the shape of leadership

Answering the Ministry Call

A Q&A with Gilberto Vélez

Chris Colvin on July 24, 2018

Dr. Gilberto Vlez is pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Misericordia (Assemblies of God), a Hispanic congregation of more than 3,000 in Laredo, Texas. He also oversees several campuses on both sides of the border, along with a medical mission in Guadalajara, Mexico.

INFLUENCE: How has your profession as a physician prepared you for ministry?
I am in the ministry because of a calling. But I spent years trying to avoid that reality. Once I made a decision to enter full-time ministry and plant our church, the disciplines I learned in studying and practicing medicine prepared me for the great responsibility of pastoring.

One of the most important traits of a pastor is commitment. We must be committed to the Lord, to prayer and study, and to our church. Being a physician helps me do that. Of course, I have another tool in my bag: the Holy Spirit, who empowers and encourages me along the way.

As pastor of the largest Hispanic church in the AG, what has been the key to your sustained multiplication?
I believe in the community. We live in a border town in Texas that has a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities. Each of those cultures has given something to make us who we are. We have learned to embrace our multicultural surrounding.

“Once we gained the trust of the community, they saw us as not just a religious institution but a place of healing through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
— Gilberto Vélez

As a Puerto Rican, I’m not in the majority in our church. But the apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people.” I am proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, and I don’t deny my own culture. But that has not kept me from embracing the Mexican culture around me.

It is silly for any minister to come to a new area expecting the congregation to change to meet the pastor’s culture rather than the pastor adapting to his or her new ministry context.

In what pragmatic ways do you engage with your community and culture?
One thing I discovered early on in my ministry here was that people in our community have been hurt in many ways. Although the crime rate in Laredo is very low, instances of domestic violence and troubled homes are still too high.

We surveyed 100 homes around our church, asking people what they specifically needed from us. What we discovered was that they wanted help with their families. So we responded by providing for the children, for youth and even offering family counseling.

Once we gained the trust of the community, they saw us as not just a religious institution but a place of healing through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are some harmful misconceptions about Hispanic churches you wish you could change?
Just because we come from a different country or speak a different language doesn’t mean we can’t be part of a growing church. The Bible is for people — not a specific people, but all people.

I’m afraid that too many of our Hispanic and Latino churches have bought into the stereotypes and feel defeated. But if pastors put passion behind their vision, they can escape that mentality and build what God has called them to build.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Influence magazine.


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