Life Center Church
As people gather at 11:30 a.m. each Sunday at Life Center, the church’s name rings true. The singing is powerful and real and comes from deep within the members of the congregation.
Life Center, formerly known as Inner City Church of Minneapolis (ICCM), is anything but traditional. Pastors Chris ’91 and Monica (Tajbakh ’91) DeLaurentis, will tell you that this ministry began “in a pastor’s paradise,” where city blocks were being vacated by the long-term residents and filled with gang members relocating from Chicago and Detroit.
Called to serve in Minneapolis
Monica was planning for overseas ministry, even studying abroad in Nepal her sophomore year, but something happened when she returned to her home in New York for the summer. “I lived in the Bronx,” Monica explained. “One night a crack addict put his fist through a window. It cut an artery and he just kept screaming three words: “Somebody save me, somebody save me.” He kept screaming as the police tried to help. When Monica woke up the next day she saw police tape and realized he had died.
Monica told her co-workers about the disturbing incident. “They just looked at me and said, ‘Monica shut up; we don’t care. It’s another troublemaker dead,’” she winced as she remembered. “And that was like a pierce in my heart. I went home that night and started crying out in prayer, ‘Nobody cares…no one on the block cares.’
“That night I realized I wasn’t going to go overseas; I was going to stay in the United States because that’s where the Lord was leading me.” Monica returned to North Central and changed her major to pastoral studies.
Chris and Monica were friends at NCU for four years and realized just before graduation that, according to Monica, “Somebody had to bust a move because I was going back to the Bronx and he was going back to San Diego.” Neither one recalled which one made the move, but after that thought they knew they were going to be married—and they were, three months later.
Their ministry first began working for Teen Challenge, helping start residential facilities for the drug and alcohol recovery organization. They loved serving in the city and eventually felt a call to start a church.
The DeLaurentises bought an old house, fixed it up, and started their ministry there. “We lived on the second floor and had church services and discipleship and youth ministry on the first floor,” Chris noted. “That’s where it began—just bringing in drug addicts, prostitutes, people from the streets, into our house.”
Eventually they bought an abandoned commercial property from the city for the cost of the back-taxes—the perfect location (after two years of renovation) to reach a neighborhood in need. “We have always looked for the worst spot,” Chris said. “That’s where we want to put our influence and our time. Our target group is those who struggle with addiction, those who are homeless, those living below the poverty line. If you’re violent, if you can’t work—you’re our target audience,” he continued emphatically: “That’s who we want to meet!”
There is no shortage of stories that come from ministry this real and raw. They’ve had fights break out during a service, ably handled by trained ushers. They’ve had people selling drugs in the bathroom. “Of course we go deal with it,” Chris said, “but the right people are in the building. We’ve got the biggest problems in a place where they can hear the Word of God! If they can’t hear the Word of God, they’ll never change. You don’t get fixed and then come; here, you come as you are.”
A model for changing lives
In addition to hearing the Word of God preached on Sunday mornings, those who come to Life Center are served through their 4T ministry model to provide practical help and tools to change lives. In the T3 stage the focus is transformation, during which many people learn for the first time how to live life, how to work, how to escape poverty, how to develop a family. Those who make it through the program successfully become trainers and leaders.
“Monica has 75 leaders who meet with her every other week,” Chris said. “They’re running our kitchen ministry, doing men’s and women’s groups, driving vans—they’re the workforce of our ministry.” They’re the people who came from the streets and now are giving back.
“There are hundreds of stories of people’s lives who are changed or changing,” Chris said. “[We provide] tools for people to learn a new way to live. It’s Romans chapter 12—that we renew our mind by the Word of God!” There are currently 40 adults in Life Center’s life skills training programs, learning and applying how to live a successful life.
Following the call on their lives
The DeLaurentises emphatically agree that they have been able to do what they’ve done because they were called to do it. Without the call, it wouldn’t even make sense.
Some parishioners have told her they hated her at first, but Monica said, “Love broke them down. It just changed everything.”
Chris shared with admiration about how Monica uses what God has given her. “What Monica has is this incredible empathy where she can understand people even though she hasn’t walked in their shoes. So she gets it. That’s the Holy Spirit.”
Some would say it makes no sense for a church filled with so many people below the poverty line to even exist, but Chris, whose role in the ministry is to use his gift of helps to do administration and fundraising, said that 95 percent of the ministry is funded from the outside.
Ultimately, Chris said, “The call makes everything easier.”
Monica agreed. “If you’re not called you won’t make it; you’ll quit. You’re surrounded by negativity: life’s despair, addiction, abuse. Hurting people who want to hurt.”
It’s the changed lives that keep the DeLaurentises going.
“We’re more like foreign missionaries here in America—where you go and become part of the community, learn the culture, and work within that community. We are blessed with fruit falling all over the place! That’s the greatest thing for me, seeing a life change. It’s just as special to me as when we started.”
Feeling called to serve in ministry?
If you are feeling inspired by the story of Chris and Monica DeLaurentis, it might be time for you to pursue a degree in Pastoral or Urban Studies at North Central University!