Month: March 2022

Hungry for God’s Word? Consider the ‘how, habit, and value’ of it

Don’t you love a good buffet—one with lots of options, tastefully prepared, and ready to make it onto your plate and into your tummy? Such a buffet awaits all who would feast on the Bible. God’s Word contains a veritable smorgasbord of delights, pleasing every palate, and meeting every need.

Yet few take advantage of this offering. Why? It isn’t the monetary cost, for the food is free for the taking. Undoubtedly, many are hesitant to eat for a variety of reasons. But I think several key ones include (1) not knowing how, (2) not having a habit, and (3) not seeing the value. How do we help people get their plates filled? By meeting the hesitations head on!


Consider those who don’t know how to get into the Bible for personal enrichment and study. We live in an amazing electronic age that can make this easy. “There’s an app for that!” A great one is appropriately called The Bible App, and there are plenty more. This enables people to daily have a biblical reading that will engage and transform them.


Getting that daily reminder to read and engage, in bite-size portions initially, in
one’s inbox will soon help to develop a habit. The app that one uses should come in a variety that allows for a daily e-mail reminder to read.


The value will be realized as the habit is developing. When one reads a passage, relates it to what is going on in one’s life, and begins to receive nourishment and direction, one will rapidly come back over and over
for more.  

Beyond this initial suggestion on getting people to read, I believe getting people engaged to discuss the Word is also critical. Our churches need to be places where the text is explained and explored. The Bible needs to be seen as more than simply retelling the story of the walls of Jericho falling. The Bible is nuanced with various genres of literature, telling stories of love and betrayal, giving advice for the simple and wise, offering solace through laments, and expressing the full range of human emotions in a struggle to explain life, God, and purpose.  

As those in charge of teaching in our churches engage Scripture in those terms, then those who are observing the buffet will begin to get in line and fill their plates. Too often, those teaching are themselves needing to get into a bit more depth to help those who follow. In our internet age, this is easier than you might think. I encourage all interested in delving deeper for teaching or personal growth to consider various sources, including our own that can be found at

Panel: ‘You don’t have to be a theologian to be a great parent’

Panel discusses the challenges—and opportunities—of building strong biblical foundations in children

If statistics consistently show adults are not engaging with the Bible at high levels, is it safe to assume children are struggling in that area, as well? We asked three experts in the field of children’s ministry—Karen Kennemur, professor of children’s ministry and the Bessie Fleming Chair of Childhood Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Karen Tayne, family minister to women and preschool families at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving; and Keri Meek, children’s minister at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill—to talk about the state of biblical engagement among children and how parents can help build stronger biblical foundations in their families. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.

Jayson Larson: What is the state of biblical engagement and biblical literacy among children based on what you are seeing in your ministries?

Karen Kennemur: I think that biblical illiteracy [among children] is at an all-time high. One of the things I’ve seen [that concerns me] is the way we are doing church that I’m not sure is very friendly to children. Children may meet one time a week on a Sunday morning, and then that’s the only time they meet. Our parents are supposed to be the main disciplers of their children, but also I believe that the partnership of the church is extremely important. If a child is only going to be at church one hour a week, how are we able to actually help parents with biblical literacy there? I’m very concerned about children and families and where we are as we see ourselves today. 

Karen Tayne: I think as far as literacy, as far as knowing where books of the Bible are, how to look up scripture, [children] are competent in that area. As far as it engaging in their life, a lot of that flows from what they see at home. What we often find when we’re talking with parents, they never saw that modeled. They either grew up in a home that wasn’t a Christian home, or it was a home where the attitude was, “Take them to church and let church do it,” and we will have church conversations, but not spiritual conversations. In other words, “What was your story about today?” versus “What did God teach you today? How does that apply to your life?” Those deeper questions. And so for a lot of our parents, we’re learning that we have to get super practical in explaining those very vague terms of family worship or discipleship.

Keri Meek: I agree a lot with what Karen just said. As far as Bible skills, those things, I feel like most kids who come to church on a regular basis do feel confident in that area. But as far as them engaging in the Scriptures on a day-in-and-out thing, it’s really something that if it’s not modeled in the home, the large majority are not going to do that. It’s one of those things where if adults are not engaging in the Word, then what follows is the kids not doing the same in turn, because we’re only with them so little at church.

JL: What are some proven practical strategies or helpful tips that you have come across that would help parents start to build a biblical foundation in their children?

KT: I always tell my teachers and parents it is critical that you communicate when you’re telling a story from the Bible to have a Bible in your hand. Even if you may be reading from a curriculum, say, “This is God’s Word and we know it is true.” When you’re reading a Disney story book at night, and then you’re reading a Bible story, at that preschool age it’s really simple for them to just assume these are all stories. It’s critical to always communicate that there is a difference. And then, as early as possible, but especially when you get into those grade school years, start drawing their attention to the chronological narrative of the Bible and how it all points to Jesus. That’s super helpful.

KM: We also always stress that with our teachers, to use the Bible and never just have their lesson book out. The other thing is really training our teachers and then our parents to ask the questions: “What is God saying? Who is God in this passage? What does this passage teach us about who God is? How can we apply it to our everyday life?” So it’s not just telling the stories, but really asking those important questions so they can apply it to their life. And I love what Karen said, too: we’re teaching the whole narrative of the story from Genesis to Revelation, all pointing to the gospel, all pointing to who Jesus is and always drawing that out of every lesson with the kids. But not just teaching it, we teach our teachers to teach this, then it goes beyond that into the home as well, making it more easy and likely that parents will be able to point them to Jesus.

KK: I would say there are some simple things. I think that attending church as a family is very simple, but it’s very important. It was always good for my children and my husband and I to worship together so children are seeing their parents in a worship setting, they’re seeing their parents praise God, they’re seeing their parents in prayer. I think another thing that’s important is prayer. A lot of times, if the father and the mother were not raised in a Christian home, prayer is not something that comes easy to them. If the parents are not comfortable in modeling this and showing their children how to pray, then try praying over your children when they’re asleep. The other thing I did want to say, I think it’s important for children and pre-teens, even preschool children, to serve together as a family. 

JL: Many parents carry a constant guilt because they feel like they’re not doing a good job discipling their children biblically or they feel like they’ve missed their chance altogether. What encouragement do you have for parents who may feel that way?

KK: I think we all feel that we failed at some point. What I would say to young families and to young parents is it makes a difference that you spend time with the Lord, because when you spend time with the Lord, then what you have flows out of you. We had three kids in four years, so [spending time with the Lord] was hard to do. It’s hard to do when they’re babies and they’re staying up and you can’t get them to sleep and then you’re exhausted the next day. When that season goes away, then you have all these other things. Life as a parent is always fast, furious, and there’s always lots to do. I say embrace that, enjoy that time of life, but it’s extremely important to spend time in the Word and with the Lord in a strong prayer life. The other thing I would say is, you don’t have to be a theologian to be a great parent. In Deuteronomy, the writer gives us great advice in the Shema where he says [talk about Scripture] as you go through the day, when you lie down at night. That’s a great time to talk about the Bible story that they learned on Sunday. Take it one day at a time and in every activity.

KT: When those babies are little, start talking to them about God. Start calling out God moments even though they don’t understand. Start praying over them. Start doing all of those things so that you’re comfortable whenever they’re older to be already having those conversations. At a conference that we did years ago, we had three different parents who had very different styles of discipling their children speak on a panel. They did discipling of their children totally different and it gave our folks real-life models of what it looks like. And each one of them said, “I’ve totally messed up at times ….” That was freeing to a lot of them who had beaten themselves up a lot over messing up and thinking, “I’m never going to get this right.” But the most important thing is exactly what Dr. Kennemur said—live it out. If they see you living it out throughout your day, that will speak volumes to them.

KM: Shame and guilt have no place at the table. That is not of the Lord—that is from the enemy. When somebody is feeling shame and guilt, it paralyzes them and they won’t do anything. We have to help our parents understand that. Many of the parents that we have in our ministries did not grow up in a home where they even had a Bible or prayed together, so we’re having to teach these things. And again, it’s best when modeled. That’s why it’s so important that we build relationships with these families and that we’re training our teachers to do life with our families. The best way we can disciple others is to do life with them. Telling them, “You need to read God’s Word or pray with your kids,” it’s so foreign to so many people. But if you have them over to your house, and then you pray before dinner, or you ask one of your kids to pray, or you read a Scripture before dinner, you’re doing the little things and modeling that to show them how to do it.

Developing a Preaching Series

On March 1, 2015, I preached the first sermon of my first senior pastor assignment. I was nervous and felt woefully underprepared for the monumental task ahead of me. The second pastor in the church’s 35-year history, I had just turned 29 a few weeks earlier. I had not yet even graduated with my bachelor’s degree, but the Lord was faithful, and the church was patient. During my five-year assignment, I learned more than I could have imagined. I’d like to share the top five lessons I learned in developing a preaching series. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and by no means am I writing from a place of preaching perfection. I am a work in progress and hope to share some of that progress with you.

1. Be Prayerful: No doubt this goes without saying, but this is the area that I am prone to overlook. With the hectic schedule that comes with being a pastor (whether bi-vocational or full-time), a husband, a father, and even perhaps a student, it is surprising that the most accessible discipline is the first to be overlooked (by me at least). As terrible as this sounds, there were Sundays I would get to my office before service to pray, and I realized it was the first time I had stopped to pray over the service all week.

This does not mean that I never prayed. I remember spending chucks of my morning hours on my face in prayer for my church. It was a revitalization that took its toll on me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I prayed a lot, but I did not always pray that I would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s lead or my congregation’s needs. I did not always pray for humility in the pulpit or humility in how I handled pointed critiques of the sermon I had just preached. I did not always pray for faithfulness to the text or the task. I didn’t deviate from Scripture, but at times I was tempted to preach out of frustration and not out of love (more on this shortly). Last, I did not always pray for consistency in my study time. As a result, my failure to properly discipline myself for the time needed to preach week in and week out resulted in hasty preparation that showed in sermon delivery

2. Be Sensitive: In the development of any preaching series, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s moving is second only to prayer. I am in the habit of creating a spreadsheet that projects my sermons up to a year out, and if I am not careful, I can hold to that schedule rigidly. At times the Spirit moves, but if I am not sensitive to his moving, I can miss it all for the sake of “staying on schedule.”

A quick secondary note: Be sensitive to the needs of the flock you oversee. After two years at my first assignment, I was becoming frustrated. In my frustration, I remember thinking, “I have a church of Pharisees.” I have since repented of this ungracious critique, but instead of thinking about the church’s needs, I prepared a series through the Gospel of Matthew with the single intention of highlighting their “white-washed tombs.” This is an example of where being sensitive to the Spirit saves you from disaster. The Spirit convicted me that my heart was not in the right place to preach this series. To this day, I still have that entire unused sermon series.

3. Be Humble: Closely related to my previous point, humility in developing preaching series helps to circumvent lack of sensitivity (or lack of faithfulness and consistency, for that matter). A pastor who is prayerfully considering his flock’s needs and is sensitive to those needs as he prepares the Sunday meal for them to feast on, in conjunction with the moving of the Holy Spirit, is humbly putting the needs of the flock over his desires or frustrations. I learned this the hard way.

4. Be Faithful: For whatever season you are in, you are called to shepherd the congregation entrusted to you. Be faithful to them. Trials will come and stressful situations will arise; do not take your frustrations out on your people in your preaching. Be faithful to lead them in love (tough love at times). Loving faithfully means being faithful to the text. Be careful not to weaponize a passage because it perfectly proves the point of an argument you had last month. If you are faithful to the text, the Holy Spirit will do the job of convicting. He doesn’t need your help, but he does desire your faithfulness.

5. Be Consistent: Regardless if you are an expositional preacher who tackles whole books at a time, a topical preacher who exposes specific topics and themes at certain times of the year, or a combination of the two, be consistent. The Lord has gifted you with specific gifts. He has also made you unique. Be you. Early on, when I was developing a series, I struggled with who I was. I realized I was not John MacArthur, Adrian Rodgers, or Church Swindoll, and to try and be them was not consistent with who God had made me to be.

If you were looking for technical tips on what commentaries to use or whether you should use a Greek word in your sermon, I am sorry that is not what you got here. If you are frustrated, tired, and not looking forward to the tiresome work of preparing your next series, I hope you found encouragement. Brother, we have all been there. Struggle in a positive direction, for the glory of God alone.

Developing an Effective Invitation/Response

It’s Sunday Morning. I am attending your church’s worship service. I have bowed my head and listened to prayers. I have stood up for the music portion and carefully followed along with the lyrics. You have come up to the front and directed me to open the Bible on the back of the seat in front of me. For the past thirty minutes or so, you have been sharing the meaning of a part of the Bible. It clicks. You don’t know me. You don’t know what I have been dealing with these past few weeks. Yet somehow it just clicks.

Your sermon is not a TED Talk. Instead, it is more like a LIFE Talk. I can’t explain it, but it is exactly what I needed to hear today. You have obviously done your research and helped me understand what this part of the Bible is teaching, not just how you feel about it, but the way that it would have been understood in the time it was written. Now you are helping me understand why it is important for me, today. It makes sense. I am in agreement. 

That scenario is not too unlikely. In fact, it ought to be the desire and expectation of every pulpiteer that after the prayerful preparation of a biblically faithful sermon, the Word of God does that which it promises. It does not return void. It pierces the heart of men and women as the truth without any mixture of error.

But what is next? Here are a few pragmatic reminders when extending the invitation for people to respond to the dynamic message you will be sharing this coming Lord’s Day:

  1. Be Clear. 
    1. “Churchy” words can be confusing. Avoid jargon that goes unexplained because it may leave a first-timer in the dark. You’ve walked with them through the text. Be faithful to walk with them in accepting it. Whatever method of invitation and response you will be using, be sure to explain it clearly.
    2. Don’t be manipulative. Manipulation, trickery, or the twisting of someone’s arm is not befitting a minister of the gospel. We deal in truth, not trickery.
    3. Extend a gospel invitation every time. Invite people to go public with their faith through believer’s baptism. Invite them to join your local fellowship through your membership process. Invite them to repent of unconfessed sin. Invite them to love their neighbor. Invite them to commit to missions, evangelism, holiness, or whatever the text is calling for. Just be clear that God’s Word isn’t just for information but for transformation. In other words, be clear that everyone should be responding to what God’s Word teaches.
  2. Be Prepared.
    1. Prepare for people to respond. Let this be an act of faith on your part and on the part of your team, not faith in your preaching, but rather in what you’re preaching. You may not be the most confident in your sermon, but you ought to be confident in the power of the Holy Spirit.
    2. Prepare the right method. You may ask people to come forward and join you at the front. You could also invite them to fill out a connection/decision card and turn it in at a welcome station or complete it online. Maybe you ask people to join you and the church staff or response counselors in a designated area after the service. No matter what method you use, be sure to include the opportunity for anyone worshipping online to make a decision or seek counseling as well.
    3. Prepare others to help. I invite to the front other staff members and volunteers who are prepared to listen, pray, and even take someone to a designated area when they need to be counseled longer. We have other men and women equipped to sit down and help people who come forward during the response time. All these volunteers need is for one of the ministers to make eye contact and wave them forward. As they join the minister and the individual who is responding, we introduce everyone as well as share what has been said. I always let the person coming forward know that the staff member or volunteer there with us is a trusted friend. After all, you want people to be as comfortable as possible if you need to hand them off to someone else. Make sure no one is alone and no one is matched up in a mixed group. I personally make it a habit immediately after the close of the response time to rejoin those being counseled. You can find various tracts and resources at the SBTC webstore (com). If no one is being counseled that day, I let everyone know that I will be off to the side of the lobby in case they need to talk. You may be surprised by how many people make a decision after the benediction when nearly everyone else is gone. Whatever your method, help everyone involved to be prepared.
  3. Be Expectant.
    1. Don’t rush. I’m not saying to hold the congregation hostage until everyone comes forward. But you should be praying, even as you are looking around and deciding when God wants you to close the invitation.
    2. Include everyone. I tell the staff and volunteers that if they want to respond during the invitation, go ahead. Whatever their instrument, role, or location, if they need to respond, they shouldn’t hesitate.
    3. Remember the results are in God’s hands. People may not come forward at every service—although that may be a good expectation. However, someone coming forward, in and of itself, is not your goal. Your goal is to be faithful in proclaiming the Word of God, inviting people to respond to what it teaches, and then walking with them in discipleship.

Lone Star Scoop • April 2022

Thomas to be featured at Breathe Deep retreat in Allen

Gary Thomas, a best-selling author and international speaker, will be featured at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Breathe Deep retreat May 5-7 at the Marriot Allen Hotel.

Breathe Deep is a two-day retreat for non-senior pastor ministry staff and their spouses (if married) to get away from their everyday challenges and enjoy a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. The event will feature two banquet dinners and a spacious room for two peaceful nights. 

Thomas’ ministry aims to bring people closer to Christ and others through fostering spiritual growth and deeper relationships within the Christian community. He has authored 20 books that have sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. He is considered a thought leader in the areas of marriage, parenting, and spiritual formation.

Visit for full schedule of events, speaker info, and to register. Registration closes on April 14 or when all spots are full.

Amarillo pastor’s new book, ‘Shepherding Like Jesus,’ released by B&H Publishing

The most-needed aspect of pastoral ministry—Christlike character—is also the one that is most neglected, Andrew Hébert says in his new book, “Shepherding Like Jesus.”

Hébert is pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo. He said a string of national church scandals compelled him to write the book, which has been released by B&H Publishing. The book is available on Amazon, through Lifeway, and from other book retailers.

“This book is a call to rebel against much of what our culture understands pastoral leadership to be and return to being the Christ-shaped shepherd God has called us to be,” Hébert said.

Each chapter is punctuated by a pastoral reflection written by some of the more influential figures in Southern Baptist life, including Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Nathan Lorick, pastor and former SBTC President Juan Sanchez, Guidestone President and CEO Hance Dilbeck, and Jimmy Draper, president emeritus of Lifeway Christian Resources. 

Queen joins SBTC as evangelism consultant

Matt Queen, who serves as L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”) and professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is joining the Missional Ministries team of the SBTC as an evangelism consultant.

Queen said he will assist the SBTC in producing and leading evangelism training to reach the more than 19 million lost people in Texas with the gospel. He is currently advising and assisting in the development of a major evangelism emphasis the SBTC will launch next year.

“In addition to my primary duty of teaching evangelism at Southwestern, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in a consulting role with Dr. Tony Mathews and his Missional Ministries team,” Queen said. 

Said Mathews: “We are so excited that he has joined our Missional Ministries team. An incredible academic with a pastor’s heart and a passion for the lost are a few characteristics that Matt embodies. He is simply on fire for the Lord. I am so grateful to have Matt as part of our team, and he has already been a huge help and a joy to work with.”

Queen also serves as associate dean in Southwestern’s Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions. His research and writing focus primarily on the gospel message, personal evangelism, and congregational evangelism. Queen regularly leads evangelism workshops and preaches in churches across the country. He and his family are members of Lane Prairie Baptist Church in Joshua, where he serves as associate pastor of evangelism. 

First Colleyville to host Role of the Pastor Conference
First Colleyville will host the 2022 Role of the Pastor Conference on Thursday, April 21, from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The conference aims to encourage pastors to shepherd the flocks to which God has entrusted them while maintaining their spiritual health and guiding the church through seasons of trials and conflict. Mark Dance, director of pastoral wellness at Guidestone, will speak on the “Pastor as a Person.” Deron Biles, professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, will speak about the “Pastor as Peacemaker,” while Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, will cover the topic of “Pastor as Counselor.” Cost is $10 and includes breakfast and lunch. For more information, visit
Registration for SBTC Roundup underway

Shane Pruitt (North American Mission Board), Dhati Lewis (Blueprint), and Austin Wadlow (The Commons Church) will be the keynote speakers at the SBTC’s annual Roundup, scheduled for May 11-13 at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

“We invite some of the best practitioners to lead at this event, but what makes it great are the people who come,” SBTC Collegiate Ministry Associate Mitch Tidwell said. “Our goal is for churches and their leaders to make meaningful relationships with each other. College ministries are on an island, and our goal is to create a network of churches within SBTC that can help each other in the tasks to reach, develop, and send college students.”

Roundup is a collaborative learning event that champions church-based collegiate leaders.

Visit for more information and to register.

Info webinar to be held for new church revitalization experience
A webinar will be offered on April 28 from 1-3 p.m. for pastors and church leaders to learn about Regenesis, the SBTC’s newly designed church revitalization experience for the post-COVID church done in partnership with Future Church Co. Regenesis combines breakthrough training for disciple-making clarity with gospel-centered visionary planning tools. Will Mancini, one of America’s leading church consultants and author of the recent book “Future Church,” has been the lead designer and will be certifying all of our SBTC and partner coaches. Joining this call is not a commitment to sign up for a cohort. All pastors, staff, lay leaders, and other key leadership are encouraged to attend this call. Learn more and register at
Carrell to serve as keynote at ‘She Stands’ conference

Rebecca Carrell, a longtime Dallas/Fort Worth radio broadcaster, author, and podcaster, will serve as the keynote speaker at the She Stands Women’s Conference April 23 at First Baptist Church of Mansfield. 

The conference aims to equip and encourage women of all ages to serve and glorify God in the places He has placed them. Carrell’s books include “Holy Jellybeans: Finding God Through Everyday Things” and “Holy Hiking Boots: When God Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary.” She co-hosts the podcast “Honestly, Though: Real Talk. Real Life. Real Faith.”

Cost of the conference is $35. For more information and event updates, visit

Pastor artístico ve a Dios bendecir la iglesia al procurar que la gente se sienta bienvenida

Cuando Ramón Vélez llegó a Fort Worth desde su natal Puerto Rico, fue para buscar atención médica para su hija, quien padece de una condición neurológica. No esperaba que el camino de Dios para él incluyera ser pastor de una iglesia.

Ahora esa iglesia, Una Nueva Familia, está experimentando un tremendo crecimiento con Vélez sirviendo como su pastor principal. Cincuenta personas han recibido a Cristo como su Salvador en los últimos dos meses. Debido a tal crecimiento, Vélez dijo que la iglesia ha alquilado gradualmente cuatro locales adicionales cerca de la iglesia. Uno de esos espacios adicionales es para niños e incluye dos salones adecuados para niños con necesidades especiales.

Ministrar y centrarse en los niños y los jóvenes ha sido uno de los medios que Dios ha utilizado para el crecimiento de la iglesia, dijo. En última instancia, cree que Dios ha bendecido a la iglesia porque ha hecho que su objetivo principal sea reflejar verdaderamente el amor de Cristo, “algo que el mundo no puede ofrecer, ni se puede comprar en una tienda ni encontrar en ningún otro lugar que no sea en el cuerpo de Cristo”. Vélez se preocupa por promover la confianza entre la congregación y hacer que todos se sientan igualmente bienvenidos.

“La iglesia debe destacarse en que la gente se sienta amada”, dijo Vélez.

"Dios me sacó del vandalismo en las calles con grafiti para utilizar el arte de la homilética combinado con el grafiti para predicar el evangelio."

Ramon Velez utilizado la capacidad artística que Dios le ha dado para compartir el evangelio de forma creativa mientras pinta con grafiti.

Vélez comenzó como un líder en la iglesia que, con el tiempo, se le pidió que sirviera como pastor asociado. Cuando el anterior pastor tuvo que mudarse, le pidió a Vélez que diera un paso adelante y sirviera como pastor principal. Una Nueva Familia tenía entonces unos 50 miembros. Después de pastorear la congregación durante seis años, la iglesia tiene ahora más de 200 miembros fieles y visitantes regulares.

Vélez dice que Una Nueva Familia no es lo que él consideraría una “iglesia tradicional”. Ha incorporado elementos menos formales en la experiencia de culto y en sus instalaciones, como pintar las paredes de negro, utilizar una iluminación tenue en algunos momentos del servicio de adoración y vestir camisetas en lugar de atuendos más formales. Aunque ahora se centra más en el ministerio pastoral, a lo largo de los años también ha utilizado la capacidad artística que Dios le ha dado para compartir el evangelio de forma creativa mientras pinta con grafiti. Ha pintado más de 1.000 cuadros y, a su vez, miles de personas han escuchado el evangelio a través de ese ministerio.

“Dios me sacó del vandalismo en las calles con grafiti para utilizar el arte de la homilética, combinado con el grafiti, para predicar el evangelio”, dijo Vélez. “En lugar de dar forma con pintura, ahora intento que Dios utilice mi testimonio, mi carácter, mi nueva vida y mi ministerio para dar forma a las personas que vienen a la iglesia”.

El pastor Vélez, originario de Puerto Rico, sirve al Señor en UNF junto con su esposa, Rosa Miranda, y sus dos hijos.

Recibir formación teológica ha ayudado significativamente a Vélez, quien tiene una Maestría en Estudios Teológicos del Seminario Teológico Bautista Southwestern en Fort Worth. También tiene una licenciatura en artes gráficas, lo que ha ayudado a su ministerio evangelístico por 12 años, como también ahora en el pastorado. 

Vélez dijo que Dios ha usado a su esposa, Rosa Miranda, para ayudarlo a usar su creatividad para servir al Señor. Ellos sirven juntos a la iglesia con sus dos hijos. Entre los sabios consejos que su esposa le ha dado, está el de aceptar las críticas que puedan surgir por realizar el ministerio de formas no tradicionales, pero creativas.

Citando a Isaías, que se despojó de calzado y vestimenta durante tres años (Isaías 20:3), Vélez dijo: “Yo hago todo lo que Dios me pida para proclamar su mensaje de salvación. Y si a través del ministerio que Dios me ha encargado se salva una persona, por muy radical que parezca lo que hago, gloria a Dios. Mi oración ferviente y constante es que la gente siga viniendo a la iglesia y se rinda a los pies de Cristo”.

“En vez de formar con pintura, ahora trato de que Dios use mi testimonio, carácter, mi nueva vida y ministerio para formar la gente que llega a la iglesia,” añadió Vélez.

Pastor with artistic flair sees God bless church through emphasis on making people feel welcome

When Ramon Velez came to Fort Worth from his native Puerto Rico, it was to seek medical care for his daughter, who suffers from a neurological condition. He didn’t expect that God’s path for him would include pastoring a church.

Now that church, Una Nueva Familia, is experiencing tremendous growth with Velez serving as its lead pastor. Fifty people have received Christ as their Savior in the last two months. To keep up with the growth, Velez said the church has gradually rented four additional locations near the church. One of those additional spaces is for children and includes two classrooms to minister to eight children with special needs. 

Ministering to and focusing on children and youth has been one of the means God has used to grow the church, he said. Ultimately, he believes God has blessed the church because it has made its main focus truly reflecting the love of Christ—“something the world cannot offer, nor can it be purchased in a store or found anywhere else but in the body of Christ.” Velez is intentional about promoting trust amongst the congregation and making everyone feel equally welcome.

“God pulled me out from graffiti street vandalism to use the art of homiletics, combined with graffiti, to preach the gospel.”

Ramon Velez, pastor of Una Nueva Familia, uses his God-given artistic ability to creatively share the gospel while simultaneously painting with graffiti.

“The church should excel in making people feel loved,” Velez said.

Velez began as a leader in the church who, over time, was asked to serve as an associate pastor. When the former pastor had to move, he asked Velez to step up and serve as the lead pastor. Una Nueva Familia had about 50 members at that time. After pastoring the congregation for six years, the church now has more than 200 faithful members and regular visitors.

Velez says Una Nueva Familia is not what he would consider a “traditional church.” He has incorporated less formal elements into the worship experience and his facilities, such as painting walls black, using dimmed lighting at points during the worship service, and wearing T-shirts rather than more formal attire. Though his focus now is more on pastoral ministry, he has also used his God-given artistic ability over the years to creatively share the gospel while simultaneously painting with graffiti. He has finished more than 1,000 paintings and, in turn, thousands of people have heard the gospel through that ministry.

The Velez family

“God pulled me out from graffiti street vandalism to use the art of homiletics, combined with graffiti, to preach the gospel,” Velez said. “Instead of shaping with paint, now I try to let God use my testimony, character, my new life, and ministry to shape the people who come to the church.”

Receiving theological training has significantly helped Velez, who holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He also has a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts, which has helped his evangelistic ministry for 12 years and also with his graphic work for the church.. 

Velez said God has used his wife, Rosa Miranda, to help him use his creativity to serve the Lord. They serve the church together alongside their two children. Among the wise counsel he said she has given him is to embrace the criticism that may come from doing ministry in non-traditional-yet-creative ways.

Citing Isaiah, who was stripped and left barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20:3), Velez said, “I do whatever God asks me to do to proclaim His message of salvation. And if through the ministry God has commissioned me to do one person is saved, no matter how radical what I do may seem, glory to God. My fervent and constant prayer is that people will continue to come to church and surrender at the feet of Christ.”

Velez has finished more than 1,000 paintings and, in turn, thousands of people have heard the gospel through that ministry.

Women in Uganda find escape from brothels and hope for salvation

Women in the slum brothels of Kampala, Uganda, are learning God has not forgotten them, there is hope and redemption in their life stories, and He has given them a new name.  

IMB missionary Allie White remembers riding in motorcycle taxis past slums housing brothels, and she would look down the alleyways and ask, “What is this place?” 

Allie told one of her Ugandan national partners, Victoria, that she wanted to go into the area. 

“I’m not going down that alley,” Victoria said firmly. However, the Lord turned her heart toward the women as she began praying with Allie and other Ugandan Christians. 

“It’s a very high area of prostitution, so we began to ask God to open doors for us down there,” Allie said. 

Victoria said God used future trips riding past the slums to open her heart.  

“Whenever we were passing by, I would feel in my heart that I should go and meet these ladies. The more we went down there, the more we felt deep in our hearts that we’re supposed to start drawing close to these ladies and then see how their life is and how can we reach out to bring the gospel to them,” Victoria said. 

When Allie shared her desire to minister to prostitutes with her language teacher, she told her, “My heart burns for this too.” 

The women had enough interest to start a weekly Bible study. Six people came the first week. The second week, they asked a local councilman to encourage women to come. Sixty women came the next week.  

Many women gave their lives to Christ that day and are still involved in the Bible study. They’ve chosen to get baptized and are involved in a local church in the slum. 

“Our goal is to restore women who are affected by the sex trade industry and prostitution, and to empower them with dignity as they proactively engage in a spiritual transformation,” Allie said.

Allie said God led her and her national partners to Revelation 2:17: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” 

They learned that the women have a ‘work name’ and a ‘home name.’  

“When we first meet them, a lot of them give us their name that they go by at the brothel. We’ve seen a lot of cases when they come to Christ, or they get comfortable enough with us, that they share their real name with us.”  

Allie said the verse is a “beautiful picture of how, when we become God’s children, we receive a white stone of innocence, even though we deserve guiltiness. We get a white stone with a new name written on it. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness in our own lives and with these women.” 

One of these women is named Sarah, who comes from a Muslim background.   

Salvation of Sarah  

After Sarah’s husband passed away, her father-in-law sold everything they owned and put her out on the street. It wasn’t what she wanted for her life, but to provide for her children, she turned to prostitution. Sarah committed her life to Christ at the Bible study, and she knew she couldn’t go back to prostitution. She began making soap to bring in an income. 

When Sarah was almost evicted, the church, located in the middle of the slum and without much income, raised the equivalent of $200 to cover Sarah’s rent for six months.  

“God has really changed Sarah’s life. She is hungry for the Word of God. She is bringing other women in that area to the weekly Bible studies. The love of Christ, it just exudes from her,” Katie Hall said. Katie also serves in Kampala with the IMB.

A Ugandan believer walks through the slums in Kampala, Uganda. IMB PHOTO

Sarah recently received her first Bible and was baptized with seven other women who also left prostitution. Sarah’s 19-year-old daughter asked why the Christian women visited, Sarah shared her testimony, and her daughter committed her life to Christ. 

“God is using Sarah among the women there,” Katie said. “She’s not turning her back on the women that she worked with. She’s actually actively drawing them toward the church and toward the ministry. You can just see Christ radiate from her.” 

Come as you are 

“We include women who are still very deep in prostitution. We let women come who have a deep desire to leave but just don’t know how to. The women who have left also are involved,” Allie said.  

“It is very challenging, because a lot of the women have been in this business, the sex trade industry, for a long time. Some of them started very young, so they don’t necessarily have the education or [knowledge of] other trades,” Allie said. 

Their faith and courage encourage Allie.  

“When they say they are done with prostitution, they are giving up their job, they are giving their housing, because most of them live in the brothel. They’re saying, ‘I trust God enough to give up this and suffer,’” Allie said.  

Katie said the local church’s involvement in the ministry is massive. The pastor’s wife had been trying to find a way to reach these women. 

“Our national partners are walking very, very closely with these ladies because they can enter into a space that we’re not privy to often,” Katie said. 

The involvement of local church members and national partners in the ministry requires trust. 

“Our national partners have probably experienced more pushback because they had to cross some cultural barriers for themselves to even go in that area,” Katie said. “They’re taking a risk being associated with it, so they really have had to step into an area that they were uncomfortable stepping into in order to engage the women.” 

“Ladies from the church are walking side by side with Allie. They’re leading out in a lot of the one-to-one discipleship that’s happening,” Katie continued. “They’re also walking hand in hand with them.” 

Allie agreed. “My main job is to walk beside my national partners. They are the ones in the trenches every day.” 

Katie said consistency is key.  

“Lots of people might come in once, give some things or vomit the gospel, but then they just leave, and they don’t come back,” Katie said.”  

Allie, Victoria and other national partners’ consistency makes all the difference.  

“It’s that they keep coming back to the places that aren’t lovely. They keep coming back and they keep chatting with the women, and they keep just sitting there and they keep taking some of their abuses because some of them are drunk and yell at them and are mad that they’re there. They think they’re going to take their customers. Allie and Victoria have continually gone back and continually loved and continually just shown up,” Katie said. 

Pray now for the continued service of Christians in the slums of Uganda. Ask God to deliver more women out of prostitution and into an eternal relationship with Him. 

High court ruling for Texas inmate praised

WASHINGTON (BP) – Southern Baptists at national, state, and local levels commended the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday (March 24) in support of a condemned Texas inmate’s request to have his pastor lay hands on and pray aloud for him when he receives a lethal injection.

In an 8-1 opinion, the high court said John Ramirez, who was convicted of a 2004 murder, “is likely to succeed in showing [the state’s] policy substantially burdens his exercise of religion.” Ramirez had sued Texas prison officials for refusing to permit Dana Moore, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, to minister to him as requested when he is executed.

With only Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and returned the case to federal court. That court should issue an injunction requiring the state to grant Ramirez’s request if prison officials continue to refuse to allow Moore to touch and pray audibly for him at a rescheduled execution, the high court said in its opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

“This is a significant affirmation of religious liberty,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “The Supreme Court affirmed that religious freedom does not end at the execution chamber door.

“In the majority opinion, the court provided significant guidance about how this case should be handled moving forward,” Leatherwood said in an ERLC news release. “The state of Texas should accommodate Mr. Ramirez’s sincere requests based on his religious beliefs and allow Pastor Moore … to minister to Mr. Ramirez in his final solemn moments of life.”

Tony Wolfe, associate executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, called the decision “a win for religious liberty.”

“Baptists have long confessed their conviction toward ‘full freedom in the pursuit of spiritual ends,’ noting that such religious liberty ‘implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men’ (The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the SBC’s confession of faith),” he said in written remarks.

“Even those among us who are convicted of the most heinous of crimes are to be cared for and ministered to by religious officials at their request and upon the church’s agreement,” Wolfe said. “A pastor’s presence and spiritual ministry at the moment of death [are] among the most solemn of ministerial occasions.”

Moore told Baptist Press, “It is a blessing that if John does receive a date and if he is executed, that at least I’ll be able to hold his hand [or otherwise touch him] and pray” with him.

It also is a blessing “from the precedent that we can practice our faith, even in the death chamber,” he said. “[A]s a Baptist, that’s important, to be able to practice our faith where and when we need to be allowed to do so. There’s nothing compelling to keep us from doing that, even in the death chamber.”

Though, Moore said, “the downside is this opens up the opportunity” for him to receive a new date for execution.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a written statement Thursday, “We respect the court’s decision and will be making appropriate modifications to our practices to align with today’s ruling.”

The ERLC joined in a friend-of-the-court brief for the Supreme Court with the Christian Legal Society and six other faith or religious freedom organizations in support of Ramirez’s free exercise of religion.

Ramirez, 37, was scheduled to receive the death penalty Sept. 8, but the Supreme Court granted a stay of the execution that night and heard oral arguments about the case in November. He filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court after a federal judge and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals both refused to stay the execution.

Moore said he believes Ramirez came to know the Lord in prison in “a genuine way” and underwent a change. He has ministered to Ramirez since 2016, when the prisoner was accepted as a member of Second Baptist Church. In 2008, Ramirez was convicted of the murder of convenience store clerk Pablo Castro, whom he stabbed 29 times during a robbery.

Texas failed to satisfy the requirements of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Roberts said in the majority opinion. RLUIPA, a federal law enacted in 2000, prohibits the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion by a prisoner or, in land-use cases, by a person or institution. The government, however, can gain an exemption from the law if it can show it has a compelling interest and is using the “least restrictive means” to further that interest.

Texas “has not shown that it is likely to carry that burden,” Roberts wrote. “Ramirez is likely to succeed on his RLUIPA claims because Texas’s restrictions on religious touch and audible prayer in the execution chamber burden religious exercise and are not the least restrictive means of furthering the State’s compelling interests.”

When it approved RLUIPA, Congress decided “prisoners like Ramirez have a strong interest in avoiding substantial burdens on their religious exercise, even while confined,” according to the chief justice’s opinion. “Ramirez is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief because he will be unable to engage in protected religious exercise in the final moments of his life.”

A specific injunction like the one Ramirez “seeks – rather than a stay of execution – will be the proper form of equitable relief when a prisoner raises a RLUIPA claim in the execution context,” Roberts wrote.

In his dissent in Ramirez v. Collier, Thomas said the “only relevant evidence … cuts strongly in favor of finding that Ramirez is insincere” in his belief that having Moore lay hands on him is part of his faith. Also, Ramirez failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to him, Thomas said.

Ramirez said in his application to the Supreme Court he believes Moore’s “laying on of hands on him as he dies, and the vocalization of prayers and Scripture, will assist his passing from life to death and will guide his path to the afterlife.”

Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, one of two Baptist conventions in the state, and the SBC, Moore said.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice changed its policy on permitting clergy in the execution chamber after the Supreme Court stayed Patrick Murphy’s execution in 2019 because his Buddhist spiritual advisor was not allowed to be present though Christian and Muslim chaplains were. The department barred all spiritual advisors from the execution chamber until it revised its policy in April 2021 to permit their presence. Under the current rules, chaplains are not permitted to pray or read Scripture while in the chamber, however.

The ERLC-endorsed brief argued the state violated RLUIPA. In addition to the ERLC, also signing onto the brief filed by Christian Legal Society were the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, National Association of Evangelicals, Anglican Church in North America, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Rutherford Institute and Queens (N.Y.) Federation of Churches.

Thomas was admitted to a Washington hospital March 18 with “flu-like symptoms,” the Supreme Court’s public information office reported March 20. It has issued no updates on his condition.

This article was originally published by Baptist Press.

New Braunfels church plant turning everyday places into sacred spaces

Hundreds of people have been reached in New Braunfels as Epic Life, a church plant, fulfills its vision of “transforming everyday places into sacred spaces” where people can connect to Christ. 

One way church members do that literally is by showing up on Saturday nights to convert a local batting cage into a worship location for Sunday mornings, and about 400 people have been attending each week. Since the church’s launch in 2019, more than 160 people have been baptized.

“We’ve seen so many stories of God doing a work that only He can do,” Lead Pastor Brent Isbill said. “We’ve seen people step out of addiction. We’ve seen marriages restored. We’ve seen dads become spiritual leaders in their homes.” 

As it strives to make disciples, Epic Life has
defined a disciple using three words: experience,
express, and expand, said Isbill, who was a student pastor at Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels for 10 years before planting.

“We believe a follower of Jesus experiences on a daily basis the presence of Christ through His Word, through creation, through prayer,” Isbill said, “and as they experience His presence, it’s only natural that they would want to express their love to the Lord and the world around them.”

As Epic Life looks for opportunities to expand God’s kingdom, Isbill urges members to have an EPIC mindset, an acrostic for: Expectant faith, People matter, Irresistible community, and Creating margin.

“We’ve seen so many stories of God doing a work that only He can do. We’ve seen people step out of addiction. We’ve seen marriages restored. We’ve seen dads become spiritual leaders in their homes.”

Brent Isbill, lead pastor of Epic Life, is trying to help people create margin in their lives so they can offer God the best of their time, talent and treasure.

“Whether you’re a little kid or a senior adult, every day we want you to wake up with an expectancy in your soul that the God of the universe wants to meet with you,” Isbill said, adding that the expectancy includes knowing God has a plan for each day.

Because people matter, the way Christ followers treat those they encounter on campus, in business, or in their neighborhoods is consequential, Isbill said. “It matters to God, and the way we know it matters is to look at the cross.”

With Acts 2:42 as a model, Epic Life seeks to create irresistible community by out-loving the secular world. “Others may not believe what we believe at first, but we want them to see the love for each other that we have,” he said.

The goal of creating margin is needed in the world today, the pastor said, because people are “out of time, into debt up to their eyeballs, and overcommitted.” 

Since Epic Life launched in 2019, more than 160 people have been baptized. Lives have been changed in ways only God could do, said Lead Pastor Brent Isbill.

“We believe that God has a better way, so we want people to create margin in their lives with their time, talent, and treasure so they can’t be spread so thin that they’re not making a difference or running so fast that they’re always exhausted,” Isbill said. “We want people to eliminate some good things from their lives so they can have great things in their lives.”

Epic Life started with 56 people at its first gathering, and just last year the church baptized 59 people. “So we baptized more people than we had gathered at our first service,” Isbill said. During the first year of COVID, the church doubled in size, from 200 to 400, he said.

“We love our city. The world is moving to Texas. Every week we have new guests. We have so many people from California that are moving in,” Isbill said. “It’s been the most fun and exciting thing me and my wife have ever done in ministry, and we love our people. I couldn’t be prouder of how God is using them to reach people in our city with the gospel.”

The church is motivated to transform everyday places into sacred spaces where people can connect to Christ.

Church planting is vital, Isbill said, because a church plant improves the other churches in a town by refocusing on the goal. He gave an imaginary scenario of a guy named Joe who comes to know the Lord through a church plant and starts talking to his neighbor Bill about his faith. Joe probably never knew Bill was an active believer at an established church in town, but because of Joe’s new enthusiasm, Bill may intentionally start to share his faith.

“Bill’s never going to go to Joe’s church plant. He’s going to stay at whatever established church he’s at, but that helps fuel the mission of the church at large, and that’s what I love,” Isbill said.

Every church plant is a unique expression of the gospel, he said.

“The reason we need to plant other churches is because that church is going to reach people that no one would have the capacity to reach with the gifts and talents in the body of Christ that He puts there,” Isbill said.

Epic Life already supports other church plants, and it hopes to plant another congregation in New Braunfels before long, the pastor said, to keep the multiplication and the enthusiasm going.