In 1979, my father was an electrical engineer in Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, when he heard the call from the Lord to leave and become a pastor. He and my mother moved to San Antonio and he studied at the Instituto Biblico Bautista, now the Baptist University of the Américas. In the years to come, he would reach his own people, but in a different country. God led them to pastor a church predominantly composed of migrants working seasonal jobs in Sulphur Springs, a small East Texas town.
As I grew, I witnessed our town change contextually and culturally. As the church prepared to adapt, we had to determine who the demographic we were reaching had become. In our churches today, we must make similar surveys of demographic components in our communities beyond language. Devoting time in the community, being intentional in hearing people’s stories, and inviting them into our lives will help us be effective and empathetic to their need of the Gospel.
Currently, there are four distinct cultures every Hispanic church should seek to reach: The foreign-born migrant; the first-generation child of the migrant; the second-generation child of native-born parents; and the non-Hispanic, non-Spanish speaking member of the community. While this is a generalization, being able to introspectively determine how we are proactively reaching these cultures will help us prepare for the future.
As the Church, we are able to receive the migrant culture by providing them with a sense of community and a support system. Being inexperienced in their surroundings, and having little family backing, the church can become a vital component of their lives. Relational evangelism often allows us to reflect the love Christ has for them.
First-generation Hispanics are typically bi-cultural and bilingual; educated in one language at home and one at school, each molding the distinct cultures. The parent culture and language are often dominant at church; however, this creates a dichotomy. As believers, we determine through scripture that our lives must not be compartmentalized. It is important for our churches to cultivate an integrated platform for this generation to have their faith shape every aspect of their lives.
Due to the fact that second-generation Hispanics are an emerging demographic in North Texas, it would be wise for churches in this area to collaborate and seek council from other churches which have already experienced the paradigm shift. Second-generation Hispanics may or may not speak Spanish, but will tend to desire to learn in English. Because of the resources made available to them generationally, the likelihood of having continued education is higher; therefore, teaching and discipleship methods should accommodate this audience. It is also important for church leadership to be representative of this group.
Mark 16:15 exhorts us to, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone,” and it’s a commandment that Hispanic churches should heed. Our communities are filled with people who are completely different than us. How are we prepared to take the Gospel to our communities that may not speak the same language that we do? The beauty of the Gospel is that it points to Jesus and our commonality is found in Him.
Currently, I am the pastor of West End Church, a multi-ethnic church in Dallas. I would have never imagined pastoring a group of people so different than me, ethnically, socioeconomically, and culturally; however, I trust that God granted me this opportunity to open the doors for others to do the same. As of today, nearly 500 of our Texas Baptists churches are without a pastor, and in my mind’s eye, I visualize a field of emerging Hispanic leaders ready to be cultivated and harvested for the task.
I surmise that much like the call my father had to leave his dwelling place and move to another country, God will be calling many Hispanic leaders to arise from their current cultural context and to transcend into places they would have never anticipated.