True Worship is the Act of Expressing Your Knowledge of God
An interview with pastor Netz Gómez
This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated below in English.
Our interviewee is pastor Netz Gómez who was born in Mexico City, and is a doctor in clinical pastoral psychology. Thirteen years ago, he began the Houses of Light Church in his own home.
He has spent nearly 40 years in the ministry of teaching and more than 30 in the work of marriage counseling. He is well known in Southern California for his program “Good News for the Family” on the New Life Radio station.
Houses of Light Church is a thriving congregation of about one thousand members in the city of Northridge, California.
This conversation with our interviewee brought important contributions that are underlined below:
- Although United States born Latinos strongly assimilate local culture, they are still very emotional and expressive, unlike Anglos. Will this form of worship, expressed in English with some Spanish, influence North American Christianity?
- Netz Gómez comments that true worship springs from the knowledge of God that flows into an expression of praise and worship. It is not born from sentimentality that makes you feel emotional and produces magical things. Will more instructions be needed prior to worship in order to do it properly?
- Pastor Gómez mentions that in the Latino community, some people have a concept of God as an idol that is passive, indifferent, and unresponsive to worship. Is this a culturally religious heritage that is rooted in the community?
What role has worship had in the growth of your church?
Honestly, I don’t really think it is a high priority. I think our growth has been a result of personal discipleship and the reality that God is in our lives. Public expression of worship is good, but I don’t consider it to be important.
But, is it an important element?
It is an element, but it is not essential.
Even within the service?
Yes, we dedicate 30 minutes to it during a service of 100 minutes. I think worship is a reflection of a reality, not something that is done on Sundays for a short time. This church emerged in a life of prayer. We have a house of prayer that functions 140 hours a week. The youth, leaders, and worship directors are living a reality with God, and that is what is expressed on Sundays.
In contrast to the majority of churches, why is the time of worship not that important?
It is important, but it is not the most important thing. I don’t even consider it to be a factor in personal growth. People are not attracted to a good time of praise in the church; they are attracted to God, a message, and a time of contemporary worship.
How do you pick the songs that will be interpreted at your church?
We are always filtering songs, because there are Christian songs that I don’t agree with. So, we try to choose songs that express the reality of God.
What kind of songs would you not use?
I wouldn’t use songs that are centered on us, since worship should revolve around God and not us. So, when there are songs that are sensual and human, we do not use them; even if the theology in the song sounds pretty, it is not biblical. I have an opinion as a pastor in that regard.
Are you willing to use any kind of rhythm during worship?
Yes; our young Hispanic youth in the United States are more Anglo, even though they eat pupusas and tacos. In reality, they are more white than Hispanic. We have first generation Hispanics whose children were born here. They are more influenced by United States culture than by Latin American culture.
So, they belong to a different culture?
What do you do to reach both of these cultures? Do you use songs in Spanish or in English?
We have four services and we sing in both Spanish and English. We have a service that is in English, during which we sing more songs that are not in Spanish. This is a service for the Anglo-Hispanic generation in our church. During the other services, we sing 70 percent of the songs in Spanish, and the rest in English.
These second-generation Latinos have mimicked much of white culture. Is their culture different from North American culture?
Now that I think about it, they are very white culturally, but they are still Hispanic.
As for their passion in expressing themselves, are they different from white culture?
Yes, they are more emotional. I think that white culture is cold in general and Hispanic culture is more emotional among young people who have grown up in an Anglo-Saxon context.
Do you think that emotions are important during the time of worship?
They are important, but they are not the main focus. I think you get emotional for the right reasons, but it is not your emotions that control the situation. For example, David would say, “O Lord, bless my soul and do not forget its benefits.” Emotions are based on a truth, but they are not what guide us. The Bible says that, “the heart is deceitful.” We do not encourage emotionalism, even though we do have young people crying or dancing.
Why do you think that some people who are touched during worship experience no change in their lives?
This happens because they are emotional but not profound. They are moved by emotions generated by a song or music, but that doesn’t mean that their faith has reached a point that could generate change.
Is it dependent on the individual, or the church that is providing the time of worship?
Both, since it is dependent on the church that offers something and the person who participates. It involves the house in which you live and your response. Honestly, I think that emotional people have left the church because they expect a lot of emotions, and if they don’t find them, they feel weird. I have seen people come from a more Pentecostal context and they spin and blow kisses into the air, and all of that. They see that the church worships and dances, but not very much, so they feel unmotivated and leave.
Is your church affiliated with a specific denomination?
No, I don’t get along with everyone.
But if you have to describe yourself, are you similar to any?
We believe in gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but we try to maintain a balance. I identify myself more with Baptist and Neo Pentecostal doctrine.
What is your professional background?
I am a counselor and a psychologist.
Does that result in a more “logical” presentation of worship that is also spiritual?
Yes and no. Yes, because we obviously have a more pragmatic approach to life, and no, because we live in a reality of a house of prayer that functions in continual prayer and worship.
I meant that in the sense that other churches deposit all of their trust in the Lord, but I guess you might teach that much of it depends on your own decisions.
Yeah, totally. For example, I don’t consider worship to be magical. I think it is a response to the reality of God. I think true worship is defined in John 4, where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman and says, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know.” So, true worship is the knowledge of God that flows into an expression of praise and worship. It is not born from sentimentality that makes you feel emotional and produces magical things. In Jericho, people cried for instructions from God and a miracle occurred. It was not their cries that produced the miracle, but rather God’s direction that caused the walls to fall.
Is this slightly compatible with developments of lyrics in the songs of some worshipers who present a God that is closer and more real? Do you identify a bit more with this trend?
Yes; I think that in our case, what is happening in the House of Prayer movement worldwide is very palpable. It is the reality of not only living worship on Sunday, but rather living a life of worship and intimacy that produces a less superficial knowledge of God.
Popular Christian singers who sing well and have great productions do not impress me. I am impressed by the reality that someone lives with the Lord, and that I can see the Bible in their songs. That is why we pick these types of songs, the ones that come from the reality of God rather than simply being a pretty song from a famous singer. I’ll talk about a specific case: Marcos Witt is very impressive, I respect him, I love him, and I know him, but he became very superficial. I remember a song that said, “In my heart there is a song that shows my passion for my King and my Lord.” He spoke of a very intimate passion for God. As a pastor, I feel like these realities of God are what I wish all churches would express during the time of corporate worship.
Speaking of corporate worship, when your people come together, do they think God comes down or that his presence was there all along?
I think they perceive reality when we come together and God manifests his presence as it’s described in Psalm 133. Corporate worship gives a different feeling than that of individual worship. I think they know that God is with them at all times, but when we are together, there is a different expression and manifestation.
Do they understand that his presence descends from the heavens or do they believe that it was there all along?
That is a difficult question, because I don’t know how everyone is feeling.
But, how do you teach it?
That is a good question… I teach them that God is always there and that… it’s just that I always tell them that church begins when they leave the temple. We are a church that lives the reality of God outside of the building, and we come here to worship together. God is already with them.
Do you teach any techniques that allow the presence that is enjoyed within the temple to also be enjoyed outside of it?
Yes, we talk a lot about what it is to be intimate with God. One of the strong teachings in this church is to cultivate intimacy: “enter a room, close the door, and pray to your Father.”(Matthew 6) We also talk to them about cultivating a devotional life, which is a prevalent theme here. Moreover, the leaders report their daily devotionals with the Lord. It is not that we are strict, but everyone has a culture of living a private dedication to God at all times. We teach how to have a time of devotions to newcomers and long-time comers. We constantly teach that what happens between you and God is always private.
It is not easy to obtain leadership in this church, right?
(laughs) No, our leaders are not very charismatic, but they are individuals that have a profound relationship with God. It can be an Oaxacan brother who didn’t finish elementary school, but can share God. I find that impressive. Our leadership is composed of very humble people.
Do people come to ask for things or to give?
There is some of everything. It is a 50-40-10 split. Allow me to explain: fifty percent come to church to ask God for help, forty percent are excellent and come to give, and ten percent are crazy, tremendous worshipers.
At the same time, necessity is a great vehicle of outreach, right?
True; in fact, I think that 100 percent of people come to this church because they have heard me on the radio and they come so that we can fix their family issues. They come out of necessity and we love them, restore them, and take them to a retreat. God is an excuse for us to get close to them.
Do you think the sexist culture that we carry as Latinos impedes us from softening our hearts during a time of worship?
Completely; totally; it is a reality.
Have you had experiences with people that resist the Lord?
Yes, of course, I believe that the truth of God in the Bible is revealed as a judge and boyfriend. I think that some people view God as a judge, king, or husband. We often teach about this third aspect of God. It is complicated because our culture doesn’t understand it, so yes; it is true that sexist culture alters the extent to which a person is renovated. The truth of the Word breaks through the aspect of sexism that does not understand God as a boyfriend. It is this culture that stops people from falling in love with him.
Do you think that the Church promotes sexism by referring to God as male?
No; God is masculine and referring to him that way does not promote sexism.
Could there be a correlation?
Jesus Christ is a man. The church is not reinforcing it, because sexism finds its own ways of strengthening itself. If the fact that God is a man reinforces someone’s sexist ideas, that is their problem. It is that individual who does not understand that the message of Jesus is to give oneself to his “wife” in order to sanctify and purify her. So, Christ is not sexist; even though he is a man, he is the first to humble himself and give his all for our salvation. There are people who can take this the wrong way, but I don’t think that the Church contributes to this. I think the sexist perspective is everywhere, trying to dominate.
Have you incorporated art during worship?
My daughter directs the department of dance, and we are looking to include artistic dance soon. We don’t have any images in our temple, because we know that Hispanics tend to idolize images. But, I am open to artistic expression in worship.
Do you think that the legal status of immigrants influences them to be passionately devoted to God?
On the contrary, I think undocumented immigrants feel rejected by God. Hispanic culture thinks a lot about punishments on behalf of God. It is a culture that has suffered, and legal status makes them feel unworthy. And yes, they turn to God for help, but more than anything, they feel rejected by God. I have asked people, “How do you think Christ feels or thinks about you?” They answer, “He is disappointed in me.”
But, isn’t that part of the DNA that makes up traditional religions from Latin America?
Exactly, and undocumented immigrants bring that generational branding that says, “I am worthless, I am nobody, and maybe God will give me something if I keep suffering.” This is true of traditional religion and its culture, because it is really miserable. That is why the idea of viewing God as my husband is so foreign. They never think about God taking the time to think about them and enjoy them.
Do Latinos picture a God that is satisfied as his people praise him, or do they see him as someone who is among them and praises with them?
I think that it is a bit of both, but more of the first. There is this idea that God is an idol, which I think is very weird. I think there is a concept of a passive and indifferent God that unresponsively receives worship.
That is a mentality that is hard to change…
Totally. That is why they really need to be renovated by the Word and the understanding of God not only as a king and judge, but also as a husband. Christ says that he is the boyfriend, and that there will be weddings.
Do you think God is in the audience or in the middle of everything?
Both, he leans in to listen, but also responds. It is not a monologue. You speak for a moment and he responds. He talks to your heart and makes you fall in love.
Can you elaborate?
God is within you, paying attention and responding. I tell people not to treat God as an idol, but rather, treat him like someone you can have a dialogue with. I tell them we must worship in a slower manner, in order to give him time to respond.
When people worship, does God change or is it one’s life that is changing?
Both. I think that God manifests himself and man responds to that. The response changes your emotions and perspective, but it is the purpose that changes forever. God wants us to worship because we need it, not because he needs it.
So, who is the biggest benefiter during the time of worship?
We are. We join the heavenly court, and God likes it. But I am the one who benefits the most. I change my perspective of life and emotions, by being conscious of the reality of God.
Does worship guarantee a life of holiness?
It is knowledge that really guarantees a holy life, and worship is an expression of that knowledge. If we isolate worship and consider it to be magical, it becomes a fetish.
I hear you…
Saying you “worship,” detaches you from God. We should say, “you know.” You worship because you know him. Paul and Silas did not sing in the prison so that it would tremble and open its doors; they sang because they trusted in God. Then God shook it and opened the doors, but that was not a magical result of singing. Many people have turned worship into a fetish.
Is it like buying a talisman?
Yes, it is not about saying “Glory to God” a bunch of times. It is about knowing him, depositing your faith in him, and then he will do what he wants. We need to understand that it is not a magical fetishist element that produces miracles.
Do you think that we use worship as a fetish in our community?
Totally; we do it by worshiping and praising an idol. We tell people to worship, instead of telling them to know, obey, and then worship. I can live a double life in which I spend five hours singing in order to make my business prosper.
Which will not transform your life, right?
No, it will make you more legalistic and religious. You will reach a point in which you think you have it all, but God will say, “You do not know me.” I think that is a big crisis.