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19 members of Hispanic congregation earn seminary leadership certificates

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Gonzalo Rodriguez, pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in New Orleans, has a banner across the front of his church that reads, “Dando Lo Mejor A Cristo En El ’98.” In English it means, “Giving the best to Christ in 1998.”
Could this be the reason Rodriguez is losing some of his most faithful members to other churches?
Eighteen years ago, Rodriguez, along with 30 others, formed this Hispanic mission. Today, in a new building, Good Shepherd has grown to 250 members and is playing a vital role in sharing the message of God’s love to the nearly 300,000 Spanish-speaking people who live in the New Orleans area.
During the May 15 commencement service at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 19 laypeople from Good Shepherd Baptist Church were among men and women in the program’s first-ever graduating class receiving certificates in three areas: pastoral ministries, church music and Christian education.
As these church members are trained and feel the Lord calling them to establish other Hispanic churches in the area, Rodriguez is comforted knowing they have decided to give their best to Christ in 1998 and are willing to serve Christ in other mission churches.
In fact, Good Shepherd Baptist Church already has established three other missions, each led by deacons from the main congregation. These men are among those who received church leadership certificates in the spring 1998 graduation.
“The more people we train, the more people we will reach for Christ,” Rodriguez said. “The better we prepare our people, the stronger our churches will grow.”
People in churches have potential to be the leaders, but their hearts must be right and they must see the vision for growth, he said.
“Be faithful with something small and the Lord will give you more responsibility” is how Rodriquez sees it.
Rodriguez tells pastors starting new church work that his approach for growing healthy churches is a little different from most church leaders.
The first step for any pastor, he believes, is to “put your mailbox in concrete and don’t just cover it with dirt.” This “builds trust, shows commitment to the work and lets the congregation know the pastor is planning on staying for a while,” he said.
The concept of a basic training program for training laypeople to assume church leadership roles was begun by Chester Vaughn, current director of New Orleans Seminary’s extension center in Jackson, Miss. From this beginning, church leadership certificate programs now are offered in several locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
A new certificate program specifically designed to train African Americans for church leadership roles has been established in Florida and Atlanta. On the main campus of the seminary, a women’s certificate and preschool leadership certificate programs also are being offered.
“I see this as an instrument God has used to call out his people,” said Jimmy Dukes, dean of the undergraduate faculty and dean of the extension center system at New Orleans Seminary.
“This program has demonstrated that if we provide the leadership training, these new leaders will in turn go and start new growth.”
Thomas Strong, coordinator of the undergraduate extension center program, said the certificate program is exciting because “God is placing laypeople in leadership positions and watching people come to know Jesus as their Savior.”
Strong admits it is a sacrifice for pastors like Rodriguez to be so deeply involved in training laypeople for service, because “as they grow, they also go.”
“What stands out about Good Shepherd is that their mission field is not just New Orleans but all of southern Louisiana. Instead of wanting to grow a mega-church, they want to reach people for Christ.”
Rodriguez’ heart is to reach people, not grow his own ministry, Strong said, a fact that is confirmed by the number of laypeople being trained in his church who share the same vision of going out and telling others about Jesus.
“This is the Lord’s work, not mine,” Rodriguez said. The key is to be obedient, he said, and when the Lord sends someone out, he will also send someone to take his place.
“Dando Lo Mejor A Cristo.”

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  • Steve Achord