by Gus Suarez
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)—I write these lines not as a neophyte in the work and structure of the Southern Baptist Convention but as one who has spent his life serving in various denominational positions for the past 33 years. My loyalty is first to Christ who is my Savior. Secondary, but of great importance and pride for me, is my allegiance to the beloved Southern Baptist Convention. It is not a perfect organization, but it is an organization committed to the Word of God, to evangelizing the lost, to gather them in the local church through an intentional work of planting churches and sending missionaries to North America and other countries.
Recently at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, Southern Baptists adopted a recommendation that “encourages the president of the Southern Baptist Convention to nominate individuals who represent the diversity within the convention, including ethnic diversity.”
I thank God for a historic report that recognizes the important role ethnic groups play in the growth of our convention. I am cautiously optimistic and very interested to see how this motion can positively influence a natural and needed integration of Hispanics, North America’s largest ethnic group, into the life of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Certainly, I think the demographics show a great picture of missionary opportunities to reach the Hispanic world in North America. Associated Press writer Hope Yen, in a recent article, suggests that 1 in 6 people are Hispanic. The U.S. Census reports that by 2050, 46 percent of the population will be “white and not Hispanic” (citation below).
In this article, I present five positive suggestions of what I believe could influence the work and growth of the Hispanic church in North America.
• First, we need a national holistic structure conducive for the creation of new leadership and new work. Presently, we do not have a structure in place that facilitates a comprehensive strategy for the growth of new churches, the growth and development of new leaders, and the development of existing leaders in our ethnic churches. If we speak of integrating more Hispanic leaders in the SBC, our structures need to be strengthened for developing these leaders for the future.
• Second, we need to have intentionality in identifying and appointing qualified Hispanics. A Hispanic must not be in a position simply because he is Hispanic, but because he is the best person to fill that position.
• Third, we need to discover avenues whereby Hispanics write conservative and Christ-centered books in Spanish and for Hispanics.
• Fourth, we need our seminaries to take very seriously the opportunities to provide conservative theological education at different levels for Hispanic people who are at different levels of education. The education level of Hispanics, compared with other groups such as Asians, is much lower. Therefore, the seminaries should continue to be theological centers disseminating, unapologetically, a conservative theology particularly to a people, many of whom have been contaminated by the influence of Catholic and liberation theology.
• Fifth, we need a better understanding of Hispanic culture. Although the word “contextualization” is often used, many do not understand it in practice. For example, when a book is translated to Spanish, oftentimes it loses the cultural details and idioms that are difficult and sometimes impossible to translate.
The Hispanic demographic challenge, the evangelistic and missionary passion of Southern Baptists and the Great Commission mandate leads us to the need of the hour: to intentionally reach, develop and send Hispanics as a missionary force in North America TODAY!
Gus Suarez is professor of church planting and director of Midwestern Seminary’s Center for North American Missions and Church Planting. Suarez also directs doctor of ministry studies in Spanish at Midwestern, located in Kansas City, Mo. Sourcing: Hope Yen in article “Census Milestone: Hispanics Make Up 1 in 6 Americans,” The Associated Press, March 25, 2011, Denverpost.com, http://www.denverpost.com/frontpage/ci_17696015.