Challenges, Blessings, & Unity in Hispanic Churches
According to the best historians, the church in Latin America got the gospel late in the 19th century. The first Spanish-speaking Baptist Church on the American continent was planted in Monterrey, Mexico — around the winter of 1867. By God’s marvelous grace, the gospel continued to go forth in the 20th century from Mexico to Argentina amidst independence battles, civil wars, cruel dictatorships, and Catholic opposition. All over South America, including Brazil (with some exceptions), churches of every denomination in almost every city and town preach the gospel in Spanish. Praise God!
Those churches have continued to struggle with issues that have threatened their stability through the years, including undertrained leaders, divisive problems, doctrinal instability, financial scandals, unregenerate members, unbiblical discipline procedures, and unresolved immorality unaccountable leaders, poor commitment, and passive men in the church. In addition to those problems applicable to specific local churches, some socio-economic issues pertaining to the political government also affect the church’s stability — economic inflation, middle-class unemployment, low salaries, social insecurity, street violence, and legal bureaucracy.
Now, when Hispanics come to the United States, they notice that the Hispanic Church in the U.S. faces similar issues, namely:
- Language barriers hinder some pastors and planters from connecting with Anglo churches and communities and block the best training opportunities for those who don’t speak English.
- Networking and fundraising are extremely hard for pastors and planters who want to establish a healthy, lasting church. Therefore, isolation and disconnection are the most common results for those who cannot have fellowship with other like-minded churches or pastors. Bi-vocational pastors have little time available for fellowshipping with other pastors.
- Lack of credibility in Hispanic churches sometimes occurs when Anglo churches choose to have Hispanic ministries in their facilities instead of sponsoring Spanish-speaking church plants, which would eventually have self-leadership, self-discipleship, and self-sustainability.
- The “American Dream” allures the Latino population to the United States, where they can earn money here to send to their hometowns. Therefore, in addition to being underpaid, Hispanics typically work over 60 hours per week to earn enough money to stay here while sending family support overseas. However, that also robs the church of key components, such as time commitment, discipleship capability, member involvement, offering generosity, and missional development, hindering its stability.
- Doctrinal issues are always a challenge for undertrained pastors. The lack of robust theological training allows anti- and extra-biblical issues to permeate the church and eventually leads to pragmatic or traditional decisions, following their desire to see competitive stats and trends in their church numbers. “Sinagogue” sermons with unclear explanations of Christ’s atoning work and victory are preached every Sunday.
- Immigration policies affect the church in many ways. Everyone understands there are flaws in the immigration system, and it has and will take time for reform. However, it is important to note that, in the immigration spectrum, not all undocumented people are illegal. There are categories of immigrants, including asylees, refugees, those on temporary status, and credible-fear (of persecution) applicants who are denied of many civil rights, normal jobs, or ministry opportunities for not having religious or work visas even though they have tax identification and pay taxes, have legal non-compliant drivers’ licenses, and receive payment in cash. As a matter of fact, compared to a typical Anglo church, it takes three times the number of underpaid church members to give enough to cover Hispanic church staff salaries.
- Lack of Baptist identity: Some pastors and churches ignore Baptist distinctives, like regenerated membership, congregational authority, church autonomy, etc. No doubt they are doing their best. Many Hispanic pastors imitate what is traditionally taught in their hometowns, such as female pastors (or sister preachers), solo pastors, and lack of expository sermons. Some do not have a firm understanding of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
The good news
There are also tons of Christ-exalting, gospel-driven, and mission-focused Spanish-speaking churches all over the U.S. Praise God for those faithful churches who have been waving the banner of the gospel for years and decades. Praise God for those Anglo churches who have felt the need and have sponsored ethnic churches in their communities. Praise God for those pastors and planters who have done their best in “rebuilding the wall” of the Great Commission in their place and time. On the last Saturday of every month, over 20 Hispanic pastors in our convention are praying together online, asking the Lord to revive our hearts and churches, asking Him to send more planters our way to start healthy churches, and for more partnerships with existing healthy churches and institutions, and above all, for a renewed passionate faith for King Jesus and His people.
We are recovering the sense of family in Spanish-speaking churches in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) and working toward our Baptist identity. In September, that was evident when over 200 people representing 18 of 25 Hispanic Maryland/Delaware churches gathered for BCM/D’s first United Hispanic Worship service at First Baptist Church of Laurel (FBCL). We all worship the same God together every Sunday, and at the United Hispanic Worship service, on one evening together, we were joining our voices, singing new and old songs, and praying together as the family of God.
There’s even more exciting news! Three additional Hispanic churches are interested in joining our convention soon, and three planters are in training right now in local churches.
Prayers and brotherhood needed
We need your prayers, brotherhood, and engagement in praying publicly for Hispanic churches and pastors. You can contact every Hispanic brother via phone, email, or text and let him know: “¡no estas solo, hermano!” (You are not alone, brother), “estoy orando por ti” (I’m praying for you) or “cuenta conmigo” (count on me).
Finally, according to the recent census results, Maryland is the most ethnically diverse state on the east coast, spiking from 10% in 2010 to 16% in 2020. Thankfully, some Anglo pastors feel the increase in the ethnicity in their cities and seek to sponsor Hispanic church plants. In some communities, there are gangs, territorialism, drug trafficking, and endemic homelessness. We need to bring the gospel to those communities, planting healthy churches right there in those dark places. The Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church!
By God’s grace, we are aware of the many issues the Hispanic church is facing. We are working to overcome most of those issues with the aid and involvement of several entities and institutions, allowing us to help the church stay healthy, preaching the gospel in Spanish while making titanic efforts to plant more healthy Christ-honoring churches in our region.
While we wait for Christ’s return together, would you join us in asking for God’s help to overcome these challenges for the glory of His holy name and the eternal joy of His people, please?
Alejandro Molero is a BCM/D church planting catalyst who stands ready to assist Hispanic churches. Email him to discuss ways the BCM/D can assist your church or if you are interested in starting or assisting a church plant.
Cover photo: BCM/D Hispanic Congregations gathered for praise and worship at First Baptist Church of Laurel praise team led worship at the United Hispanic Worship service in October (photo by Margot Painter).