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Church Trends: Hispanic Baptists

Alfonso Cuarón broke the glass ceiling in Hollywood by being the first Mexican to win an Academy Award as best director for his work in “Gravity” this year.
Emmanuel Lubeszky, another Mexican, also won an Academy Award for cinematography for the same movie.

An article in Excelsior, the Mexico City daily newspaper, coined a term “¿Mexicoscar?” to pose a question regarding how much the “Made in Mexico” mark of the director and the cinematographer had made an imprint in the film itself.

Behind that inquiry is the general understanding that the cultural background of the people involved in a project affect the process and the end product.

Any time a glass ceiling is broken by anyone, the rest of us cheer. I think this is especially true in a place like the U.S., where achievement is highly valued, along with creativity and genius.

We have come to anticipate that once a glass ceiling is identified, there is the expectation that it is just a matter of time before it is shattered.

After serving in ministry positions in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s, my wife and I moved to Tennessee where we served in ministry positions as editors at LifeWay, helping plant a local church, and as national missionaries during the 1990s.

We returned to Texas in 2000 to serve at the Hispanic serving school that is now Baptist University of the Américas (BUA). The Texas we returned to was a very different state than the one we left 11 years earlier.

One of the significant trends we found in ministry was the number of Hispanic churches where the preaching and teaching were done predominantly in English.

Some of these Hispanic congregations had a separate “mission” for Spanish speakers.

By the time I left San Antonio in 1989, the First Mexican Baptist Church had started an English-speaking service while I served as pastor, but it was the English-speaking service that was viewed as a “mission,” not the Spanish-speaking one.

A second significant trend we found was the increasing number of Anglo churches that had Hispanic ministers in their ministry team.

The list of ministry opportunities we had at BUA and that we posted for students to consider while studying at BUA or after graduation often included non-Hispanic congregations who were looking for a minister of music, youth or some other ministry position and were actively soliciting applications from Hispanics.

What I found particularly striking was many of these churches were not in communities that had transitioned from predominantly Anglo residents to Hispanic residents.

Rather, they were typical First Baptist churches in small to medium-sized towns that wanted to show in a practical way that they welcomed Hispanics into their membership.

These congregations were making that case by hiring a minister from the Hispanic community.

It is one thing to say you welcome Hispanics in your congregation; it is another thing to show it by hiring a Hispanic in your ministry team.

In recent years, I have also seen a few fairly large Anglo congregations call a Hispanic minister to serve as the senior minister.

That group is small, but we anticipate that this trend will continue to grow in proportion to the increase of opportunity for participation of Hispanics in graduate education.

Minimum educational requirement for these Anglo congregations is a master’s of divinity; a doctorate is preferred.

In order for more of these churches to consider calling Hispanic leaders as senior pastors, the pool of Hispanic candidates with graduate education has to increase.

Many predominantly Anglo congregations are doing a good job of reaching Hispanics with the gospel and developing them as believers.

Because I have spent my entire pastoral ministry leading Spanish congregations, I believe that English-speaking Hispanic congregations can do a better job in reaching Hispanics than non-Hispanic congregations.

The reality is that both types of congregations are being used by God to reach Hispanics with the gospel.

The challenge for Baptist colleges and seminaries is for us to find ways to train leaders who can function successfully in whatever cultural context they are called to serve.

A final trend I have noted is African-American ministers serving in a predominantly Hispanic or Anglo congregation or Hispanic ministers serving in a predominantly African-American ministry context.

As Baptists, we are beginning to make inroads in these types of cross-cultural ministries.

Historical glass ceilings in ministry have kept people away from positions of leadership because of ethnicity or gender.

It is encouraging to see some of these ceiling being broken and to witness these different ways of doing ministry expressed in our Baptist tradition.

We can celebrate the ministry leaders who have worked hard to crash through some of the ceilings.

Javier Elizondo is dean of academic affairs of the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi and Spanish editor of Christianity Today.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles on church trends. Steve Sumerel’s column on trends in technology usage in Christian education will appear on Monday. Previous articles are available on “the Garden State” and missional engagement.