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Calling out the called

Two Hispanic pastors in Texas are training up church planters and sending them out, leading to two dozen new churches.

September 29th, 2020 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Calling out the called

Artwork by Allen Sutton

Different roads led Edgar Trinidad, from Puerto Rico, and Carlos Navarro, from Guatemala, to their churches in Texas. The two pastors have not met, yet they share a common mission—planting churches and training pastors to serve those new congregations. Trinidad and Navarro began their Texas pastorates at languishing churches that have since collectively birthed 24 new churches in Texas and abroad.

Trinidad and Navarro exhorted their congregations in San Angelo and Brownsville, respectively, to share the gospel. Faithfulness to that challenge drew people to the churches. New members gave rise to new churches.

“More people came to the Lord and more people came to be baptized when we decided to plant churches,” Navarro said.

Trinidad said some churches need to “grow up, to mature” before they can minister in their community. “What [the pastor] needs to do is provide guidance and the tools.”

By providing those tools Trinidad and Navarro are “raising the standard in accountability, commitment and excellence … refusing to do things because that’s the way we’ve always done things” said Jesse Contreras, SBTC en Español associate.

Planting seeds

In 2016, Segunda Iglesia Bautista de San Angelo called Edgar Trinidad to pastor what was left of their congregation—all 25 members. That number dwindled to 15 the day he was hired when the already fractured group split in two.

Navarro inherited a similarly dysfunctional congregation when he accepted the call from Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville in 1993. Sixty-five members remained in the church, many of whom were related to one another.

Both congregations knew they were hiring pastors whose mission was to evangelize their communities and plant churches. Trinidad and Navarro presented their plans to their respective churches during the interview processes.

Navarro was straight forward.

“Every single person [will] win a soul for Christ a week,” Navarro said. “We all have to be soul-winners.”

The task seemed daunting. But leading by example, Navarro said “people started doing it because they saw me and how I can present the gospel.”

Within four years the church had 500 members and operated ministries among the neediest in Brownsville. In October 1999, the congregation launched its first church plant and has planted 20 more in the years since.

Trinidad also spurred his members to share the gospel—not to just grow the San Angelo church, but to plant new ones. Before the coronavirus crisis shuttered Texas churches in March, Segunda Iglesia Bautista de San Angelo had grown to 250, in addition to starting six ministries and planting three churches.

Planting churches. Raising pastors.

Independent of each other, the pastors established Bible institutes within their churches to train men called to pastor—most are placed in the church plants. Trinidad and Navarro don’t discount the merits of seminary training. Both hold advanced degrees—Trinidad from Kemuel Christian University and Navarro from Gateway Seminary.

Contreras said most SBTC pastors drawn from and serving in Hispanic communities have little or no formal theological schooling. They are bivocational pastors who lack the time or financial means to attend seminary. But, he said, the effectiveness of the Bible institutes is evident in the flourishing church plants.

Trinidad and Navarro developed the curriculum and, at first, taught all of the classes themselves. Today, leaders from their congregations and area pastors also serve as instructors.

In Brownsville, students pay $25 a month for a 4-year program at Bautista de Brownsville, where the money goes to church-supported missionaries. Students at the San Angelo institute pay $99 per subject.

Ministering alongside the pastor is a required—and, the pastors argue, essential—element of the institutes’ certification process. 

“Behind every successful pastor, I’ll bet you, is a lot of crying, a lot of frustration, a lot of pain, a lot of hurt. People need to see that, as well,” said Trinidad. “They need to understand there is no glamour to being a pastor.”

Investment and accountability

Navarro was a new believer when he immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala and joined a Hispanic church in San Francisco, where he became an active member.

“Then the pastor saw in me some skills that were leading toward the ministry so he invested in me time and money and enrolled me in Golden Gate [now called Gateway] Seminary,” Navarro said.

That personal investment moves him to do likewise. He said it’s a “waste” to leave a potential pastor in the church pews simply because he cannot attend seminary.

Trinidad’s congregation holds each pastoral candidate accountable from the time he publicly states his calling through his first year leading a church plant. The board of elders vets each candidate at the outset and near the completion of the students’ training.

Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville has planted 21 churches, including five in Matamoros, Mexico, about 12 blocks from West Brownsville. The San Angelo congregation has planted three churches in Texas and abroad, and they have two more planned in San Angelo for next year. Most of the churches are Spanish-language congregations, although a few are English-language churches.

Recognizing and mentoring that untapped resource takes time and a willingness to be Contreras said. But identifying and cultivating a new crop of pastors and ministry leaders fosters growth in the church and outreach to the community.

Trinidad and Navarro said pastors are not called to serve people building but the community surrounding it.

“Many pastors believe that when they have a calling they’ve been called to the church. And that’s not true,” Trinidad said. “When God calls you to serve in one congregation, he is calling you to the community, to the city. He’s calling you for the city.”