Editor’s note: this article appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Southwestern News.
When Argentine-native Fernando Mangieri enrolled as a Maestría en Estudios Teologicós (Master of Theological Studies, MET) student in the Hispanic Programs at Southwestern Seminary, it was because of a “desire to continue growing and learning” and to be “more efficient” in his role as the associate pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church en Español in Plano, Texas.
Mangieri’s ministry focus “is to connect every person with Christ and the church” at Prestonwood en Español, one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention with more than 2,200 members. His theological education at a “globally recognized” seminary has enabled him to assess the church’s missions efforts and better plan for the future while also identifying areas that “need improvement or a change in strategy.”
Mangieri is one of over 500 students currently enrolled in Southwestern Seminary’s Hispanic Programs. Launched in 2012, theological education courses in the Spanish language are offered to students from across the United States, almost all the 21 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, and several countries in Europe.
Currently, there are approximately 3,500 Spanish-language Southern Baptist churches in the United States. Julio Arriola (’20), former Hispanic leader of the SBC Executive Committee and recently named Send Texas director for the North American Mission Board, says nearly 40 percent of the churches are located within the state of Texas. “With almost 1,300 Spanish-language churches located within the borders of the Lone Star State, the need for theological education that is biblically based, theologically sound, and available in Spanish is critical,” Arriola says.
In February 2019 when Adam W. Greenway (’02) was elected president of Southwestern Seminary, an integral part of his vision for the future of the institution was the growth of Hispanic theological education.
John D. Massey (’94, ’00), dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, which houses the Hispanic Programs at Southwestern Seminary, says the vision is to provide the most comprehensive and strongest theological education to Hispanics and Latin America, as well as equip and educate Hispanic and Latin American church leaders to evangelize their communities and countries while also advancing the Gospel to the nations.
“We are at the epicenter of the evangelical Hispanic church movement in Texas,” Massey says. “We view it as a stewardship from the Lord to be at the forefront of equipping Hispanic church leaders with the training and tools they need to start new churches, strengthen existing churches, and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
This vision for the program was a “compelling factor” for Mark McClellan (’83, ’00) in accepting the role as director in the spring of 2021.
“I consider the location, the opportunity, and the heritage of Southwestern to be the most ideal situation for Hispanic theological education in Southern Baptist life,” he explains.
McClellan served as an International Mission Board church planter and evangelist in Guatemala for over a decade. As he was making disciples and training church leaders, many of those he was training would seek theological education in the United States. Though he held multiple degrees – including a Master of Divinity from Southwestern, as well as a law degree –the Guatemalan church leaders’ desire to further their education encouraged McClellan to further his theological education. He realized, “I’m doing the work of winning them, training them, and planting their churches, and now they are going to go to seminary; maybe I ought to be involved in theological education to take this a step further.”
Upon completion of his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2000 at Southwestern, his hope was “to become involved in the theological education and preparation of Hispanics.”
Through faculty and administrative roles at other seminaries and colleges, as well as serving with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, McClellan was able to help pioneer Hispanic theological education, as he coupled his field experience and theological education. It has allowed him to know how to shape and advance Southwestern’s program with an eye to the future.
“When I came here, I saw the opportunity for us to expand the Hispanic theological and ministerial training program at every level from certificate to doctoral,” he explains.
The program was launched in 2012 with the MET under the leadership of Daniel Sánchez (’66), distinguished professor emeritus of missions in the Fish School. Sánchez worked to recruit students, form partnerships with churches, and help establish scholarships so students could take classes.
“Dr. Sánchez has been a force behind churches partnering with the seminary to equip Hispanic leaders for the ministry,” McClellan says. “I am grateful for the tremendous efforts of Dr. Sánchez in the development of the MET, and the recruitment of students since the beginning of the program. He continues to serve in Hispanic Programs and plays a strategic role.”
The curriculum and reputation drew Misael Rodriguez (’21).
Originally from Cuba, Rodriguez pastors Hillcrest en Español in Cedar Hill, Texas, just outside of Dallas. Rodriguez, who pastored two churches in Havana, Cuba, and has previously taught at Bible institutes and seminaries in Cuba and the United States, said his studies at Southwestern helped prepare him for ministry in the U.S., while also motivating him academically.
“Graduating from SWBTS’ Spanish-language program helped me understand how to minister cross-culturally since there is a very diverse Hispanic community to serve in the United States,” he explains. He was “inspired by the academic standards, pedagogical ability, flexibility, and Christian character of the professors teaching the courses.”
In addition to the MET, the program includes an associate’s degree in Christian studies, a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry, and a Doctor of Ministry degree with concentrations in evangelism and missions, as well as pastoral theology.
“We have just completed the approval and accreditation of the broadest, most comprehensive curriculum for Hispanic theological education in the Southern Baptist Convention,” McClellan says. More degree offerings are planned, including a women’s studies certificate that will begin in August 2022. All the courses associated with each degree are offered in Spanish and all the courses, except for those at the doctoral level, are offered online, making the program’s offerings accessible worldwide. Other new degree programs will be added in the near future.
The academic training drew Esteban Bauducco, a current MET student.
Originally from Mar del Plata, Argentina, Bauducco has served as the associate pastor of adults in Spanish at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston for the last eight years. The Spanish congregation has over 3,000 members.
“I wanted to deepen my studies in an academically solid institution that would prepare me to continue advancing in my ministry,” he explains, adding the classes have positively impacted his ministry.
The program’s home-base in Fort Worth is “the most ideal spot in the United States for Baptist Hispanic theological education,” McClellan says, noting the large percentage of Hispanic Baptist churches.
The reputation of Southwestern alumni who have served as IMB missionaries in Latin American countries is also a distinction of the program, McClellan says, noting the seminary “has prepared more missionaries for IMB service than any other seminary. Our heritage of Southern Baptist missionary work in Latin America is still there.”
Students who are enrolled in the program will find the program is “driven by a commitment to evangelism and missionary advancement,” McClellan explains. The program’s leadership desires for the students to be “contagious to present the Gospel, expand the Gospel” while at the same time developing “strong, deep theological convictions that will sustain them throughout a long career in ministry.”
This commitment resonates with Esther Constante, a MET student from Ecuador.
Constante and her husband, Roberto Sigcho (’18, ’21), moved to Seminary Hill in 2016 so Sigcho could work on his Master of Arts in Christian Education. The couple serves at the Piedra Angular Baptist Seminary in Mérida, México, a school that offers theological education to the churches of the Yucatán. Constante’s calling focuses on the dual areas of evangelism and discipleship training of women.
“I have learned the fundamentals of doctrines … the practical use of those doctrines in my ministry of evangelism and discipleship,” Constante explains. The classes have helped her “clarify concerns in new believers, and myself, and promote the deep study of the Scriptures so as not to be carried away by human thoughts and ideologies.”
The theological education Constante is learning is already making an impact as she uses “this knowledge for the correct teaching of the Word” as she disciples the women God has placed in her path.
McClellan believes part of accomplishing the vision for the program includes developing “a curriculum and Hispanic and Latin American faculty that is stronger than anywhere.” This means “preparing and developing new professors and scholars.”
Felix Cabrera was named as the associate director of the Hispanic Programs in January 2022. Cabrera, who also serves as the senior director of Send Network Español for the North American Mission Board and pastors Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios in his native Puerto Rico, will help build the program and develop new undergraduate degrees. Cabrera believes the Hispanic programs at Southwestern will be “the beacon for theological education in Spanish because of its quality of education, accessibility, flexibility, academic rigor, commitment to the Gospel, and the desire of the seminary to reach the growing Hispanic population in Texas and abroad.”
Additionally, Juan Sánchez, who was named to the faculty of the School of Theology at Southwestern in January 2022, will also teach Spanish-language courses in the Hispanic Programs. Sánchez, who pastors High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, is also the board chairman of The Gospel Coalition and co-founder and president of Coalición por el Evangelio. He will deliver the convention sermon at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim, California, the first Latino pastor to do so.
“These are two of the very top Hispanic leaders in Southern Baptist life,” McClellan says, calling Cabrera a “visionary” who is “passionate about theological education” and “the perfect addition” as the associate director “because he is in the field nationally, preparing leaders and he is committed to seminary and college levels of theological education.”
“Juan Sánchez is just one of Southern Baptists’ up and coming leading theological minds,” McClellan says. “He is a perfect example of a pastor-theologian, which is a model we would really love for our students to capture at Southwestern.”
Dario Bá Xuc is a student who is using what he has learned at Southwestern to impact his native Guatemala. Xuc is the leader of the K’ekchi’ Baptist Association, an association of more than 300 churches. Xuc, who anticipates graduating with his MET in May 2022, equips and teaches pastors and students at the K’ekchi’ Baptist Biblical Institute in their heart language, while also overseeing 20 missionaries within the association.
He explains his theological training at Southwestern has helped him learn “the great importance of studying and analyzing the Word of God in order to preach and teach God’s Word.” This lesson, coupled with the lessons of sound theology and Baptist doctrine, has enabled him to teach “these doctrines to the pastors and students in the K’ekchi’ language.”
McClellan believes Hispanic ministry leaders who are seeking Spanish-language theological education should choose Southwestern for several reasons, including the “strong Hispanic Baptist faculty, theology, and commitment to evangelism and missionary advancement.”
“Evangelism and global missionary outreach are things Southwestern has done well and faithfully for more than a century,” McClellan concludes.
Ashley Allen (’03, ’09) is managing editor of Southwestern News.
Clara Molina (’13) is a writer for Southwestern News.