: What’s the biggest way your ministry has changed since you started it?
RT: I’ll answer this in a personal way. For me the biggest thing that’s changed is I show up every day. What I mean is this – early on I spent a lot of time trying to be what I thought I needed to be as a pastor: I needed to be strong. I needed to have answers. I needed a clear vision. I needed well written sermons. In the last few years, God showed me that what’s needed is for me to show up and be me. Not what I think is needed but who God made me to be. I’m strong but I’m also tender. I have a lot of clarity but I don’t always know the answer. Well written sermons aren’t nearly as powerful as vulnerable and real ones. God knows what this community needs better than I do from their pastor and he called me and Joel here – which means they need us to be the real us not some polished up version of ourselves.
SYNERGY: Tell us a few things you have to be consistent in to lead your ministry.
RT: Consistently have someone helping you grow in your personal and spiritual life. I have a spiritual director that I meet with on a weekly basis. She has no connection to or investment in the church. She’s someone who cares about me and sees me first as a person not as a pastor.
Consistently practice confession. My spiritual director also serves as my confessor. I talk to her about my sin regularly. There’s no wisdom in a pastor thinking they don’t need to talk to other people about their sins.
Consistently take time off. I learned this the hard way. After our first five years, I crash landed in a sabbatical. I was burned out and unsure if I would come back to ministry when the sabbatical was over. God did a lot of work in me during that sabbatical and helped me see that rest is an expression of trust in him. When we rest, take time off, go on vacation, take a sabbatical, what we’re saying is, “God, I know this isn’t all up to me. I know you’ve got this.”
Consistently talk to people outside the faith. Don’t get pulled into the Christian bubble! Blow that sucker up by hanging out and being friends with people outside the faith. And make sure you don’t turn potential friends into projects. Friendships with people outside the faith are not first and foremost about “winning them to Jesus;” they are about learning to love people unconditionally just as God loves us.
Consistently put family first. What do we gain if save the whole world and lose our family?
SYNERGY: What do you do to keep learning in ministry?
RT: I read a lot and widely – fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, journal articles. I spend a lot of time listening to people who think differently than I do. I’ve learned to ask, “Why do we do it that way?” If the answer is “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s the way everyone else does it, then we challenge the status quo as a staff to determine whether that’s how God actually wants us to do it.