Latin America

Latin America: Developing Leaders for the Church Network in Latin America

Fostering the development of church leaders and church planting movements has long been a priority for the Latin America Global Resource Team (GRT). As an extension of BILD’s apostolic team, the GRT has been providing leadership and support for BILD partners in Latin America for nearly 20 years.

The Latin America GRT currently works with church networks in 16 countries, including the Latin diaspora in Spain and the United States, with thousands of leaders from a variety of church backgrounds. These leaders are all engaged in some process of personal development to be equipped as leaders of their networks using BILD’s training materials.

GRT leaders Javier Velasquez, Julio Lugo, and Felix Abreu, have been united in the passion they share to train networks of church leaders in New Testament principles in partnership with church-planting movements, which is BILD’s mission. These three leaders herald from Florida, Peru, and Dominican Republic, respectively, and are committed to training and equipping leaders and developing strong churches following New Testament principles within their civilization.

“Part of being on this team is having people who have a passion and a vision and a commitment at the civilization level,” Javier said. These leaders recognize their stewardship in designing and implementing effective strategies to progress the gospel in Latin America. To do this, they are cultivating strategic partnerships with church planters and equipping next-generation leaders.

“We’re constantly in a process of training and equipping leaders [1] at different levels,” Javier said. “We are working on being intentional in the expansion of not just planting churches but planting churches that reflect [New Testament principles].”

Javier said the team wants to help people who are engaged in the process of church planting and provide help and resources to make it possible for them to plant churches. This includes replicating sustainable house churches that will grow into networks of churches as seen in the New Testament.

A model of this can already be seen in Felix’s network of house churches in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In 2020, five traditional churches became a network of 27 house churches with a leadership structure that models the book of Acts.

Felix said in 2014 they began a process of equipping all the leaders using BILD’s training materials, and then a couple years later every member of the church was being established in their faith and in their understanding of Scripture. By 2018, they started considering the process of moving from being a church with small groups to being a network of house churches. In 2020, the planning and transitioning had begun.

“From the beginning, we began equipping the leadership so that they may progressively grow in their understanding of [New Testament principles],” Felix said. A key factor was after solidifying the leadership in those principles, they began equipping the whole church. This brought a one-mindedness around the principles and in turn strengthened the church as it transitioned  from a traditional model.

There were some challenges to overcome, Felix said. One being a change in how Christians view the church and what happens in the church. Another was not understanding the importance of studying the Bible. That shift in perspective came through maturing in the Biblical concepts, he said.

The ability to overcome those barriers and see an established network of house churches is now a reality. “It is taking place,” Felix said. “So much so, that now we are planning the multiplication and expansion of those churches to go even beyond.”

“We are dreaming of being able to expand to the five different regions in the country with a church planting movement. And from there to expand to other areas of the Caribbean region and Latin America,” he said.

The church network in the Dominican Republic, because of its growth, has now become the model to be replicated for Latin America. This is a significant piece of the GRT’s mission, Javier said, because it shows what it takes to move away from a traditional church model and return to what Paul and the Apostles established in the book of Acts.

The GRT sees Felix’s network as a resource center because it has the elements of a New Testament church with strong, established leaders and church members who are fully participating in God’s work and meeting needs within their neighborhoods and communities. The GRT plans to invite other network leaders and church planters to annual conferences in Santo Domingo to promote developing models of house churches.

Javier said it is important for other leaders to see what a New Testament house church network looks like. This includes understanding how the families within the church function together as the household of God with a leadership structure that is put forth in Paul’s letters from parents to elders and overseers to apostolic leaders.

“We want people to see and be a part of a house church and how it relates to the families so that we can model to other leaders in our civilization,” Javier said.

Because meeting in person for many of these leaders is not always feasible, the GRT has utilized online workshops as a way for leaders to connect, communicate, and support one another. It has been helpful in fostering culturally relevant dialogues around New Testament principles.

Julio said being able to have conversations online with other leaders and the nature of the dialogues have brought a lot of clarity and “catalyzed” the process of becoming one-minded around the principles laid out in the New Testament.

One leader they’re working with in Ecuador has a significant ministry in a fairly good-sized church and is in the process of moving into house churches. Julio shared that the conversations that are happening with that leader have gravitated toward a transformation process away from the traditional church model. Next month they will be launching 20 house churches that could potentially be a second model for Latin America just like the model in the Dominican Republic.

In Chile, one leader’s experience helped him develop in his thinking, Javier said. “Listening to other people’s experiences and models helped him understand [New Testament principles] in ways that he had not before,” he said.

To continue developing these leaders and track the progress of their training, the GRT recently launched an online platform that allows leaders to use BILD’s leadership materials in their language. It also tracks the progress of the leaders’ development and will certify their work when completed. Julio said being able to equip leaders using this online tool is key to the team being able to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders who will in turn train other leaders.

“We decided it was strategic for us to foster quality team relationships in order to pass on the deposit and work on developing the next generation of leaders across the networks,” Javier said. “In a way, it’s also a part of our stewardship as a GRT to pass on to another leader directly.”

The training each GRT leader gives to another leader has been done online or in person. For instance, in Felix’s network he has been training leaders identified as “Timothys” in different levels of leadership using different BILD resources. Every year for the last five years, Felix launches a new cohort of leaders who will study BILD’s leadership series. “So there are multiple levels of training with different levels of leadership every year, every month, every week, depending on the frequency,” he said.

The growth and maturing of the GRT itself has helped the team become intentional for how they will develop the next generation of leaders. “We only have so many years left for us to be intentional about how to pass on the baton to the next generation. That in itself will require us to be very strategic,” Javier said.

The GRT’s leadership trains and equips leaders from a variety of church backgrounds and cultural contexts to be one-minded around New Testament principles. This in turn will build and strengthen networks of churches that can impact their civilization.

While partnering with and training leaders to build sustainable church networks throughout Latin America isn’t without its challenges, Javier said they’re moving in the right direction. “While we’re not all together in the same [local] church, we’re working in 16 different countries directly with leaders who are leading other church networks,” he said. “So the whole idea of building a network like Acts requires this GRT to exercise leadership in a way that reflects our unique context."