Month: March 2023

Biblical literacy and the need for a comeback

Two young female friends sitting on the couch and discussing the Bible

Speaking to a group of young pastors at a dinner held during the recent Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Empower Conference, Colorado pastor and author J.T. English told a brief story about serving in a church that aimed to teach adults on an eighth grade reading level.

The strategy made sense, considering the average American adult reads on an eighth grade level. However …

“An eighth grade reading level is actually good,” English said, “but if all you’re teaching at is an eighth grade level, you’re going to have an eighth grade [biblical] literacy level in your church 20, 30, 40 years from now. So it’s really important that [churches] develop a sequence of education to help people move from those more elementary environments to a more graduated, challenging environment.”

Put another way, English is challenging churches—filled with members who often feel nauseatingly busy and constantly crunched for time—to raise, rather than lower, the bar when it comes to teaching theology.

The need to raise the bar is greater than ever. English cited findings from last year’s The State of Theology study conducted by Lifeway Research. While studies like these frequently provide many discouraging revelations, they don’t seem to be providing the wake-up call needed to turn the tide. 

"A sampling of the study reveals the worldviews of American evangelicals are becoming harder to discern from non-evangelical American adults."

A sampling of the study reveals the worldviews of American evangelicals are becoming harder to discern from non-evangelical American adults. When asked if God changes and adapts to different circumstances, 51% of non-evangelicals and 48% of evangelicals agreed. When presented with the statement, “Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God,” 71% of non-evangelicals and 65% of evangelicals agreed.

And then there was this disturbing nugget: 56% of evangelicals agreed with the statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.”

While he offered a number of strategies for raising the bar, here are a couple of concepts English mentioned that may be worth considering in your context:

Consider concentric circles of discipleship

English noted the gospels show Jesus pouring His life into thousands of people, but also to a group of 72, a group of 12, a group of three, and even ministering in one-on-one situations. It’s a model that can be replicated in the modern church, he said. “I think it’s important for us to think about the concentric circles of people we are giving our best investment to,” he said. “[For example], who are the … people you’re really trying to pour yourself into?”

Active models of learning

Passive models of learning are commonly formed when a single speaker lectures to a group of people whose job is to listen. Active learning models require the listener to interact with the information being provided. English said studies have shown those who engage in passive models of learning typically retain only 5% of the information with which they’re presented. That number jumps to 20% if the learner takes notes, but skyrockets to 80% when the learner speaks about the information with someone else. He wasn’t advocating eliminating passive models of learning, but rather, challenging churches to incorporate multiple models of learning in their contexts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see a comeback, of sorts, in a “state of” survey like this one and see numbers that measure godliness and doctrinal purity on the rise? To get there, we’re going to have to look for worthwhile places to invest our time and resources and continually invite followers of Christ to stretch themselves to take whatever next step God has set before them.

FBC Dean experiencing an injection of life through a few strategic shifts

‘Sometimes it’s the

little things'

The small town of Dean—with a population just shy of 500—sits slightly northwest of Wichita Falls. It’s a place where neighbors know and care about one another and where going to church is a good thing.

First Baptist Church of Dean—founded in 1909 as MableDean Missionary Baptist Church—sits on a long stretch of State Highway 79 North, about four miles from the town’s city limits sign. The church has long been a bulwark of the community, but with four pastors over the past decade, not to mention a pandemic, times have been challenging.

Yet FBC Dean is on the cusp of a huge comeback, said Pastor Wayne Miller, who came to the church in September 2022. Miller accepted the call to FBC Dean after his name kept coming up as the church went through a lengthy pastor search process.

Miller came to the church with an unusual resume. He is a cartoonist who illustrated the Christian apologetics book Stand Firm and, at another time, helped lead the successful merger of La Junta Baptist and Midway Baptist into GracePointe Church in La Junta.

Miller and his wife, Betsy, moved into the FBC Dean parsonage following an interim position at Pipeline Church in Hurst. The local paper, the Clay County Leader, featured him on the front page with the headline: “Big city pastor goes country.” At FBC Dean, the Millers found a predominantly older congregation with longtime Royal Ambassadors (RA) and Girls in Action (GA) programs run by an experienced leader.

They also found folks ready for a challenge. What the church has done in only a few months could be emulated by many congregations hoping to preserve important traditions while undergoing a rejuvenation. 

“Sometimes it’s the little things,” Miller said.

Some of those little things are opening new doors for FBC Dean. They include:

Enhancing the physical environment.

Miller said among the first things the church did after his arrival was raise the window shades to let in more light, and to remove artificial flower arrangements, embracing a sleeker, more modern look. “Less is more” became the church’s informal motto.

Members were also encouraged during services to move up a pew or two, closer to the front of the sanctuary, even when that meant giving up their familiar places. This encourages a welcoming feeling within the congregation.

“We want to have community in our church, but we are also reaching out to the community to let them know we want to be their church.”

Engaging the larger community. 

“We want to have community in our church, but we are also reaching out to the community to let them know we want to be their church,” Miller said. 

Building on the success of its RA and GA programs, the church continues to send a van to pick up kids and take them home. Most of the children and teens are from families outside the church. Recently, a pinewood derby held for RA groups from FBC Dean and several other churches created excitement. Even more exciting, a boy recently made a profession of faith at the church. 

Connections with Petrolia ISD, which serves Dean, are growing stronger. Miller will be speaking at baccalaureate services for Petrolia High School this May. The church has also started allowing community groups to use its half-court gym and playground. 

Wayne Miller became the pastor First Baptist Church of Dean in September of 2022. Submitted photo

Rethinking church with intentional evangelism. 

“We have moved the focus from church growth to kingdom growth,” Miller said. “You can’t go to church. It’s impossible. A church is not a building. A church is people. People make up the church. We’ve come to worship, study, learn, and grow.”

Intentional evangelism is part of FBC Dean’s kingdom focus. Miller said he often preaches on evangelism and is mentoring deacons, leaders, and members how to start gospel conversations. He recommends a simple two-question evangelistic approach that involves first asking, “Can I ask you a question?” Very few say no. If the person agrees, the second question, he said, should be, “When you go to church, where do you go?”

Everyone will answer that, Miller said. “They will tell you a place they go or they will say they don’t go anywhere. They may say they are not religious.” Regardless of how they answer, the question opens the door for a gospel conversation, Miller said. 

“If someone says, ‘I really don’t believe in all that religion stuff,’ you can ask, ‘Why?’ and boom, you’ve got a conversation,” he explained. “People are having success. We are starting to see the overflow.”

Praying and memorizing Scripture together. 

FBC Dean spends time in prayer, as does the pastor. They also memorize Scripture together. Each week, Miller gives the congregation Scripture to memorize, and he does the work, too. 

On a more personal level, members have also been encouraged to talk to and pray for their neighbors. Neighbors may know one another in Dean, but situations change and sometimes it can be a long amount of time between meaningful visits. Even so, people need the encouragement of prayer.

“[Miller’s] passion and the church’s desire to reach their community for Jesus has allowed the church to thrive,” said Anthony Svajda, SBTC pastoral ministries associate. “God is doing great things.”

Nacido bajo la dura cúpula del comunismo, pastor nunca renunció a Jesús en su camino de Cuba

Un largo viaje, pavimentado con pasos de fe

Años después de comprometerse a seguir a Cristo en su niñez, plantar iglesias y fundar institutos bíblicos bajo el duro régimen de Fidel Castro en Cuba, Misael Rodríguez se encontró lavando ollas y sartenes en un restaurante de comida rápida en el área de Dallas sin todavía tener alguna propuesta de regresar a cumplir con el llamado para el cual fue creado. 

En una ocasión comencé a llorar y le dije al Señor: “‘Estaré aquí todo el tiempo que tú quieras para mantener a mi familia,’” recuerda Rodríguez que le dijo a Dios un día mientras lavaba los platos en el restaurante, “’pero anhelo servirte en el ministerio’. De repente, todo a mi alrededor quedó en silencio y me invadió una enorme paz. Mientras lloraba, Dios sanó mi alma.”

El Señor no sólo lo sanó, también le abrió una puerta.

Al día siguiente, Rodríguez recibió una invitación de Lakepointe Church en Rockwall para ayudar a plantar un campus hispano en Mesquite. En el 2014, alrededor de un año después de ayudar a iniciar el campus de Lakepointe en Mesquite—que había crecido a 85 asistentes regulares—Rodríguez fue llamado a servir como pastor del ministerio hispano para Hillcrest Baptist Church en Cedar Hill, a unas 20 millas al suroeste de Dallas. 

El camino hasta allí fue fructífero, aunque difícil.

“Cada vez que empezaba el curso escolar, recibía burlas, ataques e intimidación por el mero hecho de ser cristiano.”

‘No renuncié a mi fe’

Rodríguez nació y creció en Cuba en la década de 1970, cuando el régimen comunista de Castro era fuerte. Los cristianos eran duramente hostigados, incluidos los niños en las escuelas. 

“Cada vez que empezaba el curso escolar, recibía burlas, ataques e intimidación por el mero hecho de ser cristiano,” cuenta Rodríguez.  

Rodríguez recuerda que cada primer día del año escolar, la directora de la escuela pasaba por cada salón para identificar a los niños religiosos y les pedía que se levantaran para que sus compañeros pudieran mofarse de ellos. “Recuerdo que una vez nos pusieron delante de los 500 alumnos del campus [para que pudieran] abuchear a todos los niños religiosos,” recuerda, “pero no renuncié a mi fe.”  

Rodríguez, animado por el predicador de una cruzada evangelística, empezó a seguir a Cristo a los seis años y respondió al llamado al ministerio en el 1980 durante un retiro de preadolescentes. Tras graduarse en una escuela técnica donde aprendió a ser electricista, empezó el seminario teológico y al terminar sus estudios se casó con Mayra Góngora, con quien tiene tres hijos. Una vez terminado el seminario, fue destinado a su primer pastorado en un pequeño pueblo cubano llamado Taguayabón, en la provincia de Villa Clara. Muchas vidas fueron impactadas por el ministerio que Dios puso en sus manos. Se involucró activamente en la evangelización personal y, junto con un grupo de jóvenes pastores, fundó un instituto bíblico que sigue formando a líderes laicos en la actualidad. 

Después de seis años en Taguayabón, Rodríguez trasladó a su familia y comenzó a servir en la Iglesia Bautista Betania en una ciudad más grande de la provincia de La Habana llamada El Cotorro. Dios les bendijo duplicando el número de miembros de su iglesia, e iniciaron una escuela para formar líderes de alabanza en cooperación con la Convención Bautista de Cuba Occidental y la Junta de Misiones Internacionales (IMB).

Misael Rodríguez and his wife, Mayra. Submitted photo

Su familia hizo una parada más antes de venir a los, siendo llamados a servir como pastor de la Iglesia Bautista Cristo Reina en Alamar, La Habana. La ciudad, construida por Castro para los trabajadores de la región, prohibía la práctica de cualquier religión. Así que los residentes que vivían allí tomaban el transporte público para ir a una iglesia en otra ciudad, pero con el tiempo, dicho transporte dejó de estar disponible. 

En respuesta a esta necesidad, Rodríguez cuenta que su futura suegra y su esposa empezaron a celebrar un culto familiar en su casa. El culto creció rápidamente y no sólo los vecinos, sino gente de toda la ciudad, empezaron a asistir para adorar a Dios allí. De su iglesia casera nacieron cinco iglesias bautistas, y hoy hay unas 30 iglesias cristianas de diferentes denominaciones en Alamar gracias a la iniciativa de estas mujeres de fe, dijo Rodríguez.  

Mientras pastoreaba en Alamar, Rodríguez recibió en dos ocasiones a grupos misioneros de la Academia Cristiana Prestonwood de Plano. El director de la academia en ese momento y su esposa, ofrecieron hospedar a la familia de Rodríguez en su casa si alguna vez decidían emigrar a los EE.UU. Aceptaron la invitación poco después de que la suegra de Rodríguez falleciera, y Rodríguez tomó un puesto para trabajar en el servicio de comida en Prestonwood. 

En los meses que siguieron, comenzó a trabajar en el restaurante de comida rápida donde recibió una paz de Dios que finalmente lo llevó a Hillcrest.

Nirian Cabrera y su esposo, Manuel Pérez, pastor de la Iglesia Bautista Roca Eterna en Casa Blanca, La Habana.

Una iglesia que se siente como en familia

Hillcrest es una iglesia multicultural que ofrece servicios en tres idiomas: inglés, español y chino. Aunque la verdad de Dios se presenta en tres idiomas, cada grupo tiene las mismas declaraciones de misión y visión: “Amar y servir a Dios, y amar y servir a los demás.” 

El ministerio hispano de Hillcrest se formó después de que un grupo de hermanos hispanos se mudara a la iglesia y preguntara a su pastor, Mike Simmons, si podía proporcionarles servicios de traducción, cosa que hizo. Unos meses más tarde, se añadió un culto completo en español y Bruno Molina—que ahora trabaja como asociado de evangelismo entre creencias e idiomas para la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas—fue llamado a servir como pastor interino. La asistencia al culto en español aumentó a unas 95 personas cuando Molina terminó su interinato, aproximadamente un año después, Rodríguez respondió al llamado para unirse a la iglesia como su próximo pastor.  

Rodríguez describe a los líderes de Hillcrest en español como servidores con “pasión y extraordinario compromiso.” Estos líderes ayudan a establecer el ambiente para que la congregación sea una iglesia acogedora que hace que los asistentes “se sientan como en familia.” La iglesia cuenta con algunas 90 personas los domingos y, durante la semana, las familias se reúnen en hogares ubicados en diversas ciudades de la región para estudiar materiales de discipulado.

Además de ser una congregación creciente y acogedora, Rodríguez dijo que Hillcrest en español es una iglesia en donde la oración es fundamental.

“Hemos visto muchos milagros a través de la oración: personas secuestradas en otros países milagrosamente liberadas, enfermos sanados, medicinas costosas provistas, milagros en la provisión de viviendas y otras necesidades financieras,” dijo. “Todo gracias a la oración y a la generosidad de la iglesia.”

Born under a hard-shell dome of communism, pastor never gave up on Jesus en route from Cuba to U.S.

A long journey, paved with steps of faith

Years after making a boyhood commitment to follow Christ, planting churches, and founding Bible institutes under the heavy-handed regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba, Misael Rodríguez found himself washing pots and pans at a fast food restaurant in the Dallas area with no prospects of returning to the lifelong calling for which he was created.

“I started crying and said to the Lord, ‘I’ll be here as long as You want me to be here to provide for my family,’” Rodríguez recalls praying one day as he washed dishes, “‘but I long to serve You in the ministry.’ Suddenly everything around me was silent and a peace came over me. As I wept, God healed my soul.”

Not only did the Lord heal him, but He opened a door.

The next day, Rodríguez received an invitation from Lakepointe Church in Rockwall to help plant a Hispanic campus in nearby Mesquite. In 2014, about a year after helping start Lakepointe’s Mesquite campus—which had grown to 85 regular attenders—Rodríguez was called to serve as pastor of Hispanic ministry for Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Dallas. 

The road to Hillcrest was fruitful, yet difficult.

“Every time I started the school year, I was met with taunts, attacks, and intimidation just for being a Christian.”

‘I didn’t give up my faith’

Rodríguez was born and raised in Cuba in the 1970s, when Castro’s communist regime was strong. Christians were heavily harassed, including children in schools. 

“Every time I started the school year, I was met with taunts, attacks, and intimidation just for being a Christian,” Rodríguez said.  

He recalls that on the first day of every school year, the principal would walk past each classroom to identify the religious children and ask them to stand up so their classmates could taunt them. “I remember one time we were put in front of the 500 students on campus [so they could] boo all the religious kids,” he said, “but I didn’t give up my faith.”  

Rodríguez, encouraged by the preacher of an evangelistic crusade, began following Christ at age six and answered a call to ministry in 1980 during a retreat for pre-teens. After graduating from a technical school where he learned to be an electrician, he entered seminary and, upon graduation, married Mayra Góngora, with whom he has three children. Once his seminary degree was completed, he was assigned to his first pastorate in a small Cuban town called Taguayabón, in the province of Villa Clara. Many lives were impacted by the ministry God placed in his hands. He became actively involved in personal evangelism and, together with a group of young pastors, founded a Bible institute that continues to train lay leaders. 

After six years in Taguayabón, Rodríguez moved his family and began serving at Iglesia Bautista Betania in a larger city in the province of Havana called El Cotorro. God blessed them by doubling the membership of their church, and they started a school to train worship leaders in cooperation with the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba and the International Mission Board (IMB).

Misael Rodríguez and his wife, Mayra. Submitted photo

His family made one more stop before coming to the U.S., when he was called to serve as pastor of Iglesia Bautista Cristo Reina in Alamar, Havana. The city, built by Castro for workers in the region, prohibited the practice of any religion. So residents who lived there would take public transportation to a church in another city, but eventually, such transportation became unavailable. 

In response to this need, Rodríguez said his future mother-in-law and his wife began to hold a family worship service in their home. That service rapidly grew as not only neighbors, but people from all over town, began to attend. Five Baptist churches were born out of their house church, and today there are about 30 Christian churches of different denominations in Alamar because of the initiative of these women of faith, Rodríguez said.  

While pastoring in Alamar, Rodríguez twice hosted missionary groups from Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano. The director of the academy at the time and his wife offered to host Rodríguez’s family in their home if they ever decided to emigrate to the U.S. They took the director up on the offer shortly after Rodríguez’s mother-in-law passed away, and Rodríguez took a position in food service at Prestonwood. 

In the months that followed, he would ultimately be led to work at the fast food restaurant where he received a peace from God that ultimately led him to Hillcrest.

Rodriguez pictured with his mom, Nirian Cabrera, and her husband, Manuel Pérez, pastor of the Eternal Rock Baptist Church in Casa Blanca, Havana.

A church that feels like family

Hillcrest is a multicultural church that offers services in three languages: English, Spanish, and Chinese. Though God’s truth is presented in three languages, each group has the same mission and vision statements: “To love and serve God, and to love and serve others.” 

Hillcrest’s Hispanic ministry was formed after a group of brothers moved to the church and asked its pastor, Mike Simmons, if he could provide translation services for them, which he did. A few months later, a full Hispanic worship service was added and Bruno Molina—who now serves as the language and interfaith evangelism associate for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—was called to serve as its interim pastor. Attendance at the Hispanic service grew to about 95 people by the time Molina completed his interim about a year later, when Rodríguez answered the call to join the church as its next pastor. 

Rodríguez describes Hillcrest en Español’s leaders as servants with “passion and extraordinary commitment.” Those leaders help set the tone for the congregation to be a welcoming church that makes newcomers “feel like family.” The church averages 90 people on Sundays and, during the week, families meet in homes across the region to study discipleship materials.

In addition to being a growing and welcoming congregation, Rodríguez said Hillcrest en Español is a church where prayer is foundational.

“We have seen many miracles through prayer: people kidnapped in other countries miraculously released, sick people healed, expensive medicines provided, miracles in providing housing and other financial needs,” he said. “All because of prayer and the generosity of the church.”

Lone Star Scoop • April 2023

Bowman bids farewell to Hyde Park Baptist Church, Richards to interim

AUSTINKie Bowman was honored for a quarter-century of faithful service to Hyde Park Baptist Church during a ceremony held March 19. He announced his intention to retire last fall.

“I have loved every minute of this journey, and I still love it today,” Bowman said in a press release issued by the church last fall. 

Bowman served Hyde Park for nearly 26 years. During that time, he also served as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (2019-2021). In 2018, he preached the keynote sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas. Bowman has authored six books, including City of Prayer: Transform Your Community through Praying Churches, which he co-wrote with Trey Kent.

The church has named Jim Richards, SBTC’s executive director emeritus, as its interim pastor. Richards served as the SBTC’s first executive director when the convention was formed in 1998. 

—Texan Staff

who's your one - advancing the movement logo

Statewide ‘Who’s Your One?’ trainings to be held in April 

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, in partnership with the North American Mission Board, will host statewide Who’s Your One? Advancing the Movement trainings throughout the month of April. 

The trainings are scheduled for April 15 at Lamar Baptist Church in Arlington; April 22 at Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont; and April 29 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin. The aim of the trainings is to assist churches with building an evangelistic culture. Helpful resources for pastors and church members will be provided during the trainings. Related information will also be mailed to all affiliated churches.

For more information, or to register, visit

—Texan Staff

SWBTS marks Founder’s Day with Carroll, Scarborough awards

FORT WORTH—Encouraging the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary community to recover the “three necessary strands” of its identity, including evangelical faith, soul-winning in all areas of ministry, and “Baptist family ways,” Research Professor of Theology Malcolm B. Yarnell III recalled the foundations of the institution during his Founder’s Day address on March 9.

The Founder’s Day chapel service, which is commemorated annually nearest to the anniversary of the seminary’s March 14, 1908, charter, was followed by a luncheon honoring Louie and MeiFeng Lu and David and Marcia McQuitty as recipients of the B.H. Carroll Award and L.R. Scarborough Award, respectively. The awards annually honor persons who have provided significant financial support for Southwestern. 

“We offer thanks to God for every person who has influenced this place, who has invested in this place, who has shaped this wonderful institution that we now have the wonderful privilege of being a part of on this day,” said SWBTS Interim President David S. Dockery.


SBTC DR teams share gospel, help Austin area residents following ice storms

TRAVIS COUNTY—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers deployed to Central Texas in early February following a destructive ice storm.

Multiple SBTC DR chainsaw teams rotated in and out, completing more than 150 jobs in Pflugerville, Hutto, Round Rock, and Northwest Austin, said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director. Teams from Missouri and Oklahoma assisted, including incident management personnel from Oklahoma, he added.

Chainsaw and incident management volunteers, chaplains, and assessors also deployed to Central Texas, along with feeding and shower/laundry crews to support volunteers. SBTC DR teams were first housed at First Baptist Pflugerville, then Crosswalk Church in Round Rock, before moving to Anderson Mill Baptist Church the week of Feb. 19.

Larry, a Vietnam veteran who hadn’t eaten in two days after an ice storm hit Central Texas in February, accepted Christ as his Savior after assistance from SBTC DR. Larry is pictured with DR volunteer Debby Nichols. Submitted photo

Among the survivors assisted by SBTC DR was Larry, an elderly Vietnam veteran whose refrigerator broke during the storm. Food provided by DR volunteers was Larry’s first meal in two days, said Mike Jansen, SBTC DR incident management leader. 

Finding Larry was a divine appointment, said Debby Nichols, SBTC DR chaplain from DeKalb. Nichols and fellow chaplain/assessor Linda Mitter of Rockwall had completed their daily assignments and were driving around Round Rock neighborhoods to see if they had missed anything.

An enormous tree, split in half, caught their attention, so they drove down the adjacent cul de sac.

“That tree was God’s sign to us,” Nichols said. “We found Larry’s house, with branches [hangers] above his front door.” The ladies knocked, explained who they were, and asked if Larry needed help.

“I am not worthy,” he replied. Nichols and Mitter learned he had quit a college teaching job to care for his wife, who later died of cancer. 

A day after the interaction, Larry accepted Christ as his Savior.

—Jane Rodgers

Diverse newcomers are Tomball plant’s focus, but pastor has an even bigger vision

Pastor Steven Staten said there was not an African American church in this suburb of Houston until he planted The Fellowship at Tomball last fall. Once a predominantly Anglo area, Tomball—a city of about 12,000 residents—is seeing more African Americans and Hispanics moving in.

Staten, a third-generation minister, was pastoring Jenkins Chapel Baptist Church in Amarillo when God began to work on his heart about the segregated nature of his community. During that time, he became friends with an Anglo pastor. 

“He and I started doing things in the community in order to bring harmony to the whole area,” Staten said. “God kept impressing on me to do more, so he and I got together and we planted a church there in Amarillo with a multicultural intention.”

The church plant grew, Staten said, and after a few years, “the Lord sent me back home to Houston.” 

He was interviewed for another pastorate where he believed God was sending him, but it didn’t work out. “So I said, ‘OK, God. I’m back. What’s next?’” Staten was living in Cypress and was occupied with chaplaincy work at a hospice care organization, but he soon moved to Tomball and felt the Lord speaking to him about planting a church.

“It’s very family-oriented, a wonderful place to live. God has really been doing some major things here.”

“This area was ripe for a church that was African American in its focus because there were none,” he said. “So we planted The Fellowship at Tomball last September, and the Lord has been blessing us.”

The church launched with about 10 people, beginning with friends and family they had started reaching out to, Staten said. They now have 40 to 50 each Sunday. 

 “We started having vision-casting meetings and sharing with them what the Lord was laying on our hearts to do,” Staten said. As a result, many of them began to connect and wanted to be a part of what God was doing.

A church for all people

Staten describes Tomball as a small community that is bursting at the seams. The jobs in Tomball, he said, are mostly service-oriented, and those who work for major industries commute to nearby Cypress or Houston.

“It’s very family-oriented, a wonderful place to live,” he said. “God has really been doing some major things here.”

Even though his church is predominantly African American, Staten said he believes God has strategically located The Fellowship at Tomball to reach the world. 

“We don’t want to just reach the African American population that’s coming in. We want to be a church that’s able to reach all people, minister to all of their needs, and share the gospel with them,” Staten said. “If we’re all going to heaven, it’s not going to be a segregated one, so we should worship together.”

“We don’t want to just reach the African American population that’s coming in. We want to be a church that’s able to reach all people, minister to all of their needs, and share the gospel with them.”

Staten said the church, which is meeting in a strip mall on the outskirts of town, is praying for a meeting space closer to the heart of the city so it can be more visible in the community. Connecting with more people could open the door for the church to meet one of the chief needs people have—building relationships.

“I think more than anything else, [we want to have] a genuine fellowship where people can learn and grow in the things of God because there’s so much that is out there that is contradictory to what the Word of God is stating,” Staten said. “[People] need to be able to find a place where they can fellowship and have authentic relationships with fellow Christians and an authentic relationship with Christ.”

Make the most of every moment

Afew months ago, my sons came to me asking questions about starting a business. After doing some research, my wife and I helped them start an inflatable rental business. While their dream is to have a business of their own while in school, my dream is to use opportunities like this to pour into their lives. 

We often consider discipleship a formal gathering in which we walk through Scripture in a systematic way or discuss a book we have been reading. I love doing both of those things. However, for our family, discipleship can happen in every moment we spend together. This is why I love helping my boys work on their business so much. We get to have robust conversations about Scripture, faith, life, and many other things. 

As I was riding with one of my sons the other day and thinking through this crazy way God is creating margin for me to disciple them, three thoughts about discipleship came to mind: 

1. Every moment counts.

Every moment we spend with others counts right now, but also for eternity. My sons and I can dive into all kinds of topics as we work together on their business, yet we always come back to the teachings of Jesus. These moments are precious, and I am constantly reminded that I won’t get these moments back.

2. Every word matters.

What I say to my children carries weight in their lives. God has bestowed upon me the responsibility to lead them in the ways of His righteousness. As I speak to my sons, I must speak the words of life. I must constantly bring them back to the truths of the Bible, teaching them that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I must carefully choose my words because they will ultimately infiltrate my kids’ minds and hearts.

3. Every interaction requires intentionality.

Discipleship rarely happens without intentionality. We don’t just happen to help someone grow in their faith. It is hard work and requires patience. When I am with my sons, I must choose to lead the conversation to spiritual truths. We could talk about other things, like football or barbecue. However, because every moment counts and every word matters, I choose to take these moments as a gift from God to lead and disciple those He has put closest to my heart.

"As you go throughout life, I pray you find unique ways to walk alongside someone God has put in your life who needs to be discipled."

I love our church. I love our small group. I love walking people through Scripture as they grow in their relationship with Christ. However, these days my heart longs for every moment I spend driving down those back roads delivering inflatables with my boys. These are the discipleship moments I look forward to most. I thank God for their crazy dreams and ideas. I thank God that He has created this unique season I get to share with my boys. I thank God that I get to deposit something in them that I pray lasts a lifetime. 

As you go throughout life, I pray you find unique ways to walk alongside someone God has put in your life who needs to be discipled. I pray you soak up every moment as it happens and trust God to use your life and words to make an impact in the life of someone else for His glory! I love you and am honored to serve you.

5 minutes with Todd Gray

Todd Gray has served as pastor of Brownwood’s Coggin Avenue Baptist Church since November 2021. Gray, a captain in the U.S. Air Force before being called to the ministry, and his wife, Tammy—with their three children: Isaac, 18; Autumn, 16; and Christian, 13—moved to Brownwood just over a year ago.

What is something you’ve been able to celebrate at your church recently? 

TG: There’s so many things to celebrate at Coggin this first year. We’ve celebrated over 140 members joining in 2022 as people have come out of COVID. We’ve seen a lot of people grow in their faith. We also celebrated going to three services. Pretty exciting. What’s also been so impressive are the baptisms at the Brown County jail. It’s a ministry we do through Celebrate Recovery, led by Bill Allen. We’ve got 10 men and women who go in there every week to share the gospel. There were 46 baptisms in 2022. We are about to baptize one in church, but most baptisms have been in the jail.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your ministry lately? 

TG: A transition is a challenge. This one meant taking my son, who was playing his senior year in football, to another school. He’s playing at a very high level, and to make that change is a challenge—but he did it with grace. He has excelled. Bringing my family to another place is always a challenge, although it’s turned into a blessing. We now wonder why we were so worried about it. 

[Editor’s note: His son, Isaac, signed a letter of intent with Harding University on the day of this interview.]

What’s one lesson you’ve learned to this point of your ministry that you know you’ll never forget? 

TG: Balance. I just think it’s balance. Pressing toward your passions but having balance in your life. I learned it early. I have always put my family first. I’ve always been up front with churches about my priorities concerning my wife and family. I try to be clear that the church hired me and that my family are regular members. It’s a lesson I learned early from many mentors.

What’s one thing you want to see God do specifically in your church?

TG: That we would see God do a movement in such a way that we could not get credit for it. A revival. Some rejuvenation of the soul that, when we look back on it, we’ll say that it had to be God. Human intervention and invention couldn’t do it. 

How can the other churches of the SBTC be praying for you? 

TG: One thing is effectiveness with these young pastors I am mentoring. Honestly, they are teaching me more than I am teaching them right now. The goal is for lifelong ministry friendships, spiritual health, and longevity in ministry. I am encouraged about the future of the SBTC with young pastors like these. For Coggin, [pray] that we would continue to be a spiritual lighthouse for Christ in Brown County.

What’s your story? With God, everything is going to be alright!

I was four years old when Jesus saved me. Our church, St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., was a bigger version of my current church [Creekstone Church in North Richland Hills]. Tyree Toliver was our pastor. I came down the aisle one day and told him I wanted to know Jesus during an altar call—and I knew what that meant. I remember going up the stairs at the front and I remember being baptized. My family was very involved in church—my dad was a deacon and my mom was in the women’s ministry. They helped me come to the Lord. 

I grew up and raised a family, and we moved to DFW about 11 years ago. I now have two grown daughters and our household is multigenerational—my girls, me, my mom and dad, and my grandmother. My husband is currently living in another country, but we’re doing OK, taking care of each other as families should do. 

I’m currently a teacher in Arlington. I teach English to 9th through 12th graders. Since I started teaching, I’ve earned two master’s degrees. As I got up one morning about the time I was finishing my second master’s … something wasn’t right. My ear was kind of numb and my face was weird, and it ran down the right side of my body down to my knee.

“I had been having pain that I now learned was from the tumor pressing against the nerves. ... They were able to remove the tumor. There’s none left on my brain, on my spine—nothing there.”

I was like, “Hmm, that’s not right.” I called my mom to ask her about it. She told me to call 911, but I just asked my dad to take me to the hospital. … It turns out I was having a little stroke. As they were doing the MRIs and the CAT scans and stuff, they saw that I had a tumor at the base of my brain and they told me the tumor was pressing on my spinal cord, where the cord connects to my brain. I had been having pain that I now learned was from the tumor pressing against the nerves. I had been going to physical therapy for years to manage that pain. 

They were able to remove the tumor. There’s none left on my brain, on my spine—nothing there. It was malignant, but now there’s no cancer in my body.

I really do love our church. I was pretty new to Creekstone [when this happened], but the hugs that I get and the genuine love, and just the realness from everyone checking up on me and asking how I’m feeling has meant a lot. My pastor [Kason Branch] came and told me everybody was praying for me. He brought me this really nice devotional book. I needed that because … the devotional just spoke to me each day that I was in the hospital. The words for each day were very specific and they were very much needed. We just prayed that pain away. Even though it was kind of scary, I just really wasn’t worried.

I actually finished my master’s in the hospital. I was nearly done and couldn’t see waiting another semester. I’m still recovering, doing physical therapy to restore movement as the nerves wake back up. I’ve been able to kind of get back to being myself. I’m back at work and starting to work out again. I haven’t started dancing yet, but I’m going to get back to it. God is good.

As I recover from this, and an earlier Achilles tendon injury, I’m asking God for discernment, wisdom, peace—just reminders to get in bed on time and get enough rest. Sometimes I struggle to sleep. I’ve found Psalm 4:8 to be of help: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” It’s what I do when I’m anxious in the middle of the night. More than anything, I am asking the Lord to help me heal. I’m asking the Lord to help me heal inside and out. I’ve been through quite a lot, not just with these surgeries, but some other things in my life. 

So, what’s my story? While I’ve been through big and little crises over the past few years—and I do get anxious sometimes—with God, I just feel like it’s no big deal. It’s going to be alright.

“While I’ve been through big and little crises over the past few years—and I do get anxious sometimes—with God, I just feel like it’s no big deal. It’s going to be alright.”

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SWBTS hosts inaugural World Missions Center Sending Church Conference

FORT WORTH—Ian Buntain, director of the World Missions Center and associate professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), said the idea behind the inaugural Sending Church Conference was sparked by a conversation he had with his grandson.

During a discussion about Romans 10:14-15, which says, in part, “How then are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard?” the grandson asked a simple, yet convicting question: Why doesn’t everybody know about Jesus?

That question, and those verses, provided the inspiration for the conference, held March 16 at the seminary’s Riley Center.

“The purpose for this conference is to be a bit subversive, a bit disruptive, to reverse the current flow of church culture, and to remind us again that we began as a people of God, as Southern Baptists, for the sake of sending missionaries,” said Buntain, a former missionary to Asia who organized the conference and served as its keynote speaker. “I want to offer this conference to encourage believers to become full-time missionaries and to offer resources to those interested in missions.”

Stu Cocanougher, who serves as the share strategy pastor at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth— spoke at the conference and said most Christians Americans do not regularly engage in cross-cultural ministry even though all Christians are called to engage in such efforts. “As Christians, we love global missions, but we don’t practice it,” he said. “We are great fans of missionaries, but we think that we can never be that.

“For every one Southern Baptist that goes to the nations as [a missionary], 3,879 choose to stay. Going and sending is in the very nature of God,” Cocanougher added. In addition to speaking, he taught a workshop called “Leading Your Church to Create Effective Cross-Cultural Ministries” and gave participants numerous ideas about how to minister to their communities through their church.

Barry Calhoun, a church mobilization strategist for the International Mission Board (IMB) and missions director at North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, spoke on the topic of “Creating a Mission Culture Within the Church.” He said his desire is to help churches prioritize missions “because missions is part of the fabric of the church, not just an activity of the church.”

April Ott, who has been serving with IMB for the last 17 years, taught on the topic of “Leading Your Church in Short-Term Missions.” On of the workshop attendants told her his church was “a going church, but not a sending church.” In response, Ott said, “Short-term missions lead people to become full time missionaries, because they can see the need first-hand. We need to help those who go on short-term missions to discover their calling to full-time mission work.”

Bruno Molina, language and interfaith evangelism associate for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and CEO of the National Hispanic Baptist Network, taught a workshop on “Sharing Christ Among Cultures and Religions.”

“My focus is to enable churches to develop cross-cultural interfaith knowledge and discernment, to be able to share the gospel effectively,” he said. Molina, who is of Hispanic descent, knows first-hand the importance of cross-cultural evangelism and diversity.