Author: Jayson Larson

SBTC DR teams experience unusual, productive summer of ministry

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers have experienced a busy and unusual spring and summer.

Just as SBTC DR volunteers, in cooperation with other state DR teams, wrapped up work assisting Ukrainian refugees in Romania in late May, additional SBTC DR volunteers began deploying to Moldova in June.

DR teams helped along the border of Romania and Ukraine in a variety of capacities, helping Romanian Baptist churches man a border station; distributing water, food, and coffee to refugees, truckers, and first responders; and serving in church-run refugee shelters.

“The border was about two to three U.S. blocks from where we set up,” said SBTC DR chaplain Debby Nichols, who was part of the last group sent to Romania. “We were not allowed closer than that unless we were assisting a refugee to carry bags or luggage to the border.”

Baptist DR volunteers worked also to establish connections with the Pompierii, the Romanian firefighters assisting with border security.

“They were very helpful to us. Most are not Christian, so we tried to build relationships with them,” Nichols said.

Six SBTC DR teams comprised of a total of 24 volunteers teamed with Southern Baptist DR teams from Missouri, California, and Alabama, to minister along the Ukrainian-Romanian border, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice confirmed.

Working under the leadership of North Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief, three SBTC DR two-person teams have ministered in Moldova, rotating in and out over the last five weeks, Stice added.

“The Moldovan ministry is occurring in a whole different context,” Stice said. Volunteers are working in a children’s home that is hosting Ukrainian refugees. They are also working alongside Ukrainian refugees themselves helping to improve conditions at the home.

Ministry in Moldova included landscaping and running waters lines. PHOTO BY DIANA VANN STEWART

“We helped with everything from landscaping to running water lines to working on streets,” Stice said, adding that Baptists, including SBTC DR volunteers, have led English classes and Bible classes in the evenings at the children’s home.

Volunteers stayed busy.  For example, James Crawford of Bonham unloaded 1,200 solar panels from a semi-truck one day, enlisting the aid of a young man from Odessa, Ukraine, with whom Crawford shared Scripture and developed a relationship. Diana Vann Stewart of Bryan taught English as a Second Language to adults and children and assisted with Bible classes and children’s activities for refugees.

While language remained a barrier, Vann Stewart said the Ukrainians were “wonderful people in need of kindness and knowing there is help for them as they work through the changes in their lives.” She added that it was a “wonderful experience to worship with them.”

While all SBTC DR volunteers have returned stateside, Stice said he expects a request for additional international volunteers in the future.

COVID affected the groups, Stice added. Three SBTC DR volunteers came home with the virus, but all recovered. It is unknown if they contracted COVID at the children’s home or during travel.

In other SBTC DR news, a mud-out team is scheduled to deploy to Missouri the week of August 7 to respond to flooding. Shower and laundry teams are also on standby to minister in Kentucky, in response to massive flooding there.

The threat of re-flooding and the logistics of getting teams into affected areas safely have delayed the Kentucky deployment.

“Usually by this time, we are working on our first hurricanes,” Stice said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

It has been an unusual yet productive season, he added. “The gospel has gone forth as we have been the hands and feet of Jesus in unexpected ways.”

 

Tyler church rallies around family of fallen sheriff’s deputy

TYLER—Smith County Sheriff’s Office personnel remember Deputy Lorenzo Bustos, who died last week in the line of duty, for his big smile and positive attitude—attributes also noticed by members of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler, where Bustos and his family have been active members since 2015.

Now the church has established a memorial fund to help the family of the 29-year-old deputy who was killed by a drunk driver during a routine traffic stop in the early morning hours of Friday, July 29.

Bustos’ children are 4, 5, and 8 years old.

“I was initially struck by the kindness in Lorenzo’s face and the genuineness of his smile, and I was looking forward to investing in his life,” said Dan Lewis, pastor of Friendly Baptist since March 2022.

Bustos had a significant “impact on our church family,” the pastor said, noting that the deputy and his wife, Gloria, started actively serving in GAs and RAs shortly after joining the church in May 2015.

Bustos had become a follower of Christ after a co-worker from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where Bustos then served as a correctional officer, invited him to Friendly Baptist. Bustos had recently asked one of the pastors to help him deepen his walk with Christ and they two planned to meet for personal discipleship, Lewis noted.

Bustos died at the end of his shift as a Smith County Sheriff’s Office trainee as he stood behind his patrol car during the traffic stop. A 21-year-old driver was arrested for intoxication manslaughter, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith told news outlets.

Bustos had been working at the sheriff’s office less than six months after previously working for other law enforcement agencies, including the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office and the Henderson Police Department. He had quickly bonded with his new Tyler colleagues.

“He had come to be very loved by all of his cohorts and co-workers,” Smith told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “He was doing a great job.”

He will be missed greatly at his church as well, Lewis said. A post on the church’s Facebook page the afternoon of the deputy’s death requested prayer for the Bustos family, friends, and coworkers, and announced the establishment of the memorial fund to assist the family with funeral and related expenses.

“We established the fund because we knew many would want to help this precious family during this difficult time of life. Consequently, many in our community have also stepped in to financially support them,” Lewis said, encouraging those who wish to donate to select the “Lorenzo Bustos Memorial” link from the dropdown menu on the donations page.

Funds will be funneled through the church to an account for the family at Southside Bank of Tyler.

Bustos is survived by his wife and their three children; his parents, Martin and Rosa Bustos; a sister, and two brothers.

This article contains reporting from the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Pushing back against perfectionism

One simple lesson the Lord has been teaching me over the past 18 months of my budding pastorate is this: “Trust Me.”

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. It has come in handy from time to time—better grades in school, general cleanliness (which helped in the marriage department), and a broad sense of being someone who can be trusted. But like most things, it has a dark side.

It began showing up in my quiet time. Like most of you, I’d wake in the early morning, grab coffee and the Scriptures. But rather than delighting in the Lord, I found myself preparing sermons. It then spilled into my Mondays. Mondays are for staff meetings in my world. Those mornings started getting crowded with anxious planning to create “productive” and “streamlined” meetings.

I didn’t realize my pursuit of perfection had gone from a good thing to a “god” thing until one Sunday afternoon. I was in my office three hours before a members meeting, and I was literally rehearsing every word I would say. I had a 2,700-word document with questions I anticipated the members would ask, discussion points, things to pray over, and new members to welcome.

My pursuit of perfection was also affecting my health. I couldn’t say no to night snacking. It was affecting my sleep. I became a light sleeper, and I would wake remembering something insignificant I didn’t accomplish. Going back to sleep was impossible. It was spilling into all my relationships. When God’s providence shuffled my schedule, I was not happy, and others could tell. To put it simply: idols make bad gods.

In my office that Sunday afternoon, God revealed my sin. I started pulling weeds of perfectionist tendencies in my life (repentance) and planting seeds of trust in God (faith). I stopped dressing my works up like they were faith. My sanctification is slow. I’m still in process. Maybe you’re like me. Hopefully you’re better. Regardless, here are two ways I am planting seeds of trust in God:

People over performance

I want to be better at my craft. All good preachers do. But I don’t want to be lopsided. I serve a small church in a small town. When I go to the local grocery store, I run into Deacon Dillard or Sunday School Teacher Sam. I’m called to love my sheep. So, I answer my phone. I give people my full attention. I listen. I host. I laugh. I allow God to override my schedule for love.

Outline over manuscript

Whether I’m preaching or leading a meeting, it is outline-only these days. It’s my way of trusting God. I see it as an opportunity to give Him space to speak through me. And yes, I do believe the Holy Spirit works in our preparation, and yes, I do believe the Lord speaks through guys who manuscript. This isn’t an excuse for pastoral laziness. Just my on-ground expression of trust in God.

Perfectionism is a bad god. Simply trust God to be God.

Mental illness awareness is rising in the pews and the pulpit, Lifeway Research study shows

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most pastors have seen mental illness in their pews, while some have seen it in themselves.

A Lifeway Research study explores U.S. Protestant pastors’ experiences with mental illness and how well their churches are equipped to respond to those who need help.

A majority of pastors (54%) say in the churches where they have served on staff, they have known at least one church member who has been diagnosed with a severe mental illness such as clinical depression, bipolar or schizophrenia. Most of those pastors had experience with a small number of members: 18% say 1-2 and another 18% say 3-5. Fewer pastors say they’ve known 6-10 (8%), 11-20 (5%) or more than 20 (6%). Around a third (34%) say none of their church members have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, while 12% don’t know.

“There is a healthy generational shift occurring as younger and middle-aged pastors are much more likely to have encountered people in church with severe mental illness than the oldest pastors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “However, it is not clear whether the presence of those with difficult mental illnesses is increasing among church members or if they have simply felt more comfortable sharing their diagnosis with younger pastors.”

Pastors 65 and older (46%) and those with no college degree (52%) are more likely to say they haven’t known any church members with a severe mental illness.

Twenty-six percent of U.S. Protestant pastors say they have personally struggled with some type of mental illness, including 17% who say it was diagnosed and 9% who say they experienced it but were never diagnosed. Three-quarters (74%) say they’ve never dealt with a mental illness.

Compared to a 2014 Lifeway Research study, a similar number of pastors today say they have endured mental illness themselves (26% v. 23%). More pastors now, however, say they have been diagnosed (17% v. 12%).

“During the COVID-19 pandemic many Americans have faced challenges to their mental health,” said McConnell. “More pastors today are seeking professional help as evidenced by more having been diagnosed with mental illness. Younger pastors are the most likely to say they have endured mental illness.”

Pastors under 45 (37%) are most likely to say they have struggled with some form of mental illness.

Church help

Churchgoers may not hear about mental illness frequently from the pulpit, but most churches will hear about the subject at least once a year from their pastor.

Six in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors say they speak to their churches about acute or chronic mental illness in sermons or large group messages at least once a year, including 17% who bring up the subject about once a year. For more than 2 in 5 pastors, the issue comes up multiple times a year, with 30% saying they talk about it several times a year, 9% saying about once a month and 4% saying several times a month.

Other pastors cover the topic much less frequently, with 26% saying they rarely bring it up and 11% saying they never talk about it. Another 3% aren’t sure.

Pastors are more likely to broach the subject in a large group setting today than 2014, when 49% said they rarely or never spoke about it. Eight years ago, 33% mentioned the issue several times a year or more compared to 43% today.

“While the typical pastor hasn’t experienced mental illness themselves, they are proactively teaching about this need and feel a responsibility to help,” said McConnell. “While preaching on mental illness is the norm and even more pastors feel their church is responsible to help the mentally ill, still 37% of pastors rarely or never bring it up from the pulpit.”

Beyond talking about it from the pulpit, 9 in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors (89%) say local churches have a responsibility to provide resources and support for individuals with mental illness and their families. Few pastors (10%) disagree.

When asked about specific types of care their churches provide for those suffering from mental illness or their families, more than 4 in 5 pastors say they offer something. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) say their church maintains a list of experts to whom they can refer people. Two in 5 (40%) have a plan for supporting families of those with mental illness. Around a quarter say they provide training for encouraging people with mental illness (26%), offer programs like Celebrate Recovery (26%) or offer topical seminars on depression or anxiety (23%). Close to 1 in 5 provide training for leaders to identify symptoms of mental illness (20%), host groups in their community that help those with mental illness (20%) or have a counselor on staff skilled in mental illness (18%). Another 7% say they provide another resource.

“In the years between studies, more churches have developed plans for supporting families of those with mental illness. A few more are offering training for leaders to identify symptoms of mental illness and hosting groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness,” said McConnell. “The most common and earliest way for a church to care for someone with mental illness is to have a list of mental health experts to refer people to. Yet almost a third of churches don’t have such a list.”

Younger pastors, age 18-44, (9%) are the least likely to say they don’t provide any of the potential resources. Pastors at churches with fewer than 50 in attendance (24%) are the most likely.

As pastors are most likely to say they have a referral list at their church, most say they’re prepared to identify when someone needs to be referred to an expert. Almost 9 in 10 pastors (86%) agree they feel equipped to identify when a person is dealing with acute or chronic mental illness that may require a referral to a medical professional, with 34% strongly agreeing. Few (12%) don’t feel equipped, and 1% aren’t sure.

The percentage of pastors who feel equipped is up slightly from 2014 when 81% said they felt capable of making the identification and referral.

For more information, view the complete report and visit LifewayResearch.com.

 

For Chayasirisobhon family, serving the Lord is a family affair

ANAHEIM, Calif.—The 2022 SBC Annual Meeting was special for the Chayasirisobhon family for many reasons.

During the meeting, Pastor Chayas “Victor” Chayasirisobhon was elected SBC first vice president. While that was a special moment, Victor also honored by another moment that happened much farther away from the main stage.

“I had the privilege of helping my father, Sirichai Chayasirisobhon, register at the SBC registration booth,” Victor said.

The 77-year-old Sirichai, a 2022 SBC church messenger, was so proud of his son, he asked the registration chair to take pictures of them together. When asked how he felt about having Victor serving the Lord, Sirichai said, “It’s all about grace, God’s grace, all grace!”

Victor is the lead pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim, chief administrator of the Anaheim Discovery Christian School, and is also a medical doctor following his family’s tradition.

Victor’s grandfather, Dr. Tseng Sui Po Chayasirisobhon, was married to Chantana Chayasirisobhon and served as a deacon at the Sapang Luang Church in Thailand. He was a renowned medical doctor, an elder at his church, and a well-respected member of his community, Victor said. His grandfather “built a home for the homeless and took care of them, and as a church Elder, he was highly respected in his community,” added Victor. When his grandfather died at the age of 40, people lined up for miles to mourn him. His family carried the cross for Christ because as “one of the only Christian families in Thailand, they were made fun of quite a bit for being a Christian,” Victor added.

Sirichai was of Chinese descent, born in a bomb shelter in Thailand during World War II, lived in Bangkok, Thailand, served at his church as a deacon and later as lead pastor. According to Victor, his father migrated to Canada, where he attended McGill University, followed his father’s footsteps, and graduated as a medical doctor.

Sirichai married Wanpen, who also studied at the same university and became a microbiologist.

“My parents modeled to me the importance of getting an education,” Victor said. “Becoming a doctor was an honor for my father, and being a doctor is highly valued in our culture.”

While living in Canada, Victor’s parents prayed about whether to go to Thailand or America, ultimately choosing the latter. His father got his green card, came to America as a computer technician, and was then able to practice medicine in Michigan. At an early age, Victor moved with his parents to California, where they currently live and serve.

Victor said that after the death of his grandfather, Sirichai—at the age of 13 and the oldest of four children—had to take the responsibility of helping his mother raise his brothers and sister.

“My father said that he went from being a bad boy to a good boy,” Victor said. Sirichai helped his mother lead the family. His siblings were all educated: two became doctors and another is a famous opera singer.

While his father was serving as a deacon at their church, Victor says his parents were raised and helped by the church to be leaders. His father has planted many Thai churches, and currently he is the senior pastor at the Thai Church, a SBC church, in Anaheim. His church gathers in the space right above First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim where Victor pastors.

Victor is the third generation of men serving God, following the ministry and the example of his father and grandfather, but he also had a time of rebellion. During his youth, he became a gang member.

“When you see the picture of me and my dad together, on the same page, it is such a picture of God’s love, a picture of God’s grace, a picture of God’s redemption,” Victor said. During his time of rebellion, Victor shared that his father was always praying for him. “No matter what I did, I knew that he always loved me. As a teenager I did not understand how he loved me so hard,” he said.

Victor is an only child, born in Montreal, Canada. He was given the Thai name Wuttichai, by his parents. Wuttichai means champion of knowledge, champion of beauty or gloriousness, glory, and honor. As an only child Victor had a nickname in Thai “Hnung,” which actually means “number one.”

“I think that they were expecting to have number two, so they nicknamed me ‘one’ with high hopes,” Victor said. Victor, a bi-vocational pastor, is married to Theresa, also an only child, and they have four children—two girls and two boys.

“After having me, my dad wanted to be a better man and showed me what a Christian looked like,” Victor said. “My children make me want to be a better man, a better Christian. My congregation makes me want to be a better man, a better Christian. With each position that God has given me and the responsibility that I have, not to be the perfect role model, but to try to be an example makes me want to be a better man, and a better Christian. … God gave me this SBC family, and I’m just trying to help my family.

“I became a doctor because I wanted to help people. That is why I got into medicine, and I found that I can help people in more of a holistic way in the church,” he said.

His dedication to God’s work is very important. “I am very loyal,” he said. “I learned that from my family, but I also learned that in the street. When God saved me, I became loyal to Him as an adult.

“I came to know the Lord Jesus through my parents but, really, the person that challenged me and asked me if I wanted to believe in Jesus was my Sunday school teacher, Lois Cadwaller. She led me through the sinner’s prayer. At 9 years old she gave me a Bible and wrote on it, ‘Dear Victor, one day you are going to do great things for Jesus Christ.’ I found the Bible, new, and preserved, and it has encouraged me later in my life.

“I started my ministry teaching the youth at the age of 17, and God gave me the grace of attracting different ethnicities of young people, teaching them all the stories from the Bible,” Victor said. “I already felt privileged to teach the youth after all the things that I had done as a youth. God saved me and allowed me to serve in that capacity for four years.”

He said he is very grateful to the church members, pastors, and leaders who helped him during his training for the pastorate. “I am so grateful to the church for suffering by patiently listening to my message at the age of 22. God knows what he was doing because now, instead of teaching youth, I preach more to adults,” Victor said.

One thing that helps Victor thrive in his in ministry is that he has experienced discrimination among different ethnicities, including his own. His family experienced discrimination because of their culture and their faith. “I never treat anybody like a second-class citizen. That is one of the reasons I help people,” Victor said. “This desire and the love of Christ helped me start The Galaxy Vision. This concept of churches was built on the vision that came out of the pain my family and I suffered and when I promised myself that we will never treat anybody as like a second-class citizen.”

Victor explained that Galaxy is a network of both Southern Baptist and non-Southern Baptist Christian churches that are like-minded and working together to reach the community together. According to Victor, since he has been the lead pastor at his church, they have been planting, adopting, and sponsoring a church every year.

“We don’t charge rent, not for our school, even through the pandemic, even when things got hard,” he said. “As pastors, if tithing is not enough, we go and get jobs as soon as we can and many of us have done it. If the lights got turned off at the church, we would light some candles until the bill was paid.”

First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim sponsors a Hispanic church, a Kenyan church which is getting ready to re-launch in about a month because of COVID, and a Thai church in California (his mother church where his father is the senior pastor). It also has a Christian school, Anaheim Christian, that serves children from pre-school through 12th grade.

One of Victor’s favorite Bible verses is Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” He wants all people to become one in Christ.

His personal prayer for the SBC, his church, and his other ministries is as follows: “I pray for our kingdom family to come together as a family, to join together for generations and generations to come. I pray that the definition of progress is known when the next generation is better than the one before us, through His Holy Spirit. I pray that by His grace we can create an even better generation for our children and the one to come.”

Barber sees SBC presidency as chance to unify in difficult culture

FARMERSVILLE—SBC president Bart Barber was a reluctant candidate. But, having been elected June 14 by SBC messengers in Anaheim, he’s a president with a mission.

Barber—pastor at First Baptist Church of Farmersville—was at first unwilling to join a field that already had three candidates by late March. Robin Hadaway, a seminary professor and retired missionary; Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor; and Willy Rice, also a Florida pastor, made up a crowded slate in the wake of SBC president Ed Litton’s decision to not run for a second term.

“Whenever people would ask me to run for president of the SBC, I would always say, ‘I’m not going to do that,’” Barber said. “And I had a lot of reasons—my kids being the age that they were, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it for that reason. I honestly thought I could do more good as a pastor with a Twitter account who tried to call balls and strikes fairly and promote good, sound, Baptist, conservative theology.”

He started to change his mind after Rice dropped out of the race in early April.

“I prayed about that and just felt strongly led,” he said. “I’ve told people I came to the end of my stubbornness, and I guess that’s the best way to describe it. … I thought Southern Baptists needed more choices than just Robin Hadaway and Tom Ascol.

“I felt like I had a calling from God to try to help our convention be healthier and was committed to doing that for whatever years God had left for me here on the earth.”

In comments he made before and after being elected, Barber highlighted two major things he hoped to emphasize as a candidate, and now as president. One was introduced by a hashtag, #armyofpeacemakers, that he offered through his Twitter account.

“I came to see what I thought were some really unhealthy things that were creeping into our convention, just in terms of the way we interacted with one another,” he said. “A lot of it involved recognizing it myself, some of what I’d done online, and also seeing that in others.

“I just think in the midst of a culture that is bent upon growth by division that there’s a need for us to have a different culture that’s inclined toward and believes in growth by reconciliation and resolution of conflict, and peaceful unity moving forward together to the degree possible.”

The priority of peacemaking had been on his mind for a while, going back to a sermon he preached from Philippians 4 during the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference. In his assigned passage, two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were described as Paul’s co-laborers, but also were embroiled in a personal disagreement.

“If you look at that passage of Scripture, immediately after the urging of these two women to get along with each other, the longer exhortation is to the other people in the church to say, ‘Will y’all please come alongside and help these folks to get along with each other?’

“There’s a role for the active work of people in God’s kingdom, who aren’t in the midst of the conflict, to step up and do something to try to resolve the conflict, to interfere in each other’s business a little bit and try to make peace,” he added.

Barber acknowledges that the power of SBC president is limited when it comes to fostering peace within the convention’s fellowship, but that the president does have influence through his constitutional roles.

“I think we should move toward a convention in which we’re all in agreement about our statement of faith," Barber said, "whatever means we need to take to get there."

“I think there are some important ways that the president has the opportunity to [encourage peace]. One, profoundly undersold as an important role for the president is the moderation of the business meeting, because that’s where we gather to try to have conflict resolution … and help us to move forward,” he explained.

He considers a careful and respectful handling of the gavel important partly because he’s seen some examples where the actions of the chair showed “heavy handedness” in this regard.

“When the Great Commission Resurgence report was brought [2010], a messenger offered an amendment to the GCR report, and the folks with the gavel at that time just said, basically, ‘How about if your amendment said this instead?’” he said, offering one example. “And [they] substituted a new amendment for the messenger’s amendment, without the consent of the messengers … and they got the thing passed. I did walk away thinking ‘That guy’s rights as a messenger were not respected.’”

While offering no criticism of a specific predecessor in the office, Barber hopes to offer unifying leadership in today’s denominational climate.

“I’d like to be the kind of SBC president who actually does try to serve the full messenger body and the full count of churches in the SBC,” he said.

One substantial way an SBC president affects the future of the denomination is through the appointment of committees. Barber hopes that these appointments will also be a means to unify the convention’s churches.

“My appointments are going to reflect the diversity of opinion that exists within the Southern Baptist Convention. I think that kind of thing is healing, and I’m trying to make sure that I do that in a way that stays true to the conservative convictions of the Southern Baptist Convention, the things that we’ve said in the Baptist Faith and Message, and in other statements that we’ve made,” he explained.

He said that this diversity would include those from smaller and larger churches, geographic diversity, and people of different ages, in addition to racial and ethnic diversity—the goal being to avoid the impression of elitism that bypasses grassroots Southern Baptists.

A second conviction Barber brought into the office is that our understanding of Baptist distinctives needs to be shored up.

“I’m hungry to go to seminary campuses and say, ‘Here’s why we believe in believer’s baptism,’ and to make that case from the Scriptures, from the pulpit of our chapels,” he said. “Not that I think that we have a seminary body full of students who aren’t sure whether they want to sprinkle infants or not, but because when you stop making the biblical case for it, you’re only a few generations away from having those students sitting in the seminary chapel.”

He also expressed concern that the convictions of Southern Baptists on religious liberty are starting to show some “cracks” and require a thorough biblical treatment in our day.

A related issue involves the way our fellowship of churches understands its confession of faith. That discussion came to light this year during the SBC annual meeting as messengers considered the credentials of a church that had ordained female associate pastors. Barber thinks these conversations are important to our fellowship and unity as well.

“I think we should move toward a convention in which we’re all in agreement about our statement of faith, whatever means we need to take to get there,” he said. “I hope that we can do that by persuading people and coming to the point where we all see the truthfulness and utility of what this statement of faith means. But I do think it would be unhealthy for us to just say, ‘Well, our confessions of faith are non-binding, and they don’t really say anything about the bounds of our fellowship within the convention.’”

Much has been said about the rare election of a smaller-church pastor to the role traditionally given to the pastors of churches five to 10 times larger than FBC Farmersville. Barber believes the size difference matters, but not as much as some might think.

“I feel a pressure to do it well,” he admitted. “I mean, if I’m late getting everything done, and if I do a slip-shod job of it all, and if everybody sees this as a train wreck, then it won’t be anybody but a megachurch pastor ever again after this.

“I think it’s not just about the size of the church, some of it is also about the fact that I’ve been at FBC Farmersville for 23 years, and I’m not the only staff member. It’ll be some substantial commitment of time, but I completed a PhD while I was the pastor at First Baptist Church Farmersville. So did the guy before me, and so did the guy before him—this isn’t the first time I’ve had some sort of major time commitment that went alongside trying to serve as pastor of this church.”

Speaking again on the vigorous dialog regarding SBC leadership in this day, admitting that some pastors may have been dissuaded from allowing their names to be put forward because of a harsh political climate, Barber expressed a personal hope for his tenure as SBC president, even as he begins his time at the forefront of those decisions and discussions.

“My prayer is that whenever this is over for me, I’ll still love the Southern Baptist Convention, the people of the Southern Baptist Convention, and not just in an abstract sense,” he said. “I want to still feel that way about us.”

 

In South Texas, Hispanic plant seeks to raise faith from the ruins

HEBBRONVILLE—Like many towns, Hebbronville has its challenges.

This small South Texas city with roughly 5,000 residents wrestles with crime, drugs, and divorce. No aspect of the community is unaffected.

“It’s hard to work [in Hebbronville],” says Jhonny Gonzalez, pastor of True Hope Bible Fellowship Church, “because now we have seen this town’s spiritual and moral condition is in crisis.”

Amidst all the physical ruin, social deterioration, and spiritual drought, God called Gonzalez and his family from Reinosa, Mexico, several years ago to plant True Hope. The church’s vision and mission are focused on restoring families, marriages, and children and strengthening family relationships through the gospel.

Despite all the challenges, they continue to see the power of God bringing families out of the ruins of sin so that they can then be witnesses for Jesus among their neighbors—even as parts of their own church are in disrepair. A portion of the building where True Hope meets, that once housed the now-defunct First Baptist Church of Hebbronville, has been condemned by the local government. So True Hope’s members meet in a multipurpose room on another portion of the property.

After 100 years of existence, FBC Hebbronville closed due to a significant drop in membership, Gonzalez said. In early 2000, the roof of the church collapsed, the walls began to break, and the few remaining families meeting there had to look for another church.

One of the families that left went to Retama Park Baptist Church, located about 60 miles east of Hebbronville, and upon meeting Gonzalez and his family, urged the leaders at their new church to join with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to seek ways to resume services at the old FBC Hebbronville site—but this time as a new Hispanic mission. Hebbronville’s population is nearly 90% Hispanic.

Retama Park continues to support True Hope by helping fund the pastoral salary and administrating the church’s finances.

“Our heart is to be involved in the Great Commission,” said Brent Howard, Retama Park’s pastor. “Hebbronville, it’s an area that is kind of economically depressed. It is very much predominantly Catholic, so there is very little evangelical presence there at all. So a major thought in the process and the goal is to establish solid Bible belief and a Baptist presence in that town and region. That’s why we continue helping Brother Jhonny and True Hope the best that we can to be an established church fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Healing the divide

Gonzalez said many years ago, racism was very strong and evident in Hebbronville. The divide could be seen in the town’s churches, as many Anglos attended the Baptist church while Hispanics attended the Catholic church. Gonzalez—who was raised in the Catholic church—said the racial divide left many Hispanic residents feeling welcomed only in the Catholic church, and as it grew with the population, other evangelical or non-Catholic churches were viewed with contempt.

Thanks to the church planting efforts and the work God is doing in Hebbronville, those feelings have been changing in a positive direction and more and more people in town are receiving the gospel and seeing Anglo people as brothers and sisters in Christ, Gonzalez said.

Although the mission at True Hope began as a Hispanic one, Gonzalez said he realized there were still original Anglo families from the old First Baptist Church who needed to be ministered to, as well as second- and third-generation Hispanics who prefer to speak English. Because of that, True Hope began transitioning to a bilingual work. One of the church members began helping translate, and now Gonzalez preaches his messages in Spanish and English.

Moving forward on mission together

Gonzalez constantly urges his congregation to share the gospel—not only because of the biblical mandate to do so, but because “not everyone wants to talk to a pastor, but they listen to their cousin or neighbor.” Church members are responding and are increasingly sharing the gospel more naturally with their families and neighbors, he said.

The result? Ex-alcoholics are now evangelizing their alcoholic friends. Husbands are wanting to come home and restore their families. A local nursing home is hearing the gospel each week through one of the church’s outreaches, with some employees not only sharing their need for Christ but also expressing a desire to someday visit the church. Gonzalez and his daughter offer piano and guitar lessons to the community, as well, which has allowed them to connect with two families.

In other words, the mission of the church is moving forward. Gonzalez said he is daily seeking wisdom from God about how to continue moving ahead in this gospel work. He is also urgently seeking help to demolish the old church building that has been condemned so a new work can soon be constructed in its place.

A work that, literally, will rise from the ruins and provide hope to a city where hopelessness, for many, is a daily reality.

She Stands keynote Lennon: ‘Hope is more than a feeling’

Andrea Lennon is a Bible teacher, author, podcaster, and founder of Andrea Lennon Ministry. She also serves as Women’s Ministry Specialist for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Her books include “God in the Window” and “Hope: More Than A Feeling.” Lennon recently spoke with Texan editor Jayson Larson about her upcoming keynote address at the She Stands Women’s Conference set for August 26-27 at West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe.

JL: What do you see as the greatest need of women today?

AL: I really think we need hope. We’re in a season of time where life is hard, questions are big, there are twists and turns, and there are ups and downs. We have to understand that daily, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to possess a biblical mindset. That is where we filter our life and our experiences and our thoughts through the Word of God. So what we’ll talk about at She Stands is how to know, live, and share the truth of God’s Word in the context of biblical hope. Hope is more than a feeling. It is not an emotional whim that comes during the good times and leaves during the hard times. Biblical hope is a strong assurance based on God’s character rather than our circumstances. I think the greatest need for women is to just understand that God loves us, that He has a plan for our lives, that He is in control, and because of who He is and how He faithfully works, we have hope in Him. That’s really a message that God has placed on my heart for women today.

JL: There’s so much bad news and hopelessness and so many things that can steal our focus away from remembering what true hope is. How do you plan to address that at She Stands?

AL: We’re going to dig into Romans 15:13, which says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” What we’ll see there is that hope originates with God. He is the God of hope, and as we place our trust and our faith in Him, His hope is applied to our lives. That gets into the nitty gritty details of life, the hard questions, the unknown situations, the overwhelming seasons. So that’s where I just encourage women to bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring those hard things that are going on in your life, lay them before the Lord and His Word, and watch Him speak truth and direction into those places and spaces where maybe you have questions and doubts.

JL: If hope is a mindset that exists within individuals, encouragement may be better understood as something that occurs between two or more individuals. What are some things women can do to be more effective encouragers of one another?

AL: I always encourage women to really cultivate a passionate pursuit of Christ in their life, because if we’re going to minister out of the overflow and encourage others with the encouragement we receive, then we better be receiving encouragement. So often, I think we focus on roles and responsibilities and we forsake relationships. If we can go back and abide in Christ and let His Word abide in us, then what’s going to happen is we’re going to bear much fruit. So it’s really just learning how to abide, learning how to sit at the feet of Jesus, inviting Him to answer those questions that are in our life, and inviting Him to give encouragement to our soul.

JL: Are there some practical rhythms that you would recommend to women to help them come to that place where they are living and hoping and encouraging—as you said—“out of the overflow?”

AL: I have an eBook called, Andrea’s Top 10 List, where I talk about the top 10 things we can do to cultivate hope or cultivate a passionate pursuit with Jesus. A couple of things that are in that eBook, I think, are very pertinent to this question. Number one is that we have to have a daily quiet time. I mean, we need time in the Word with the Lord every single day. Another thing is that we need a consistent prayer life where we’re utilizing an ACTS model where we have a balanced prayer life engaging in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication so that our prayer lives don’t just consist of telling God what we think He needs to know or asking for what we think we need to receive. It’s more of a relationship where we’re praising Him for who He is, and we’re confessing our sins to Him and asking for forgiveness so we have that passionate pursuit because we’ve encountered the grace of God.

One other discipline that I think is so important is to both memorize Scripture and to share Scripture with others. It’s so easy in the category of encouragement to share our thoughts or our feelings or our perspectives, but we need to share the Word of God and be prepared to do that throughout our day. One of my favorite things about the faithfulness of God is that, even if we don’t know it, He prepares us during our quiet times with Him to live out that truth and share that truth later in the day. So in that sense, the Word of God is lived out through us.

Bible teacher, author, and podcaster Andrea Lennon will bring a message of hope and encouragement at the She Stands Women's Conference August 26-27 in Conroe. SUBMITTED PHOTO

This is how our faith carries on

Biblical mentorship … what is it? Why do it?

Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”

The problem

What do you do when you don’t know what to do, whether you are a church member or the pastor? I began in ministry when I was 20 years old and I didn’t even know all that I did not know at that point! At the age of 37 and in my first senior pastorate, I am just now figuring out all that I do not know. So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?

What the Bible says

2 Timothy 2:2-3 says, “ … and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Paul tells Timothy there are men who have been entrusted with wisdom and men who need to be entrusted with wisdom.

For those who have been entrusted, Paul tells Timothy (I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t take what you have heard and keep it to yourself! Don’t gain wisdom only to clench onto it for yourself. Rather, take what God has given me to teach you and you, likewise, teach faithful men who don’t know what to do. Do this so they, in turn, will be able to teach other faithful men to share in the suffering of being a good soldier of Jesus Christ! In other words, Timothy, reproduce yourself!”

What about those who don’t know what to do? As young (or “youngish”) men in ministry who often don’t know what to do, what can we learn from this passage?

  1. We need to recognize that there have been faithful men who have come before us and have been entrusted by God with wisdom. We need to listen to them. Seek them out, invite them to lunch, take a notebook, ask them what they would tell themselves at your age, and listen. Absorb and learn from the wisdom they have to share.
  2. As we who are younger become older, grow in the wisdom of the Lord, and hear from God during the seasons in our lives, we also then need to entrust that wisdom and experience to the faithful men coming after us.

Christian mentorship is a non-ending process. At any given time, we should all be mentored by someone more mature in the faith than ourselves while also mentoring someone who is still growing in their faith.

Who are you being mentored by today? Who are you mentoring today? It can’t be no one—it must be someone!

I praise God that He placed mature men in the faith in my life. Those men mentored and poured in to me so that I am now able to share and pour in to men growing in their faith and how they can better fight their sin and glorify God as a good soldier of Christ Jesus! Let’s all be about continually producing the next generation to glorify Jesus

Alcanzando y equipando a líderes hispanos en Odessa y Midland Texas

El 24 de junio en la Primera Iglesia Bautista de Odessa y el 25 de junio en el Templo La Hermosa en Midland, líderes de esas áreas se reunieron en una conferencia para capacitarse sobre cómo alcanzar a la próxima generación de hispanos, ministrar a las familias pastorales y sobre la Teología y los ministerios de alcance. La conferencia fue patrocinada por el Ministerio en Español de la Convención Bautista del Sur de Texas (SBTC), dirigida por Chuy Ávila y su asociado, Jesse Contreras. Las conferencias regionales de Capacitarte se enfocan en alcanzar a los perdidos, equipar a los líderes y miembros de la iglesia y enviar misioneros por todo el estado de Texas y en el extranjero.

Mario Bernal, pastor de la Iglesia Bautista Emaús en New Caney, Texas, embajador hispano del ministerio para la sanidad mental, Fresh-Hope en Español, y quien también forma parte del ministerio Red de Apoyo Pastoral (RAP) patrocinado por la SBTC, compartió cómo ministrar a las familias pastorales. “Como pastores, el primer ministerio que tenemos y la primera iglesia que Dios nos da es nuestra familia,” dijo Bernal. También agregó que “si no estamos bien espiritual, física, emocional y psicológicamente, no vamos a cuidar de manera efectiva y correcta a nuestras familias.” Bernal compartió que “los tres problemas de salud mental más frecuentes en la actualidad son el trastorno bipolar, la depresión y la ansiedad,” y animó a los pastores a buscar ayuda cuando la necesiten. El también los desafió a que comiencen a delegar, establecer prioridades, descansar, no tratar de impresionar a los demás, y enfocarse en agradar a Dios y no a los hombres (Colosenses 3:23-24). Bernal, específicamente se dirigió a los pastores y los desafío a cuidar de sus esposas, a quienes el llamó un tesoro. Bernal sufrió la pérdida de su esposa luego de que ella sufriera 5 derrames cerebrales en enero del 2021.

El Dr. Bruno Molina, Asociado de Idiomas y Evangelismo Interreligioso de la SBTC, compartió sobre a Teología y los ministerios de alcance. “Nuestro Dios es único y existe por sí mismo y para sí mismo y todo lo hace en su tiempo como está escrito en Eclesiásticos 3:1,” dijo Molina. Hizo hincapié en que, “El Dios omnisciente, todopoderoso, de amor y justicia, que nos ha llamado y nos ha dado el ministerio de la reconciliación, nos ha prometido que estará con nosotros. Esto debería ser un gran estímulo para nosotros mientras buscamos ser sus fieles embajadores y tener el gozo de compartir las buenas nuevas de salvación en Cristo.” Molina también habló sobre los atributos de Dios, la importancia de esperar que Dios nos dirija en el ministerio y la singularidad de Dios.

Molina también compartió sobre el ministerio Bless Every Home (BlessEveryHome.com) que se enfoca en ayudar a los cristianos a orar por sus vecinos, no creyentes, por nombre, ministrarle y compartir el Evangelio con ellos para que ellos puedan ser discipulados. Cada individuo e iglesia puede conectarse por medio de una aplicación para orar y alcanzar a otros para Cristo.

Daniel Moreno, pastor de la Iglesia Bautista Jezreel en El Paso, Texas, dirigió un taller sobre cómo alcanzar a la próxima generación de hispanos. Moreno dio una perspectiva general de los diferentes grupos generacionales de hispanos que existen y están representados en nuestras iglesias hoy, desde la generación silenciosa hasta la generación Z. El ha estado sirviendo como pastor por los últimos 30 años y por su experiencia les dijo a los pastores y líderes: “ No obstaculices el crecimiento de tu iglesia. Si no sabes cómo hacer algo, deja que otros lo hagan.” Moreno cree que a veces los pastores se enfocan en la forma en que las personas se visten, sus tatuajes, o la forma en que hablan, la tecnología que usan o la música cristiana que escuchan, en vez de considerar sus capacidades y disposición para servir a Dios. El también animó a los participantes a enfocarse en lo eterno, averiguar qué cambios necesitan hacer personalmente y descubrir cómo conectar a las diferentes generaciones representadas en su iglesia.

El Dr. Terry Coy, autor y profesor adjunto en el Seminario Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) y ex Director de Misiones en el SBTC, compartió la importancia de equiparse adecuadamente en un Seminario Bautista. Agregó que, “Es importante avanzar en su educación teológica y conocimiento bíblico; obtener una educación formal es clave.” Coy también trabaja para SWBTS, viajando por el estado de Texas para animar a los hispanos a aprovecharse de la educación teológica en español que ofrece SWBTS en línea.

La alabanza y adoración para los dos eventos estuvo a cargo de Aaron y Melissa Mireles junto con el equipo de alabanza de la Iglesia Bautista Jezreel. El equipo también fue parte del Concierto de oración en cada evento, dirigido por el Dr. Bruno Molina y su esposa Clara.

La conferencia también incluyó una cena para los pastores y esposas en el área, el viernes por la noche. Durante la cena Chuy Ávila desafió a los pastores que se cuiden y confíen en Dios mientras sirven. Ávila agradeció a los pastores Fernando de Luna y Ignacio Rubio por haber facilitado sus iglesias para los entrenamientos y también agregó: “Si queremos alcanzar a Texas para Cristo necesitamos enfrentar el gigante de la indiferencia y estar dispuestos a dar el primer paso para relacionarse con las generaciones venideras. La población de Texas seguirá creciendo día a día, eso es algo que no podemos retener, pero si podemos prepararnos como iglesia para construir puentes de impacto espiritual.”