‘It’s not up to me it’s up to the Lord’
Simon Villalobos had always seemed to be in ministry.
He began serving the Lord at age 16. By the time he was 21, he answered God’s call to the pastorate and ultimately landed in Veracruz, Mexico, where he served as a pastor for 22 years with 14 churches under his care.
Eventually his ministry in Veracruz concluded and a door seemed to be opening for him to pastor in Texas. But when Villalobos arrived in the U.S., that door closed for reasons beyond his control, leaving his family and him in limbo.
Simon Villalobos had always seemed to be in ministry … until suddenly, he wasn’t.
“I thought it was time to hang up the equipment and get comfortable in the pew,” Villalobos said.
And so began a difficult journey—one of learning to be dependent on God—that has led him to where he is today, pastoring the growing Champion Family Church in Conroe.
‘Like throwing a dying little fish into the water’
The unexpected path that kept Villalobos from vocational ministry for 10 years led him to seek secular employment for the first time in his life. Though no formal ministry opportunities presented themselves during that time, he and his wife, Rosita, volunteered to help pastors and ministries in various capacities. It was a time of rest for Villalobos, but also a time when he and Rosita felt God was done with them.
At least until their son invited them to Champion Forest Baptist Church Español in 2017. Villalobos said he felt comfortable there and connected with the preaching of Pastor Esteban Vazquez. Before long, Villalobos struck up a friendship with Vazquez and began accompanying him on various ministry assignments.
Among those assignments was offering support to a church in Conroe that was dying, with only about five members carrying the entire ministry load. To help fill the pulpit at the struggling church, Vazquez invited Villalobos to preach there. Then Villalobos began to preach more often, and before long, Vazquez asked him if he would be interested in pastoring there.
Villalobos said he was not sure whether to accept the offer because he “saw no future here. [This church] was dead.” So he talked it over with Rosita and, to his surprise, she encouraged him to accept the challenge.
“For Rosita, it was like throwing a dying little fish into the water,” Villalobos said. “She has a very specific calling [in serving the local church] and she wasn’t exercising it.” Serving the struggling church could help them satisfy the desire God had put in their hearts, so Villalobos agreed to be the pastor for a trial year to see what the Lord might do.
‘A mission that goes outside the walls’
Villalobos was installed as the pastor of the church, now called Champion Family Conroe, in October 2019. Upon his arrival, the church had 13 people, some sent from Champion Forest. By the end of 2019, about 25 people were attending, with growth and stability continuing into the following spring. The progress slowly changed Villalobos’ thinking and brought hope. “It’s not up to me,” he said. “It’s up to the Lord.”
COVID-19 interrupted church meetings in 2020, but progress continued. Once in-person services resumed, attendance kept increasing and, the following summer, the Lord provided a catalyst that not only helped the church, but Villalobos.
In August 2021, Villalobos was invited by Champion Forest to participate in the North American Mission Board’s church planter training program. He describes the training as a new beginning that provided him with knowledge and resources that were not available to him previously—including methods of using technology in ministry.
“The [NAMB] residency served to introduce me to a new way of doing church,” Villalobos said. “Pastoring 40 years ago and in another country is not the same as doing it now and here.”
By the end of 2021, Champion Family Conroe had about 80 attendees, including newcomers, refugees, and some other Champion Forest families who joined the replanting effort. Attendance now hovers around 100 people per week. That number swells to more than 200 on special days.
“This has been a phenomenon in Conroe because [many] churches here have peaked at 50 to 80 people and then dropped off, but now Champion Family keeps growing and growing,” Villalobos said.
Champion Family is a testimony of how God has worked the miracle of multiplication and revival in Conroe, but Villalobos is clear about the goal. “We are not here to fill the temple, which is already filled, but to develop a mission that goes outside the walls,” he said.
The church now supports a group of young missionaries in Veracruz and a Baptist pastor in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico. It also supports a pastor-planter in Mozambique, Africa, where Champion Family just purchased land for the church there to meet, and they are in the process of purchasing an acre-and-a-half of land in hopes of building a school in Nampula, Africa.
“I am amazed at how people have gotten involved without forcing anything,” Villalobos said. “This church has grown organically. We pray that God will give us pastors and elders who have the calling to keep ministering and looking outside our walls.”