The following interview is from a series I did as part of another project, GTHR.
From time to time we like to highlight community builders. These individuals captivate us. They draw us out. They invite us into a fuller way of being. They are relentless seekers of a simpler, more integrated, transparent, participatory version of ekklesia. One that reminds us of our beginnings and reunites us with our divine calling to be vessels of redemption for a world desperately out of order.
Their lives tell stories that beg to be shared. And we’re excited to introduce them to you, in their own words.
This week we’d like to introduce you to James Delarato. James is the Planting Pastor of Citizens San Francisco, an emerging community based in San Francisco’s Haight district.
In one sentence, what is your purpose, or reason to be?
To live out the image of God that I am created in as a son redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, all to the praise and glory of the Father.
How did you come to be where you are right now?
The long and winding road that has brought me and my wife to San Francisco to follow his will is marked with many sins, failures, and conflicts that, through grace, have turned into victories and celebrations. I became a follower of Jesus in my early twenties after a destructive path of chasing after worldly desires, and, even though I was redeemed by his love, God has had to work deeply in my soul to undo much of the distorted perspectives and practices that became engrained in me. A major part of this journey has involved me growing in spiritual/emotional maturity and training to become a pastor, which is what I have the privilege of being now at Citizens.
What big decisions along the way have brought you to the here and now? The ones where courage conquered fear.
The first one that comes to my mind is how difficult it was for me to make the decision to bring me and my wife to San Francisco. Before moving here, neither of us had ever moved away from Arizona in our adult life, and the thought of moving to SF was both exciting and scary.
Leaving behind family, friends, and familiarity, the Lord gave us the courage to conquer our fear of uncertainty and press into Christ as we followed the call to move away.
The account of Abraham’s journey of deep faith was often on our hearts and minds.
When did you realize you wanted to be in ministry? Any interesting moments as a child?
I did not grow up in the church, so ministry was pretty much an unknown vocation to me. Generally, the area of vocation has always been mysterious and frustrating since I had virtually no clue what I wanted to do with my life up until 22. After I entrusted my life to Christ, however, the only thing I could think of was how I could serve and help the church.
I remember being in a constant state of disbelief about how my life had changed so radically and how I suddenly had a community of people that loved and cared for me.
This feeling led me to commit to serving King Jesus in any way I could, with pastoral ministry coming into focus after six years of service in high school and college ministries.
What’s your process these days for fostering community, relationships, and generosity (both within the community and abroad)?
Our process at Citizens for fostering community, relationships, and generosity starts with small, 3-4 person meet-ups entitled DNA groups, an acronym standing for Discover (encountering the Word), Nurture, and Accountability.
Besides the leadership at Citizens, these three other men I walk with are the closest brothers I have in the city. From these groups we branch off into small Missional Families in which we share our lives, pray for each other, worship God, and consider ways we can reach the city with the love and community we have the privilege of having in knowing Jesus.
And when you’re not doing any of the above, where can we find you?
Chilling with my family, reading, studying for seminary, or checking in on the assortment of apps that threaten to rule my life.
Down time and work/life balance: How does this vibe with you? How do you make it all work?
It is always a difficult balance, but I am thankful that as a pastor I have the flexibility to work the schedule that makes the most sense for my family.
CJ, our lead pastor at Citizens, highly values putting our families before the church which I think is both biblical and healthy.
Most difficult situation to date?
Raising a newborn. Nobody told me that they don’t care if you don’t get any sleep!
Biggest triumph / accomplishment?
Most definitely, completing my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies at Arizona Christian University was one of the most significant moments in my life since school was an uphill battle for me.
What would you tell your five year-ago self?
Calm down, and be still before the Father.
He will give you the true desires of your heart since you have his Spirit in you, and He will not deny Himself.
Who do you look to for inspiration? Or, who madly lights you up and makes you want to chase down your dreams?
The faithful failures found in the Scriptures, Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, and many others who write and teach about the beauty and hope of the Kingdom of God.
Future plans? What dreams are in the pipeline?
I am currently half-way through a Master’s of Divinity at Golden Gate Seminary, so finishing that up is a priority.
What three pieces of practical advice would you share with someone who wants to create, shape, and inspire a community of their own?
Stay focused on your mission and vision no matter what, give love to those who struggle with giving it back, and let vulnerability and weakness be your strengths.
Any favorite methods, tools, or technology you’ve found to be essential?
This one is easy: My task bar at the bottom of my screen tells me Evernote, Logos, Kindle, Spotify, and the internet are irreplaceable.
A personal mantra?
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” — Philippians 1:6
Where can we find you and your community online?