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Field Ministry Strategists: Point Men for the SBTC

July 4th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

GRAPEVINE They have been called “boots on the ground” and the “point men” of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention: 18 field ministry strategists (FMS) spread across 18 state zones who provide support, information, encouragement and resources to pastors and churches. 

To many, they are the face of the convention.

“The field ministry strategist is tasked with building long-term, healthy relationships between the SBTC and pastors and churches and connecting them to the resources of the convention,” said Ted Elmore, SBTC pastor/church relations associate.

Elmore, who oversees the FMS program, praised the team: “These men are all self-starters and very good at what they do. Some are retired pastors, some bi-vocational pastors, all with local church experience. They are vital to the mission of the SBTC.”

The strategist’s job can be fluid. Needs vary among churches and accelerate in times of crisis.

Gilbert Chavez, FMS of the Central Texas zone that encompasses 200 churches from Waco to San Antonio, contacted Pastor Brad McLean of First Baptist New Braunfels when news broke of the April traffic accident claiming the lives of 14 senior adults from the congregation. 

“I let him know we were praying for them,” Chavez said, explaining that he went to the church to help after the accident, worshiped with the congregation on Sunday, attended most of the 14 funerals and later returned to pray with the staff. “The main thing was to make our presence known as a show of support, and to be available for what the pastor needed,” Chavez said.

Glen Pearce, strategist for the North Texas zone from Bonham south to Burleson, intended to pursue FMS work after retiring from full-time ministry, but “God opened the door early” to serve the region’s 170 SBTC churches last November.

Pearce, pastor of First Baptist in Iowa Park, said he has enjoyed building relationships with church leaders but considers his work with the region’s six pastorless churches significant. 

“I’ve been involved with some of the training of search committees,” Pearce said, explaining that he makes available SBTC resources to facilitate such searches.

When the 46-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church in Lillian died unexpectedly in early May, Pearce stepped in to help the congregation navigate the loss.

“I have tried to help them walk through the struggle and grief and helped them make adjustments: what to do, how to minister to the widow. The church is grieving just like the family. Part of my job is to connect them to people in the state convention who can help,” Pearce said.

Alex Gonzales, pastor of Hickory Tree Baptist Church in Balch Springs and strategist for the zone that covers more than 250 SBTC churches in the Dallas area, considers encouraging his fellow pastors paramount. 

“My job is to try to have face time with the pastors at least once a year,” said Gonzales, at 43 the youngest FMS, who assumed the job in 2014.

Gonzales said he finds satisfaction in helping pastors by offering “the comfort” of a “likeminded pastor who lends an ear and who can relate.” 

“We exist for the churches,” Gonzales said, adding that he informs fellow pastors about the “depth of resources” available through the SBTC. 

Like Gonzales, Wayne Livingston, strategist for what he calls the “Near East Texas” zone, felt called to minister to pastors. 

“I’ve been there. I do understand,” Livingston said.

At times natural disasters such as the spring tornadoes that hit Van Zandt, Rains and Henderson counties require a quick FMS response. Livingston recalled texting Pastor Mark Robinson of Canton’s Crossroads Church on Saturday, April 29, when the first of four tornadoes swept through. “Mark said, ‘Gotta go, there’s a tornado by my house!’” 

With his location in the area, Livingston became the first line of the SBTC’s response to the emergency, conveying raw data and helping find a headquarters for the SBTC DR effort, which Crossroads Church hosted.

While most strategists communicate via email and texts, retired pastor Bill Collier, who covers 170 SBTC churches stretching from Conroe to the Golden Triangle in Southeast Texas, called himself “old school.”

“There’s something about when you sit down that you make a connection. Even with a phone message, you hear a voice,” Collier said. 

Collier said he also becomes acquainted with office staff and other church personnel and ministers.

“Most of what we do is legwork, making the visits,” Collier said. “We are always trying to be an encouragement, reminding pastors of things going on in the state convention,” he said, adding that strategists also encourage participation in SBTC events. 

“The strength of the convention comes from the local churches and active participants. Bottom line, it’s all about the kingdom and what we can do in evangelism and discipleship,” Collier said.

Gilbert Chavez summed up the work of the FMS: “Three things we do: pray for our pastors and churches, encourage them, and connect them with those in our convention to help with a particular ministry need such as deacon training, Sunday school training, finances or building programs.

“We let them know they are not alone.”