An important update from Josef Urban
about the future of the work in Mexico:
Some important transitions are under way in our ministry in the Hispanic world. I'd love to update you on my recent activities in Mexico, which include much preaching, trips to different cities, conferences, evangelism, and so forth. And I would love to share some testimonies with you about some encouraging conversions recently, and about how the work in Mexico is flourishing by the grace of God. I would also love to talk about the fruit we are seeing in other regions, the advance of the gospel, and the awakening that is happening all over Mexico and greater Latin America.
But first, I have an important announcement to make.
We are leaving Guadalajara. But we are not breaking with the work in Mexico. Rather, our vision is to expand it with a long-term project that could be of historic importance.
For the past 10 years, we have labored as full-time missionaries in Mexico. Evangelism and church planting has been our primary focus. I have preached up and down this dark nation over and over again. The Lord has been pleased to raise up a network of churches through this effort, in addition to evangelism teams that continue to go strong. This includes biblical, confessional, Reformed churches in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Querétaro, Toluca, San Martín, and Saltillo, in addition to some other works. I thank God for these churches and for the Godly men the Lord has raised up in them to serve. These churches continue to function and prosper in their mission to this day. Up until now, my role has been to plant, oversee, shepherd, and mature these churches, while establishing a preliminary base of leadership in them. By God's grace, as I look out over this movement in Mexico, my heart is filled with joy and gratefulness to God, and I'm thrilled when I think about the future of this work.
Now that these churches are stable, there is a great need that has arisen. It is no exaggeration to call this work in Mexico a "movement," and as such, the future of it depends on its leadership. We desperately need more qualified leadership--pastors, evangelists, and teachers--who are well-trained in "rightly handling the Word of truth." But solid theological training with a sufficient level of profundity is scarce. Resources are very limited. Seminaries in the Hispanic world that provide in-depth training in Scriptural exegesis and theology are few and far between, and are largely inaccessible to many.
The Lord has been moving all over Latin America, but as the church grows wide, she is not growing much in depth (at least in some extremely important areas). One of the most desperate needs of the hour is for theological training. The future of the churches depends on its leadership, and the leadership depends on its knowledge of the Word of God. It is urgent that we help equip leadership with a more thorough knowledge of the Word and how to handle it appropriately, in the fear of God, to the conversion and edification of those who hear it. We do not take this lightly. Ministering the Word of God is not only the highest privilege for those who are called, but is also the most solemn thing that any man could do.
In light of this, I have a burden that has been pressing upon me for years. The church needs help. The Spanish-speaking world is in dire need. They need teachings that go beyond the level of depth provided by Sunday sermons and periodic Bible studies. Generally speaking, they don't need more missionaries to serve as leaders; what they need is greater training so that the budding leaders in their midst may serve more effectively and realize the full potential of their high and holy vocation.
So, here is the plan:
My plan is to transition out of the pastoral role in which I've been serving in the churches in Mexico to one of providing biblical and theological training for those who desire to study the Word more deeply. I want to see laborers trained and raised up and sent out to shake the gates of hell and advance the Kingdom of God--something like what happened during the Reformation through Calvin's Academy of Geneva. That Academy was a biblical fortress, a refuge for those who had been awakened to the biblical gospel. Many fled there and studied for a time, and they took the gospel back to their lands. It was a veritable school of Christ and God used it to shake the earth with the gospel of grace. Rather than directly pastoring churches on the mission field, I sense the Lord calling me to focus my efforts on providing resources that equip serious students of the Word with greater depth and precision.
Therefore, I'm working with a team to establish a seminary--but not just any seminary. Rather, a seminary that is intensely missions-minded, focused on equipping teachers, pastors and church planters to go forth bearing the precious seed as they sow it with tears and engage in frontline evangelistic assault. The next step in seeing this movement of church plants solidify and expand is to see (ideally) an army of preachers raised up and sent out. Rather than continuing to involve myself directly in this ministry of church planting, I can better focus my efforts, for greater impact I think, by training and equipping others to do it. Natives are usually better long-term pastors than foreigners anyway!
The idea is to provide training in Spanish in the whole rubric of theology as outlined in a traditional Master of Divinity curriculum. And it will work closely with the local church to provide pastoral mentorship and hands on training. We want to provide a solid biblical education, with training in the biblical languages, exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, and practical/pastoral theology.
I'll be heading up this project and overseeing the development of the curriculum. I plan to be personally teaching many of the courses. I'll also be networking with like-minded men, qualified teachers, pastors and theologians, to produce lectures and recordings that will be used to this end. The first phase of this project is to get all the materials online, so that anyone can study from anywhere in the world. More on that below.
I also hope to be traveling to various cities in Mexico and greater Latin America on a regular basis to teach and preach. This includes doing conferences on pertinent biblical texts and theological subjects, with a focus on the gospel and its implications in all of life. This may also include doing theological modules, which consist of week-long intensives that delve into a specific topic in-depth. The first module I'll be preparing is on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). More should follow, especially courses on the doctrine of God (theology proper and the Trinity).
In addition, I hope to expand my writing ministry. I've been able to publish a number of articles and two books thus far. I hope to continue to write on subjects that can help the church and serve important needs. The printed page has a way of preaching when all other voices are silent. The printed materials I can develop and publish can also serve as useful, complementary aids to our courses in Bible, theology and church history.
What will be your involvement with all the mission projects currently under way?
I will continue to oversee the projects of our Spanish ministry, Cristianismo Bíblico, and all current ministry activities will continue to function just as they have until now. We hope they will not be negatively affected, but will continue to advance and grow.
Projects are able to continue because faithful brethren who are a part of our ministry are serving in all these capacities. Evangelism ministries and many other activities will continue to persevere, because these ministries are headed by the local churches that the Lord has been pleased to raise up.
Where will you be relocating to?
My family and I will be moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a season (about two years). This is so I can pursue further studies with Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (henceforth, PRTS). But I hope to make frequent trips to Mexico during this time, and to focus on the advance of missions in Latin America. Residing in Michigan will not have to prevent a frequent presence in Mexico (thanks to the airplane!).
Will you still be a missionary to Mexico?
I hope to continue to travel to Mexico with frequency during this time. Finances permitting, I can make trips as often as once per month, in order to do intensive teaching conferences and preaching in churches. I can also spend summers in Mexico.
Moving to Grand Rapids will allow me to study at PRTS, obtain a fully accredited degree, position myself for doctoral studies, and hopefully grow exponentially in the Bible and theology through the massive libraries of literature they have available to students. There are resources there that will help me be better equipped that I cannot obtain in our current context of residing full-time in Mexico. The libraries in Grand Rapids are a huge part of this. I need to delve deeper into the great Reformed theologians of the past. And I need access to large amounts of literature and sources that would be too expensive to purchase, not to mention some important out-of-print literature.
Also, I need access to all the best literature on any given topic, as I prepare my lectures for the courses, modules and conferences I'll be teaching.
I also need to advance my knowledge of biblical Greek and learn Hebrew. It is very difficult to attain to an intermediate level of these languages through self study (I say that as one who knows basic Greek). PRTS has some very qualified and gifted men who teach the biblical languages. I need to learn them sufficiently to be able to teach them to men in the Hispanic world (at least to equip them with a basic sufficiency). In addition, I hope to dominate Koine Greek at an intermediate/advanced level, and for this, I need in-person training.
During this brief season while pursuing my studies, I hope to devote myself to preparing teachings and lectures that I can teach in Mexico. My weekly labors will consist of preparing lectures and course materials for our Hispanic seminary in addition to networking with others who can also teach. Hence, my "job" will be on laying the educational groundwork for this seminary; I'll be working constantly at advancing this project. Making use of the libraries and helps available at the seminaries in Grand Rapids, I can prepare much material, then travel to Mexico and teach it, get it recorded, and we can integrate it into our online learning platform. I may also be recording courses using equipment set up in Grand Rapids.
In short, I hope to expand the long-term impact of this ministry, not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America.
What will happen to the churches in Mexico?
The churches will continue to function just as they have been. There are pastors in place who are overseeing the work. Nothing will change in that respect. I think they are sufficiently established and strong so as to continue without needing foreign missionary pastorship. These churches incarnate the gospel effectively in their culture and they are growing in number and maturity. Finances permitting, I plan to visit these churches on a regular basis and to preach in them. I will maintain a close contact and ongoing relationship with them and with the leaders.
What degree(s) will you be working on and,
why work on obtaining more academic degrees in theology?
Soon, Lord willing, I'll be graduating from Reformed Baptist Seminary with a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) with an emphasis in exegetical theology. I'll be transferring some credits over to PRTS to finish out an M.Div. with them. From there, I hope to pursue Ph.D. studies in an area that will help the church, and further equip me to teach at the most rigorous academic level. Thankfully, the Ph.D. does not need to be completed residentially (while living in Grand Rapids). Once I finish my M.Div., I can study for a doctorate through making periodic trips to the school where I would pursue it. If the Lord led us in that direction, I could live full-time on the mission field while making periodic study trips to the USA. I see my life's labor as teaching both at the local church level and in the academy (I do not have the desire to be an academic scholar but rather a pastor-scholar), and always seeking to engage in mission work in Latin America.
Several reasons for this academic pursuit: (1) I long to know the Bible better, and to be better equipped to serve the Lord in the preaching ministry He has called me to; (2) an exciting door has opened up making it possible to study at PRTS under the mentorship of one of the most gifted theologians of our generation, Dr. Joel Beeke; (3) in order to establish a seminary for the Hispanic world, it is wisest to ensure that I am not formally under-qualified to do it, which makes academic degrees almost necessary for me to fulfill this vision with the due excellence and reputable quality it deserves--this is important for the long-term reputation and reach of this project; (4) obtaining these degrees in theology will undoubtedly help to open more doors for the gospel and opportunities to minister.
Life is short, and I long to serve the Lord Christ as effectively as possible.
Why study at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary?
Several reasons: (1) it is one of the best seminaries in the world in my opinion, with the focus and emphases that I'm looking to grow in my knowledge of, such as biblical exegesis, Puritan theology and experiential preaching; (2) the professors are men of integrity, who love the Lord, hold uncompromisingly to a conservative, Biblical, Reformed worldview, and are experts in their field; (3) the extensive library of primary and secondary sources of the best literature from the history of the church is a gold mine that will help me grow in a way that I otherwise could not; (4) Grand Rapids also has other extensive theological libraries that will allow me to investigate my subjects of expertise with great facility.
What is the vision for the new seminary for Latin America?
The vision is to serve the local church by streamlining a quality, robust theological education to those who desire to study and be trained in the theological sciences and history of Christian and Reformed theology, that faithful men may be raised up to advance the Great Commission and shepherd Christ's church in the Hispanic world.
The plan is for it to offer a traditional divinity curriculum. It will be a Reformed and credo-baptist seminary, constituted on the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. All teachers must be experienced and qualified in the topics their course entails. It will be academically rigorous (according to the level that our student body can reasonably handle) and practical, with a view to usefulness in the local church and in the real world. This includes being historically-grounded in the great thinkers of the past in addition to having a distinctive experiential emphasis. The gospel must be kept front and center, and "I determined to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified" must be our continual refrain.
We plan to offer courses in the biblical languages, with a focus on Greek and New Testament exegesis. There is very, very little training offered in Latin America to equip men in the exegetical sciences.
It will be a missions-minded seminary; always looking to equip men in international contexts that otherwise would not have access to such teaching. We want to pioneer solid and thorough theological training to the third world. The global church is languishing due to a lack of knowledge. Internet blog posts are often the primary source of theological knowledge that many are obtaining, apart from their Bible. We want to serve the cause of missions, that God's Name would be made famous among the nations, and that Christ's church would be solidly established in places where it is currently struggling over its very identity and relationship to theological truth. Heresies sweep over the church in these places and sometimes prospers, nearly unchecked, because church leaders are not prepared to soundly refute them with Scripture. It is vital that the future cause of missions focus its efforts on the global church--the church outside of the "first world" of North America and Europe. We have an exciting opportunity before us to pioneer theological training into areas where it is not available, and where it is most needed in our generation.
Rather than focusing on sending American missionaries to Hispanic countries, we want to equip men right where they are and strengthen the national leadership that already exists in these places. We want to travel to diverse places and establish relationships, and give intensive theological courses during short-term mission trips, on a regular basis. In other words, our in-depth theological courses can be mobilized for greater reach and impact. I've already done some ministry along these lines, and it has much potential for good in the third world. Some viable models have already been implemented by ourselves and others; we can take these models and build upon them. And we can network with gifted teachers and preachers to organize events in Latin America in which they travel and deliver their materials in order to equip the church on the mission field without doing violence to its already-existing leadership structures.
A tremendously important aspect of this seminary project is that it must be accessible on the internet. The first phase of this project includes getting the whole core curriculum online. This includes (1) preparing course lectures in transcript form; (2) recording lectures in high quality video and audio; (3) organizing course materials into coherent and systematic structural units; (4) making it all available online for students who desire to study, anywhere in the world. We want the whole program to be available online. This is important because many Latin Americans do not have the means or resources to travel internationally. This will make a thorough Reformed theological education available to everybody.
For the long-term, we would like to see a physical seminary established in Mexico. Such a training institution would work in conjunction with the network of churches the Lord has permitted us to plant; it would also serve as a base for a major missions enterprise to plant churches in diverse places.
How will you be supported?
We are hoping to be financially supported by churches and individuals who desire to see the gospel advance in the Hispanic world. Without their help, we could not accomplish this project. It will take a massive amount of time investment, effort, lecture preparation, traveling, and mission trips. We also need equipment to record lectures and teachings with high quality, such as cameras, online resources, and recording equipment. I'm planning on dedicating a minimum number of hours each week to this project, just as I would if I were working any other job with its commensurate time commitment. If we did not receive regular financial support, it would simply be physically impossible to see this project through to success.
Reasons we are seeking support for this include:
Once the online phase of our training program is up and running, the goal would be to have about 1,000 students enrolled within the first 5 years of its existence. This is not a far stretch, seeing that we have some experience in this with our previous online academy project, in which we had over 200 men enrolled from the very first day of its launch (we had only permitted men to enroll in that one; if we had permitted female students this number would have been greater). And that project was not done with the kind of planning, care, quality and thoroughness that we hope to employ in this project. Just imagine! 1,000 students trained in a thoroughly biblical worldview, preaching the old time gospel, exegeting the Greek New Testament, interacting with the best insights of Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon and the Puritans on a meaningful level, and marching forward with the blood-stained banner of Christ and him crucified to reach Latin America! This can have a historic impact in Latin America. There is no project we could do whose potential impact for the future good of the church would be greater, if it pleased the Lord to prosper this plan.
The potential impact of this project is enormous. But there is a massive amount of work ahead, in terms of personal training and of the investment of hard labor into seeing it come to fruition. We are hoping our brethren will stand behind us in this, as we seek to spend and be spent for the sake of souls, for the glory of the precious Lamb who is worthy of the reward of His suffering.
For the sake of the Name in Mexico and beyond,
Pastor, Iglesia del Centro
Founder, Cristianismo Bíblico
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(Due to the large amount of correspondence I receive and current responsibilities that demand my time, I will not be able answer irrelevant questions; also, I apologize in advance that I cannot offer pastoral counseling to people I do not personally know, much less through email. Thanks for your understanding.)