PROFILE: Life in Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas / Joel and Rachel Triska, pastors

The Art of Worship

by Amber Weigand-Buckley

“We want to be a church for a community, not a church in a community,” says Rachel Triska of Life in Deep Ellum, described on the church's website as “a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic, and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.”

Pastor Joel Triska and his wife, Rachel, are the leaders at Life in Deep Ellum. Although the website lists Joel as the lead pastor and Rachel as executive director, they share both roles. “I take primary responsibility for the cultural center, and Joel takes responsibility for the faith community, but we really share authority in both areas,” Rachel says.

Joel says he and Rachel think more like missionaries than pastors in their approach to this unique area of downtown Dallas.

“How do we connect with the people here? How do we learn to speak their language? We learned about their customs and their rituals, and then we contextualized the gospel for them. We have a cultural center because we felt that is what speaks the language of Deep Ellum,” Joel says.

[Hobby Lobby] donated an empty warehouse and helped renovate it, then gave it to the fledgling church to turn into the cultural center it is today. After doing thousands of interviews with people in the community, they decided to frame the cultural center around what was deemed as the four pillars of the community: music, art, commerce, and community.

Clearly, Life in Deep Ellum, which an agnostic friend coined “the anchor for the neighborhood,” is intentionally different from traditional churches. However, Rachel notes the most significant difference is in the language they use.

“In the same way that our building is designed for this neighborhood, the language we use is for this neighborhood,” Rachel says. “There's very little Christianese in our services. Everything is accessible, so someone without any church background can come in, and they're generally not going to hear words like sanctification or justification. We don't dumb it down; we just don't use some of the words that are jargon within the traditional Christian setting.”

Life In Deep Ellum focuses on the arts more than other churches, attracting a lot of artists and allowing them — believers and nonbelievers alike — to express themselves at various events or venues throughout the cultural center, including Sunday morning services. But doing so doesn't compromise or water down the faith-based message the Triskas want to bring to the community. In fact, Joel and Rachel's Assemblies of God backgrounds and experiences come through in the services. About one-third of the congregation comes from a Pentecostal perspective. The rest are from other denominations.

“No matter what denomination someone grows up with, we try to stretch them to experience the strengths of other denominations. If people grew up Baptist, Rachel and I stretch them in the areas of the Holy Spirit.”

In their Life Groups, the Triskas are seeing people gradually open up to certain ideas, such as the Holy Spirit.

“We've found God wants us … in everything we do, [to] be very patient.” Rachel says. “What we have found in working with a representative culture of the next 15 to 20 years is that you go a lot slower, and you trust the Holy Spirit a lot more to do the work that you can't do. You plant seeds, and you don't see a lot of fruit for a while, but eventually it starts to come.”

Joel believes the growth of a church is not just about numbers as it is about impacting the community around them. “A good question to ask is: If we left, would they miss us?”

AMBER WEIGAND-BUCKLEY, freelance writer, Springfield, Missouri