Ministering Toward a Gospel-Reformation in Latin America: Interview with Juan Sanchez (Part One)

Gospel Reformation in Latin America - Juan Sanchez of The Gospel Coalition

Did the Protestant Reformation largely bypass Latin America?

That is what many people say, including Pastor Juan Sanchez (@manorjuan), Senior Pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, TX. Juan will be speaking at this year’s Together for the Gospel Conference (and Spanish Pre-Conference) in Louisville, Kentucky. This year’s T4G theme is We Are Protestant: The Reformation at 500.

t4g_2016promo_slideI recently had the privilege of interviewing Pastor Juan on the state of gospel ministry in Latin America. Some points covered in the interview:

  • An overview of some of the trends and movements taking place in Latin America
  • Priorities for pastors and missionaries serving in Latin America
  • Specific ways to pray for the spread of the gospel in Latin America

You can download the audio (right click) or listen to our conversation below.

Note: Part One of the interview ends at 11:50.

Kevin Halloran at Leadership Resources: I first heard your testimony in the book Gracia Sobre Gracia that The Gospel Coalition put out. Can you briefly share your testimony with readers and your path toward ministry?

Juan Sanchez: I grew up in the Catholic church and was born in Puerto Rico. My dad was involved in politics, and that was pretty heated, as it still is in Puerto Rico. But in 1973, he moved us to Central Florida. We went to a Catholic church there in Avon Park, Florida. I became an altar boy and, unlike my parents, I was pretty devout as a Catholic. I heard the gospel the first time when I was 15 years old when we were vacationing in Colorado Springs, visiting my dad’s sister. All I remember of the preacher is that he was preaching Christ, and at that time in my own warped understanding, I was confused as to why he was talking so much about the Son when the Father is who is most important in the Trinity. I didn’t have a real good theology, but that is how I felt. I left feeling angry.

A friend of mine invited me to lifeguard at a camp that next summer, and so I heard the gospel a second time because it was a Christian camp. I heard the gospel every night, and I went to my friend and rationalized the gospel. I told him we believe the same things; I went through the apostle’s creed, reciting it, and everything that I believed, he believed. So I left there having rationalized the gospel.

A year later, 1983, my last year in high school, some friends invited me to play softball for their Baptist youth team. And so I had to go to church once a month, but it wasn’t an issue for me. I was going to their youth group meetings and ended up going every week, hearing the gospel there, hearing the testimonies, and I realized that I knew a lot about God—I was devout and believed orthodox theology, generally speaking, Nicene theology—but I didn’t know God personally. That to me was a realization, it wasn’t a dramatic testimony, I wasn’t wandering away, I was seeking God, and knew a lot about God but didn’t know Him personally. That’s when I came to realize I needed Christ, that I was sinful, and that I needed forgiveness for my sin. That’s when I became a Christian. I graduated from high school shortly thereafter, my best friend’s mom discipled me for a few weeks before I went into Navy boot camp.

I was devout and believed orthodox theology, generally speaking, Nicene theology—but I didn’t know God personally.

And so, I became a Christian, was discipled a few weeks and was right into the world, so to speak, Navy boot camp. We didn’t have many privileges, but one of the privileges we had was reading. I read a lot of the Bible during that time. I didn’t necessarily have the desire for ministry [at the time], but I served at a church in San Diego, then went to the University of Florida and got a scholarship there with the NAVY. I was in the Navy ROTC, I wanted to fly for the Marines.

I started working at a church when I was 19 years old and realized this is what I wanted to do with my life. Again, nothing very dramatic, but the Lord was directing the desires of my heart. So, I relinquished my scholarship and I went back, finished my enlistment contract, finished a music degree, a music education degree—that was the fastest way for me to get out of college. My last semester of college I started my seminary work.

Kevin: You took quite the leap of faith leaving your chosen career path to serve the Lord. You are currently Senior Pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, TX. What are some of the other ministries you are involved with?

Juan Sanchez: Presently, I serve on the council of The Gospel Coalition. It is a great privilege to serve with other pastors as well. I’m on the Executive Board at this time for The Gospel Coalition. One of the things I really enjoy doing is meeting with pastors and encouraging and equipping pastors. I get to do that with 9Marks out of Washington, DC, trying to build healthy churches, and most of the work that I do with 9Marks is in the Spanish-speaking world. I also get to do that with the Charles Simeon Trust, out of Chicago mainly, but their team is scattered. I do that in English and in Spanish. I enjoy meeting with pastors for a few days, working through different books to sharpen our skills on expositional preaching that points to Christ and is applied appropriately to the people. Those are the two main things I enjoy doing as far as equipping pastors is concerned, formally. I also serve on the board of a ministry in Cuba called Equipo Impacto, which is kind of like a sister organization to the Simeon Trust. The brother that I work with over there was trained by Proclamation Trust, he went to Cornhill and studied there. Very similar, training in expositional preaching. We get to train pastors. I travel to Cuba at least once a year and we train on the island and work with pastors and help them hone their skills in expositional, Christ-centered preaching. It’s a great joy to be able to do that.

Kevin: Excellent. Leadership Resources, our organization, was heavily influenced by Proclamation Trust also, and we even had David Jackman come and lead training for staff sometime last year. [Watch a short clip of David Jackman answering the question, “Who is in the driver’s seat of your church?” or an interview with him on expository preaching and and training.]

Juan, you have a pretty unique view of Latin America having lived in Puerto Rico, southern Florida, and still ministering in Latin America. What are some of the notable things God is currently doing among Spanish-speakers in Latin America and the US?

Juan Sanchez: There are different contexts, and one of the things we have to be careful of is thinking monolithically. For example, asking, “What is God doing in the United States?” There are lots of things that God is doing in different places through different ministries and different churches and in different people groups and language groups. It’s the same in the Spanish-speaking world. What God may be doing in Cuba is not the same as what He might be doing in Puerto Rico, for example.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that there seems to be a movement that is embracing the gospel more and more in the Spanish speaking world. That’s one great big umbrella idea we can talk about. We might call it a “Gospel Awakening”—and we’re praying for that. In the Dominican Republic, there are some very strong gospel churches that have reformation theology and their influence is being felt throughout Latin America.

One of the things that needs to take place is the training of the national pastors to rightly handle the word of God.

In Cuba, the gospel is spreading rapidly. It’s interesting to know that there are a lot of people and a lot of ministries working in Cuba presently. As you can imagine, the gospel is spreading, but it’s spreading at different speeds and in different depths. One of the problems in Cuba is that the gospel is spreading rapidly, but it is wider than it is deep.

One of the things that needs to take place is the training of the national pastors to rightly handle the word of God. A lot of people come with different agendas with different methods. You can see all kinds of things going on. The encouraging thing about Cuba is that you can see the people are very well educated, generally speaking. They love to read, they love to be equipped, they love to train, they love to study. Then you go to Puerto Rico, and it’s a different context. The gospel work is not really strong there, from what I’ve seen. Others may have seen better work there than I have. But the political and economic situation in Puerto Rico make it hard for people to live and it makes it hard for young people to even stay on the island. You have a lot of flight of the younger generations because Puerto Ricans are born United State citizens, they can just come to the United States and find a job—get educated in Puerto Rico, and then leave. That’s hurting the churches. It’s difficult to encourage even pastors to stay there or plant churches to go there because it is very difficult ministry. So there are some good works in Puerto Rico, but it is a very different context. Mexico is very different. The Dominican Republic is very different, it’s strong, it’s flourishing, there are large churches there preaching the gospel. Then you have different work in different parts of the world. In Argentina, in Cordova, there’s strong work there in a seminary there that’s training up pastors. So, it’s very different depending on where you go and the culture.

Part Two of our conversation discusses obstacles to ministry in Latin America, priorities for pastors and missionaries, and ways we can pray for the spread of biblical ministry in Latin America. Read Part Two.

Leadership Resources will have representation at the Awake pre-conference and the main T4G conference as well (April 11th-14th). Contact us if you would like to learn more about how your church can equip pastors in biblical exposition overseas.

Together for the Gospel 2016 Spanish Pre-Conference Awake

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Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.