CONROE—To many outside the state, Texas is still the land of cowboys, oil rig, and country folk—a rather homogeneous landscape in the Lone Star state. But the cultures and languages represented at the annual SBTC Church Planters Retreat March 27-28 painted a different picture.
Pastors whose racial and ethnic roots are Anglo, Hispanic, African American, Asian Indian, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, Burmese, Iranian and Arabic demonstrated the heart of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and its mission to reach the world … in Texas.
Of the nearly 2,500 churches affiliated with the SBTC, 20 percent have been new plants. As Texas’ population grows so too does the need for churches and those willing to sow the seeds of growth. The 90 church planting pastors and prospects at the retreat demonstrated the unique opportunities for ministry and the creative means by which they reach the lost—meeting in libraries in small Central Texas communities; starting a church in the middle of the Houston Medical Center; and being a “man of peace” among the countless immigrants who call Texas home.
Planting churches “is a beautiful adventure” according to Jose Vazquez. And he would know. With his wife Salud at his side, Vazquez, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista, in Pflugerville, has planted 18 Spanish-language churches in and around Central Texas. For his work, SBTC missions leadership honored him as the first recipient of the Silvano Paiva Memorial Award presented at the close of the retreat. The award will be presented annually in memory of Paiva, a Brazilian native and self-taught pastor, who planted churches and acted as an SBTC consultant while working full-time as a translator in the Houston court system. Paiva died unexpectedly last December. His wife Marta was also honored at the conference by the estimated 230 in attendance.
David Alexander, SBTC church planting team leader, said Vazquez represents the tenacity of Paiva. As the missions staff considered who should receive the first Paiva award, Vazquez’s name rose to the top. Because of the work of its name sake, the award recognizes the efforts of planters establishing non-English language churches, a growing percentage of SBTC church plants.
Vazquez, visibly humbled by the recognition, was quick to credit God and the SBTC for the churches he helped establish. The 50-year-old native of Celaya, Mexico has had a passion for reaching the lost since his own salvation in 1983 as a 19-year-old illegal immigrant in the United States. His immigrant journey took him to Round Rock where a family named Ortega invited him to a Spanish-language church in neighboring Taylor. There Vazquez put his faith in Christ, the first person in his family to do so.
Then his faith journey took him back to Mexico.
After reading Isaiah 43:1-4, Vazquez was convicted to return home and share the gospel with his wife and immediate family.
“I told my wife the Bible is the best treasure in the world,” he said.
The Vazquez family all made professions of faith. Jose and Salud began their own family. His new job in Mexico put him under the supervision of a fellow Christian. And for more than a decade Vazquez never forgot the witness of the Ortega family.
In 1995 Vazquez returned to Texas—this time with his wife, three children, and a tourist visa. While there God called him to ministry. And, as Providence determined, Vazquez’s ministry duplicates the witness that drew him to Christ. The 18 Spanish-language churches he launched give people the opportunity to hear the gospel in the language of their hearts.
Vazquez is quick to credit the support of the SBTC for his ministry success.
“They believe in me,” he said of Terry Coy, SBTC director of missions, and Alexander. “They are a good influence in my work.”
Vazquez praised the Bible Training Centre for Pastors (BTCP), a curriculum used internationally to train pastors with no formal Bible education.
“We have adapted it to include Baptist history (including SBTC and Cooperative Program) and our church planter training. It is the core curriculum of our umbrella program—Hispanic Baptist Institute for Biblical Studies. These are centers we are facilitating around the state to train ministers, and particularly church planters,” Coy explained.
But even with Bible training and support for the convention, Alexander and Coy said it is the heart of the pastor that determines if a church will send out its own members to advance the gospel.
“It begins with a passion for the lost. [The pastor] has to have a kingdom vision or it doesn’t happen,” Alexander said.
Selflessness, as exemplified in Vazquez, is key, Coy said. The pastor has to be willing to send out his best leaders for church plants to have a chance at success. In the past three years, Primera Iglesia Bautista, a church of about 250, has “graduated” 120 people from its congregation to plant seven churches.
But what is it like to be a part of a church where so many people leave so frequently? According to Vazquez, that is as it should be. Church planting is a natural extension of church growth.
“When you start a church you are going to have kids. They have daughter churches,” he said.
And those “daughter” churches go on to have more churches because, as Vazquez concluded, they have the same DNA.