Month: December 2023

Impacting his community, impacting the world

After retirement, Turner reflects on four decades of ministry and the road ahead

Terry Turner stepped down from the pulpit of the church he founded, Mesquite Friendship Baptist, in the fall of 2023. His formal retirement, however, simply signaled a change of vocation, not a cessation of labor.

Turner’s remarkable four-plus decades of ministry began in Guthrie, Okla., where he was born in 1957, the eighth child of Julia, then age 47, and Roosevelt Turner, 49.

“They weren’t looking to have more kids,” Turner said. “God wanted me here even before I was born to give me parents who were almost senior citizens. I was the product of love.”

Ten years before Turner was born, Roosevelt’s vocal chords were removed in a laryngectomy. “I never heard his voice,” Turner said, adding that his father supported the family by running a juke joint by night and working as a handyman and scrap metal dealer by day until his death in 1967. His mom worked as a maid until her right leg was amputated only a few days before his dad passed. 

The family survived on one Social Security check and “commodity goods”—a monthly government food distribution.

Spiritually rich

“We didn’t have a lot of resources, but I didn’t know I was poor,” Turner said. Church was a constant. Turner remembers his mother waking him every Sunday morning, tearfully singing to gospel music playing on the radio in the background.

“I can’t remember a Sunday morning that she didn’t praise the Lord amidst her pain,” he said. “She was a strong lady.”

At 15, he felt the Lord leading him to preach. Turner responded by telling the Lord he wanted to be a preacher who would always be true to His Word, but asked if he could wait until he was grown to heed the call.

“That turned out to be a bad decision,” Turner said, admitting that as a teen he rebelled and became involved in the pervasive drug culture around him. 

But God was persistent. By age 18, Turner said he was a “broken young man.” Isaiah Burleigh, his pastor at the time, influenced Turner’s turnaround. At age 21, Turner finally accepted God’s call on his life to preach.

Proximity to his mom determined his college selection, as he headed to Langston University, 11 miles from Guthrie, after high school. “I wanted to stay close to Mom and be sure she was OK,” he said. “Everyone had grown up and moved out. It was just the two of us for years.”

There was another woman in his life, however: Nancy Chandler. They dated as teens, went their separate ways, and reunited after both graduated from college.

“She was my childhood love; now she is my senior citizen love,” Turner said of Nancy. They married in 1982, the same year Turner accepted the call to pastor a Baptist church in Guthrie located directly across the street from the home in which he had been born. 

The church had been through several pastors, Turner recalled, but he accepted the invitation to assist Pastor Henry Carter, then terminally ill. After Carter passed away, Turner was asked to become the church’s full-time pastor.

“If you can learn to pastor us, you can pastor anybody anywhere,” members told him. 

“There was a lot of truth to that,” Turner said, adding that the congregation “taught me church polity like nobody else.” God blessed Turner’s seven years at the church, and the pastor who succeeded him is still there.

“The SBC had put an emphasis on planting African American churches to bring inclusiveness to the convention. [Mesquite Friendship] was on the ground floor of that in 1991. The rest is history.”

New city, new church

By the late eighties, the Turners had four children as a blended family: daughter Angela and sons Tim, Caleb, and Levi. God was blessing their ministry at their church in Oklahoma. Turner had also been asked to teach Bible classes in Dallas and Oklahoma City.

T.D. Callender, the founder of the Oklahoma City Bible school where Turner was teaching, recommended he attend Dallas Theological Seminary. The Turners followed the advice, arriving in the Metroplex on Dec. 31, 1988.

“We were broke in Texas,” Turner said. Moving expenses claimed their last $500, and nearly penniless, the family rented a home in Duncanville. When the landlord heard Turner was a seminary student, he asked what they could afford. “He never raised our rent,” Turner said. “We lived in that home through seminary.”

Nancy soon found work as a banker, while Turner attended seminary classes and worked as a security guard. In 1991, after his graduation from seminary, Turner again sensed God’s direction to plant a church. Although his Oklahoma churches had not been Southern Baptist, he partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The SBC had put an emphasis on planting African American churches to bring inclusiveness to the convention. [Mesquite Friendship] was on the ground floor of that in 1991. The rest is history,” Turner said. 

Mesquite Friendship was constituted as a Southern Baptist church on Jan. 27, 1994.

“We’ve been SBC all these years. I’ve been blessed by being part of the convention. They had programs and grants that would bless church planters if they were willing to do the work and do the reports. … We quickly outgrew our storefront and bought a building with SBC help. They paid my salary and helped with the note. [We] showed progress and they helped us for four years,” he said, adding that he was very pleased when the church could start giving through the Cooperative Program. 

From a core group of 16 members in 1991, Mesquite Friendship grew to 300 during its first three years. Just before the pandemic, Mesquite Friendship had 2,100 members and held two Sunday services averaging 700 apiece. Since COVID, membership numbers and giving have stayed steady or increased, though some have continued to attend online. 

“Terry Turner is one of the most significant contributors to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention since its inception,” said Jim Richards, SBTC’s executive director emeritus. “Pastor Turner led Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church to affiliate and immediately began participation. His generosity through Cooperative Program giving showed his kingdom investment beyond the local church.”

Turner’s family gathered this fall to celebrate his “promotion” to pastor emeritus at Mesquite Friendship Baptist, the church he founded in 1991. The city of Mesquite honored him by naming the street leading into the church property after him. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“It’s a blessing to be able to retire [and], especially in ministry, to have served the Lord for 41 years.”

What’s next?

Although no longer filling the pulpit weekly, Turner remains busy at Mesquite Friendship as its pastor emeritus, taking an active role in the comfort and support ministry. “When you have pastored people for so many years, you [want to be] there for them at the loss of their loved ones,” he said. He continues to provide premarital counseling to couples in the church and community. 

A recent appointee to the board of the Dallas Genealogical Society, Turner also researches the past and helps others to do the same. He has engaged in ancestry research for 11 years, the last three professionally, and said he has traced his paternal family lineage back to 1770—including his enslaved ancestors and their slave owners. 

“Believe it or not, many of them were Southern Baptist,” Turner said, expressing amazement over this long connection to the SBC. His family’s history and spiritual heritage are the subjects of his latest book, When Grace Flows Backward, due for release in early 2024. Turner also launched a YouTube website called “Embracing our Ancestors” to teach African Americans how to study their lineage.

Through the years, Turner filled his time not only serving his church, but in a variety of roles with the SBTC and SBC. He served as the SBTC’s president from 2011-2013 and as president of the SBTC African American Fellowship from 2010-2016. 

Between continued service to his church, his writing, and spending time with his 12 grandchildren, retirement promises to keep Turner plenty busy.

“I’ve called it a promotion,” Turner said with a smile. “It’s a blessing to be able to retire [and], especially in ministry, to have served the Lord for 41 years.” 

Terry Turner’s Career Highlights
  • Led in planting nine SBC churches from Texas to Florida
  • Led Mesquite Friendship to support ministries and missionaries in Zambia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, and assisted in planting a church in Chandigarh, India
  • President of the Southern Baptists of Texas Bible Conference, 2011
  • President of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, 2011-2014
  • Spearheaded the SBTC’s cross-cultural, multiracial, multiethnic “Look Like Heaven” initiative
  • President of the SBTC African American Fellowship, 2010-2016
  • Trustee, Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Trustee, Criswell College
  • Invited by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his wife to participate in the blessing and dedication of the governor’s mansion, Jan. 29, 2013
  • Invited by Gov. Greg Abbott to deliver the benedictory prayer at the governor’s second inauguration, Jan. 15, 2019
  • Keynote speaker at the Texas Prayer Breakfast, Austin, prior to the opening of the legislative session, Feb. 21, 2019
  • Recipient of the SBTC’s W.A. Criswell Award for Pastoral Evangelism, 2023
  • Recipient of the Mesquite NAACP Lifetime Achievement Civil Rights Award, 2022
  • The Terry Turner Education Fund Endowment to Golden Gate, now Gateway Seminary, was established in 2014 to provide scholarships for African American M.Div. students
  • Author of numerous articles and two books: God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families (2019) and When Grace Flows Backward (2024)

‘Life-giving’ trip builds bridge between international students and the gospel

Connecting cultures to Christ

When Jessica Ren began reaching out to churches in Houston about partnering for a weekend mission trip, she was initially met with silence. 

Ren, a member of Arlington Chinese Bible Church who works with international college and graduate students in the Metroplex, wanted to plan a trip that would move her students, most of them non-Christians, out of their comfort zones and expose them to the gospel. The attraction for most of the students was a tour of Houston’s Johnson Space Center and time to hear from NASA Flight Director Ed Van Cise.

“It’s about planting gospel seeds,” Ren explained, “and what better way to do it than combine it with an opportunity to see a place like NASA?”

Ren finally connected with Bruno Molina at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who put her in touch with the convention’s Asia consultant for Houston, Michael Liga. It was Liga who reached out to Tyler McKinney, pastor of Shadycrest Baptist Church in the Houston suburb of Pearland, which ended up being exactly the church and pastor Ren had been praying to find.

“God had laid it on my heart to pursue college ministry, and it’s just difficult in our setting because most of the colleges are community or commuter colleges,” McKinney said. “I knew it was something God wanted us to do, so about February of last year I started praying about it.”

Once they were in touch, Ren and McKinney discussed details of the trip over the next couple of months through Zoom while he worked on finding host homes in the church. Eight families volunteered to host the group of students Ren would bring from DFW.

“It’s a miracle that God provided all the lodging—the best … precise matching for our group,” Ren said.

A group of international students (opposite page) from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex recently had the opportunity not only to visit NASA in Houston, but to connect with believers at Shadycrest Baptist Church in Pearland. Through these interactions, many students had spiritual conversations and heard the gospel. Submitted Photo

According to Ren, three quarters of international students never set foot in an American home while they live and study in the U.S. She said some students shared after the trip that they were a bit hesitant when they were first matched with their host homes on Saturday night. After eating dinner in their homes and engaging them in conversation late into the night, however, the students opened up to talk about their lives, families, and beliefs.

“They cannot understand [why] all these people who do not know us [would] open their homes to host us. For non-believers, this is surely very hard to understand,” she said. “But all of them feel they are loved.”

The connections made between the families and the ability for the host home families to share the gospel so directly with the students is what made the trip such a resounding success, McKinney said.

“Most people don’t even have their neighbors in their homes,” McKinney said. “So it was just beautiful the way our families connected and shared the love of Christ with these people who had never had any interaction with any Christian families. … It was life-giving to our church.”

One poignant encounter shared by both Ren and McKinney was the interaction between Alex, a post-doctoral student, and McKinney’s mother, Janice, who just a week before had discovered that her breast cancer had returned and was classified as stage four.

“It was like a revival for the church. They’re fired up because of these international students that they’re hosting."

“As they talked, my mom shared what was going on with her. And when [Alex] got back to Dallas, he told Jessica that [with all that my mom] was going through with her joy and the way that she approached life, that he had seen true faith,” McKinney said. “It was incredible. I mean, we’re asking God why, or just struggling through the reality of what it is, but God immediately showed us part of the why.”

McKinney changed his sermon text that Sunday to preach on the woman at the well in John 4, keeping in mind that he was going to be speaking to an audience with little to no understanding of the gospel. 

“Think about how different this is to this Muslim girl, about how Jesus treated women, how He valued people and how He brought them up,” he said. “It was just a beautiful opportunity to share who Jesus is.”

From Ren’s perspective, the trip could not have gone better, especially as it exposed the students to the love of Christ. 

“Now they not only hear, but they see with their own eyes and experience the love of God through these people,” she said.

McKinney expressed gratitude for the Lord’s sovereignty in connecting him with Ren.

“God worked it out and put us together. [Jessica] had never done one of these, and I’d never done one,” he added. “So it was just kind of a unique pairing that God worked out.”

Liga, the SBTC consultant who put them in touch, thanked God for the opportunity and for the gospel seeds planted, not just with the students, but also with the church.

“It was like a revival for [the church],” Liga said. “They’re fired up because of these international students that they’re hosting. It was like a mission trip for Shadycrest Baptist Church. They’re looking forward to [working with] another ministry with a [similar] mission or the Asian ministry with the SBTC that they can connect with.”

‘We don’t know what will happen tomorrow’

Homeless woman’s salvation shortly before her death underscores church’s evangelistic drive

Pastor Arturo Malacara often tells his congregation at South Euless Baptist Church, “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so we must share the gospel [today] in case it is the last opportunity.” 

Little did he know that God would provide an opportunity for Arturo and his wife, Marifel, to put those words into practice themselves.

As part of their many community outreach initiatives, a group of South Euless members goes out each Sunday after their worship service to evangelize in different areas of their community. On this occasion, they went to a nearby park where many homeless people are known to congregate. Marifel, who was with the group, approached a homeless woman in her 60s. As they talked, the woman shared her story with Marifel. 

The woman said she lost everything, including her car and her home, when her husband went to prison. Area shelters were full, she said, and her mother—living in a nursing home—had no way to take her in. The woman told Marifel she had no other option but to live on the streets, wandering in the park and rummaging through trash cans for food.

South Euless Baptist Church, led by Pastor Arturo Malacara (pictured with his wife, Marifel) goes the extra mile to connect with members of the community.

“We need to be a church that prays for God to move. We need to be faithful to saturate the church in prayer.”

Marifel recognized the woman’s needs, including her greatest one—Jesus. The pastor’s wife spoke to the woman about God’s love and shared with her the plan of salvation. In her hopelessness, the woman accepted Christ and was saved that day in the park. 

“I saw her go from someone distressed and hopeless to someone who had hope,” Marifel said.

The two exchanged numbers with an intent to stay in touch and a church deacon, Glenn, who lives near the park, offered to follow up with the woman. Two days later, Glenn saw her in the park and she asked him for a tent so she could have some protection from the elements while she slept outside. A week later, Glenn contacted the woman to deliver the tent, but she never returned his calls. Three weeks later, Glenn received a call from the woman’s mother with the news that her daughter had been found dead due to pre-existing health conditions. Pastor Arturo, along with other church leaders, was able to minister to the deceased woman’s family. 

“I was sad [about the woman’s death], but I thank God for meeting her at the park at the precise moment before she died,” Marifel said.

South Euless has proven to be a church with a special heart for evangelism. During the year and a half he has pastored the church, Arturo said he and his family have seen God move because of the love the church shares with the community. “God moves when we love people,” he said.

Arturo said the church intentionally reaches out to families of different nationalities, histories, and cultures—a calling the church has embraced. Consequently, it has brought diversity inside the walls of the church, which incorporates songs in six languages during its worship service: English, Spanish, French, Swahili, Filipino, and Russian. The church’s vision is to celebrate the cultures represented in the congregation and make everyone feel included, he said. 

South Euless is always looking for different ways to connect with the community. It offers a drive-thru food distribution and also delivers food to families living in nearby apartments. At one of those apartment complexes, the church held an event that allowed members to share the gospel with parents and their children. South Euless also offers a movie night that is open to the whole community. Last year, the church went to a local school and adopted low-income families to bless and connect with. 

“The church is experiencing, seeing, and tasting revival,” Arturo said. “They now come with joy, they don’t want to leave the church, they constantly invite other people to church, and they serve with joy and gladly give to special offerings like the [Lottie Moon Christmas Offering] we just collected.”

Prayer, Marifel added, has been the key to the revival the church is experiencing.

“Prayer is a big priority, especially on the part of the leaders,” she said. “We need to be a church that prays for God to move. We need to be faithful to saturate the church in prayer.”

Big Task, Bigger God

New SBTC vision aims to mobilize churches to multiply disciple-making movements in Texas and around the world

Editor’s note: During the 2023 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting in November, Executive Director Nathan Lorick presented a 10-year vision for the SBTC called “Moving Forward Together.” To further introduce this vision to our readers, this month’s Texan features a brief conversation with SBTC Associate Executive Director Joe Lightner. 

What is the Moving Forward Together 10-Year Vision? 

Joe Lightner: Approaching our 25th anniversary as a convention, our executive director assembled a team of leaders from across Texas to discern God’s vision for our future. God allowed the team to glimpse 10 years beyond the horizon to see all SBTC churches mobilized to multiply disciple-making movements. We envision all our churches moving forward together, multiplying impact, and reversing lostness in our state and world. The vision has become the North Star for our convention.  

"We envision all our churches moving forward together, multiplying impact, and reversing lostness in our state and world. The vision has become the North Star for our convention."

How will the SBTC step into this vision? 

JL: The vision requires a new mission focus on mobilizing churches to multiply disciple-making movements in Texas and around the world. This is a renewed focus on mobilizing churches together to multiply their collective impact. Not just any mobilization will do. The church deserves mobilization that: 

  • Is anchored in our three long-standing core values: Biblically Based, Missionally Driven, and Kingdom Focused. 
  • Is measured by five markers: Prayer Energized, Evangelism Prioritized, Disciple-Making Normalized, Sending Maximized, and Partnerships Synergized. New Testament writers provide example after example of God multiplying these markers into disciple-making movements. Knowing that God multiplies these markers, we are focused on mobilizing churches toward them. 
  • Is found on three strategic pathways: Resourcing Churches, Networking Leaders, Advancing Mission.

We come alongside churches, mobilizing them onto pathways that multiply their collective impact.

We are bringing this new mission focus into all that we do—mobilizing churches to multiply their impact.

When will the new mission focus be implemented?  

JL: The SBTC has already begun adjusting ministries to refocus on the 10-year vision. The hope is that within 36 months: 

  • SBTC ministries will be fully optimized with the new mission.   
  • 1,000 churches will be resourced and 350 revitalized.   
  • 1,000 leaders will be connected to 75 networks.  
  • 1,200 churches will be supporting 120 church plants.

The response from our churches to the new 10-year vision has been overwhelmingly positive. Moving forward together multiplies our impact, and together, we can reach Texas and impact the world. Additional information about the new vision, along with Lorick’s annual meeting presentation, can be found at

Come on! Let’s go!

My wife, Jenna, and I have some close friends who have continuously blessed us over the years. This couple has two teenage daughters who are incredible tennis players. They have excelled in the sport, winning a state championship last year. 

One of the things I love about watching their daughters play tennis is that after every winning volley, one yells, “Come on!” quickly followed by the other shouting, “Let’s go!” It is so fun to watch—not only because they are good, but because their passion leads them to know why they are there. These two young ladies remind each other after every successful shot to stay focused and move forward on their mission. 

There are things we can learn from that as a network of churches. At our annual meeting this past November, we presented a new mission focus for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for the next 10 years. We crafted a new mission focus statement while standing firm on the values we have always had.

To put it simply, we are not changing who we are. However, we will be shifting some of how we do what we do to better serve our churches.

This new mission focus identifies five markers of what a disciple-making movement in a church looks like. The list is certainly not exhaustive, but these are five markers we desire to help churches move toward as they reach their communities:

1. Prayer Energized

We would love to see all churches incorporate a culture of prayer. These gatherings will look different and there is no one way of doing them. However, we believe if churches are intentional about praying, we could experience a move of God across our state like never before. 

2. Evangelism Prioritized

God is bringing the world to our state. We must recapture a burning heart to reach lost people. We have to equip and send our people out to be intentional gospel-bearers. We want to help churches strengthen evangelism in their context. 

3. Disciple-Making Normalized

Our culture is discipling people in all arenas. The church must step up its efforts in making disciples of Jesus. We want to help churches think strategically about creating discipleship avenues in and outside the church. 

4. Sending Maximized

We are seeing an incredible movement of church planting in Texas. God is doing a unique work in our partnership with Send Network SBTC, and we believe it is going to grow exponentially. We want to see SBTC churches partnering to plant churches in Texas. We also have missions partnerships outside Texas that we want to mobilize SBTC churches to engage in. 

5. Partnerships Maximized

There are so many great opportunities to partner with other churches in the SBTC. One of the greatest ways to partner is through the Cooperative Program. It is our prayer that all 2,749 SBTC churches will partner together with the 47,000 Southern Baptist Convention churches through the Cooperative Program.

Think about what could happen if all SBTC churches are engaged together in these five areas. As we look into 2024, I pray we, as a network, can begin running hard toward these markers. In fact, as we begin this year, close your eyes and envision the five markers in your church and hear me cheering you on by saying, “Come on! Let’s go!” 

I believe we can do it because I believe we are in this together. I love you and am grateful to serve you. Let’s do this together!

San Antonio’s Freedom Hill Church is making gospel inroads through practical outreach

One relationship at a time

Freedom Hill Church has been the beneficiary of at least two significant, unique blessings God has placed before it in its short existence: an established church campus and a BMX bike track that attracts thousands.

The church started in Pastor Ryan Napier’s home in 2019. Within months, an older, struggling congregation donated 10 acres and 32,000 square feet of building space. The church plant grew to about 120 before COVID hit. 

During COVID, the owner of USA BMX built a track on the church’s property. 

“In the seventh-largest city in the country—San Antonio—if you’re going to race BMX, you’ve got to come to Freedom Hill to do it,” Napier said.

About 150 people meet at the track four times a week, and more than 1,000 people come for the state race each year. Freedom Hill members have developed “a great relationship with them,” Napier said, and church volunteers man the concession stand during the state race, setting up, tearing down, and giving the proceeds to the BMX organization.

“We have people cooking burgers, doing sides, getting ice cream, getting popcorn, getting drinks together—stuff like that,” Napier said.

Freedom Hill Church in San Antonio has a BMX bike track on its property, enabling the church to impact thousands.

“In the seventh-largest city in the country-San Antonio-if you’re going to race BMX, you’ve got to come to Freedom Hill to do it.”

As for the congregation, attendance is around 150 now, and the pastor believes they’re on a steady growth track. They’ve started ministries for kids and students, and last year when the church took 18 students to camp for the first time, six committed their lives to Jesus.

This year, the amazing work God did at camp was mostly on the Sunday when they returned. They were planning to baptize three students, but the student pastor felt led to offer the opportunity to anyone who needed to take that step.

“He made the plea and we ended up baptizing 17 people that day,” Napier said. “We had men taking off their boots and emptying their jeans pockets and getting in fully clothed, women in dresses and jewelry with makeup and hair done, and they’re climbing into the water, just being obedient to the Lord.”

Also this year, Freedom Hill hired a Spanish-speaking pastor from Venezuela who is building a launch team for Freedom Hill en Español. 

“He’s got an ESL class started and they do a dinner on Friday nights to gather people and build community [and] cast vision,” Napier said, adding that in the past year, more than 100,000 Venezuelans have migrated to San Antonio.

Within a five-mile radius of Freedom Hill are 289,000 residents, and that number is expected to grow to 320,000 in the next five years, the pastor said. He emphasized that Freedom Hill already is a multigenerational, multiethnic church aiming to look more and more like worshipers in heaven.

“We had men taking off their boots and emptying their jeans pockets and getting in fully clothed ... climbing into the water, just being obedient to the Lord.”

“Our vision is to raise up leaders and future church planters where we can go and plant more churches in San Antonio and around the world,” Napier said. 

To impact the thousands right around them, Freedom Hill members participate in various outreach opportunities. 

“We’ll do a free car wash and just pray for people,” Napier said. “We’ve given away free sodas at the light in front of our church while people are driving, just doing things in Jesus’ name. [We tell them], ‘No strings attached. We just want to let you know that we love you and that if you ever need anything, this church is here for you.’”

Freedom Hill hosts a three-on-three basketball tournament, which is meaningful to people in San Antonio who love basketball because of the NBA team in town, the Spurs. “Parents are watching, and our church is loving on them while their kids are playing basketball,” Napier said.

Freedom Hill Church in San Antonio has sent students to camp for two summers now, and spiritual fruit has been evident. Pastor Ryan Napier is pictured at the top. SUBMITTED PHOTO

As an example of God using Freedom Hill to change a life, Napier mentioned a young woman who “just kind of stumbled in” the church not long ago. She had some exposure to church as a child but had encountered hard times and strayed from God. 

One Sunday, at the end of the service, the woman went to the altar to pray, and she was weeping and crying out, “I’m just so sick of sinning!” She had made a lot of bad choices, Napier said, but the woman got to the place “we want to get to, that we’re just so fed up with our sin that we just turn from it.”

Now she is a beautiful story of redemption, he said. Another woman in the church is discipling her, even as her string of better choices led her to move away from the area. “She’s growing. She’s gotten a job. She’s on her feet,” the pastor added.

Looking back, Napier remembers having a calling on his life at a young age to be a pastor, “but I ran from that calling for a long time.” Now that he is living that calling, he respects the importance of the local church.

“That community can surround you when you go through something hard in life and provide accountability to grow as a Christian,” he said. “When you have that community around you, that’s when you see real growth.”

Six things to consider as you navigate your first year of pastoring

So many thoughts run through my head as I reflect on my first year as a pastor. I’ve served in two churches as lead teaching pastor, and the first year at each was among the hardest of my life. More than ever, I was slapped in the face with the crippling effect of what is probably my greatest idol: people-pleasing.

On the other hand, the first year at these churches was among the best of my life. It’s interesting how God does that sometimes. I’ve never been more face-to-face with my own sin and selfishness, and more amazed at God’s incredible grace shown to a 25- and 30-year-old pastor. The expectation of preaching the Word of God every single Sunday has grown me so much in the midst of studying and preparing. I’ve never so directly had to face the conflicts between my own vocational ambition and simply obeying God and seeking His glory.

I preached 48 sermons each of those first years, saw core people leave the church, new people come in, been complemented more than ever before, and criticized more than ever before. Even with so much good linked with so much difficulty, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I did a few things well and also made some mistakes. I had a list of priorities, some of which were in good order, and some of which weren’t. Six brief exhortations for the first year pastor (or for more experienced pastors) based on my experience:

1. Love Christ.

More than anything, treasure Jesus. Cherish your identity and status as a child of God. There’s nothing greater than Jesus, and His love for you is not dependent on your performance as a pastor. Rest in this. Spend ample time in the Word, but especially in your first year as a teaching pastor.

2. Preach the Word.

Preach the truth. Don’t be ashamed of God or avoid certain parts of Scripture. Preach and teach all of it. God will be glorified and your people will grow spiritually. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15 years of pastoral ministry, it’s that God’s people love God’s Word (at least most of the time).

3. Get to know your people.

Spend time with your members, deacons, and small group leaders. Do this not just for leadership purposes, but to get to know them personally and grow to love them as the flock God has entrusted to you. Learn their names, get to know their families, and care for them.

4. Make disciples.

Find a few men, even just one or two, to spend regular time with one on one. Read Scripture together. Pray together. Read through a great book together. Spend a year with these men with the goal of spurring them on in their faith. You will never regret immediately investing meaningful time into a few men.

5. Find a mentor.

Do. Not. Do. This. Alone. Find someone inside or outside the church who will call you on your weaknesses and speak truth to you. A retired pastor or an older pastor down the street could be a good option. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need someone you can call without hesitation to let you vent or give you advice.

6. Go home.

When you go home, do your best to truly go home. Don’t check your email while you’re with your kids. Don’t let your mind wander and be distracted by church things. Focus on your family. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but that’s what they should be: rare exceptions. Go home not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

These thoughts may not be new for you, but I pray you will take them to heart. There’s nothing more important than grounding yourself in Christ, especially in your first year of ministry. Find good rhythms, carve out time to have date nights, and exercise.

May God bless you and keep you as you shepherd His church!


History’s first Christmas gift

One Christmas, my wife, Janet, had a necklace made from a broken piece of my grandmother’s china. These necklaces were made by broken women in a local women’s shelter that our church supported financially. Their jewelry is a wonderful reminder of how God can bring beauty into brokenness. These necklaces remind us of history’s first Christmas gift.

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

One of the first people to hear about this gift was a top-level leader in Jerusalem named Nicodemus. He was an expert in religious and civil law, but tensions were high between the authorities and Jesus, so he visited Jesus at night to ask Him about eternal life. Nicodemus had a hard time wrapping his sharp mind around this simple, generous gift—and so will some of our lost friends, family, and neighbors. Nevertheless, our job is to share the gift, not sell it. 

We are all objects of God’s love and the intended recipients of history’s first Christmas present. The Christmas story is a true love story of rescue and redemption that deserves to be both celebrated and shared this month with anyone who is willing to listen. “For God so loved the world” means that every person in our family, neighborhood, school, and or workplace is someone worth saving. 

Janet and I live in a very diverse international city, which makes sharing history’s first Christmas gift a challenge. Manger scenes are great reminders for me of the diversity of people who eventually came to visit the newborn King—Jewish shepherds and Iranian magi. Even today, as hostilities rise between Iran and Israel, the Prince of Peace came to rescue all their people from sin and death. 

As recipients of this grace-filled gospel gift, we have the privilege and responsibility of regifting it. This month provides us with many organic opportunities to do this. Some families celebrate Christmas each year by singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and baking a cake. At one such home, as Christmas day was winding down, someone asked a 5-year-old if she had gotten everything she wanted for Christmas. The little girl paused and then said, “No, but it wasn’t my birthday.” Christmas is a birthday party for Jesus, yet this party is unique in that the guest of honor brings the gifts. More accurately—the guest is the gift.

Nicodemus found out that night that his works just weren’t working. As a Pharisee serving on the ruling Sanhedrin, he was used to fasting, giving, praying, and memorizing Scripture. He was very religious, yet he was sitting on death row. Nicodemus could try to serve out his sentence on parole, but what he really needed was a pardon. So do we. Jesus took our sin by taking our place on the cross.  

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

God did more than simply send an angel or prophet; He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us. So, what are you going to do with that gift? If you have personally received history’s first Christmas gift, December is a great time to regift it.

SWBTS graduates historic number of Hispanic graduates

FORT WORTH—The Spanish department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), under the direction of Mark McClellan, has been working diligently to equip Hispanics in North America and all over the world. Southwestern celebrated a milestone this month when 124 of the 336 students who graduated at the fall commencement were Hispanic. This goes a long way toward Southwestern’s goal of becoming the premiere theological training institution for Hispanics worldwide.

“It’s a blessing to see what the Lord is doing at Southwestern, and we are very proud of our students and thankful for God’s mercy and grace for this great achievement,” said McClellan, professor of missions and director of Hispanic Programs at Southwestern.

The historic number of Hispanic graduates was preceded by a celebration banquet the night before which gathered Hispanic leaders, many of whom are also students, from all over the world, including Puerto Rico, South America, Mexico and Brazil,

SWBTS President David Dockery congratulated the graduates and acknowledged the leadership of McClellan and Dean Sieberhagen, interim dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions.

“We are excited about being able to offer quality theological education, pastoral preparation, and equipping you for ministry, from the certificate program to doctoral work,” Dockery said.

“The work for the Spanish program is very important for the vision of the future at Southwestern. Southwestern is committed to you and we ask for you to renew your commitment to Southwestern. We want you to think of this seminary as your seminary … a place providing Spanish language education not only in Texas but across this country and around the world.”

Dockery said Southwestern has a global emphasis to equip leaders so they can reach the world with the gospel. He asked the Hispanic graduating class to provide feedback so leaders can make the Hispanic program even better.

Notable attendees at the banquet included Bruno Molina, executive director of the National Hispanic Baptist Network, language evangelism associate at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and adjunct professor at the seminary; Daniel R. Sánchez, SWBTS’ distinguish professor emeritus of missions; Terry Coy; and Bill Goff.

Julio Arriola, Send Network SBTC church planting director, recognized the more than 30 church planters present at the event and some of the Send Network Español Champions: Jorge Altieri, the Michigan, Ohio, and Indianapolis regional representative; Esteban Vasquez, associate pastor at Champion Forest, Texas; and Julio Crespo, pastor at Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, who opened the event with prayer.

“May the Lord use these graduates and the future ones so that Christ is made known in all nations,” Crespo said.

Martin Manchego, who graduated with a Master of Divinity, said during a time of personal testimony that Southwestern professors “are more interested in the personal growth and well-being of all students than academics, and that alone inspired me and others to study at Southwestern.”

Hispanics are also part of the English-language programs at Southwestern. They are contributing to the advancement of the gospel and guiding the new generation of English-speaking Hispanics into fruitful ministry.

Among them is Hugo Encorrada, a father of six children, two of whom are students at Texas Baptist College. Encorrada graduated from SWBTS’ School of Music and will continue his education at Southwestern to earn a Ph.D from the same.

The Spanish Program at Southwestern is accepting students for the Master of Theological Studies in Portuguese, starting in January of 2024.

What’s your story? In my weakness, God has proven Himself strong!


ack in 2012, I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I’d suffered from serious back pain for years, and it was diagnosed as herniated discs in my lower back. I did all the things they told me to do, but the pain always returned. 

In 2011, my husband, Michael, and I moved to Lewisville. During the move I damaged my back even more. I was only able to walk short distances at a time and was entirely dependent on pain medications to function in a job that required that I move around a lot. As I moved around less because of the pain, I’d gain weight, and that made the pain worse. All that, in addition to moving away from family and friends back in Lubbock, brought on a dark pit of depression like I’d never experienced before.  

I felt like a complete failure and my mind was swirling with terrible thoughts about how I was of no use to anyone—that there was no reason for me to exist. For too long, I listened to all those lies that the enemy wanted me to believe, including the one that said, “Hey aren’t you a Christian? Christians shouldn’t have depression!”  

I believed in God, and I was saved through faith in Christ Jesus, but I was not joyful. I had little peace, and my spiritual life was suffering from a lack of prayer and a lack of being in God’s Word. By 2012, I had undergone back surgery, and while much of the pain subsided, I was still in that dark pit that I could not climb out of.

In 2016, I got to attend a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Women’s Ministry Forum, a forerunner of the She Stands conferences. During one of the sessions, a passage in Psalm 51 began to speak directly to my heart and it became my desperate prayer: “Lord, restore to me the joy of your salvation!” 

“In my weakness, He is strong. My depression and sadness were lifted and replaced with peace, patience, and joy. The joy of the Lord has become my strength.”

So, I began to pray, I got back into the Word, and I asked God, “How do I have your joy restored to my life? Lovingly and gently, the Savior began lifting my face so I could see others who needed help, who needed prayer, who needed to be ministered to. It was as if I was having a conversation with the Lord:

“Lindsay, do you love me?” 

“Yes Lord, I do love you.” 

“Feed my sheep.”

We were members of Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville at that time, and God surrounded me with wonderful Christian women—just dear friends, great encouragers. And one of them really encouraged me to get back into Scripture and to start serving in the church in different ways. For me, the thing that helped most with my depression was helping other people and not focusing on myself. When I started to focus on my own problems, that was just a downward spiral. As I began to get out of myself and focus on God—what He has given me and what He’s gifted me to do and how that can be used to help other people—all of that just lifted so quickly.

In 2020, my husband’s company moved him to South Texas. We found out about a week after the pandemic took hold. Even though my company had no work-from-home policies, as most companies didn’t, I was basically able to keep my job. Now I work as a senior financial analyst in the same department, but I work from home in San Antonio.

When we moved to San Antonio, and as soon as we found a church home [Mission City], it was like, “Let’s put down roots, let’s start serving.” That was just not even a question. It was funny and ironic to me that the first ministry I served in was with kids because we don’t have children. A lot of people who know me know I wouldn’t look for that kind of ministry, but that’s kind of how God works. Sometimes He puts us in places we would never expect or choose to be, but I was able to serve our kids.

I was in the kids check-in area, an administrative role. I checked families in and helped them feel that their children were safe when they entered the church. I was the first face of hospitality as they came in. I so loved that.

About three months ago, our church launched a new campus location. My husband and I are on the trailer team. Our team drives in four 24-foot portable church trailers to a middle school where our new church meets every Sunday. That’s where I help now. 

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