Small church grows strong leaders
By George Henson
KYLE–If it is true that leaders are born, not made, then the soil around Kyle is good for something other than cotton.
Immanuel Baptist Church, a rural congregation located amid cotton fields for all but the last few years since its founding in 1886, has turned out more than its fair share of leaders.
While never averaging more than about 75 people in attendance, and for many years considerably less than that, the church has made significant contributions to the leadership pool of Texas Baptists. Seven Baptist ministers have sprung from the membership.
Roland Alhart is a pastor in the northeastern U.S., and Curtis Lengelfeld is a pastor in New Mexico. Bill Lengelfeld and Richard Mayforth both left the tiny community in the Hill Country and found themselves around the world as missionaries in Japan.
The best known products of the church are the Schmeltekopf brothers. Bob Schmeltekopf served as pastor of Texas churches including First Baptist in San Marcos and Trinity Baptist in Kerrville, and then served 18 years as a director of missions in San Antonio and the Hill Country. Don Schmeltekopf served 12 years as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Baylor University. Ed Schmeltekopf was pastor of three Texas churches, including First Baptist Church in Burleson, and served 20 years as associate executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
And Immanuel Baptist Church isn't even a BGCT church.
Pastor Dennis Koger, who has BGCT roots growing up in First Baptist and Ridgecrest churches in Greenville and then teaching at Baylor University and San Marcos Academy, explained the congregation has had a close fellowship with the BGCT from its beginnings, however.
Even in its infancy, the BGCT recognized the need to reach out to people of various cultures, Koger explained. The BGCT was instrumental in helping the families coordinate the beginnings of the church, first organized as the First German Baptist Church of Kyle in 1886–the 11th Baptist church started through the efforts of Texas Baptists.
Driven by cultural and language considerations, the church first aligned with the German Baptist Convention, later becoming the North American Baptist Convention.
As to why the church is able to turn out such leaders, Koger says he believes several things play into the equation. Part of the answer he said he received from Bob Schmeltekopf.
“I asked Robert Lee, everybody down here calls him 'Robert Lee,' that question and he told me they had seen the dairy farm and that was not where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. A terribly spiritual motivation,” Koger quipped.
“Seriously, though, I think it's the strong family context that affects everything these people do, and these are genuine people of faith. God just worked in the lives of these families to raise up leaders to do the things he wanted done,” he said.
Bob Schmeltekopf sees a few additional motivators as well: “A part of the German culture out of which that church was born was a tremendous work ethic. Pursuing the very highest achievement one could achieve was a focus of our parents. It was not only a matter of the work ethic, though, but also a part of their theology. Upward mobility was not looked upon as a curse, but as a blessing.
“The second thing was the leadership called to lead that little church was phenomenal. Sometimes, even as kids, we saw that in marked contrast to what some of the other little churches had,” he said.
In his case, a Methodist minister who doubled as the high school athletic trainer also played an integral part.
“He taped my ankles before every football game and before every basketball game. My senior year, he carted me around to nearly every Baptist school and just really had a huge impact on me.”
All of those things prepared him to be used by God.
“When God called me, there was no hesitation, no reluctance on my part,” Schmeltekopf said. “I was excited to be like my pastor and my friend who taped my ankles.”
While the cotton fields have begun to turn over to home sites for new families, the church still works to reach out to new children like the Lengelfelds and the Schmeltekopfs.
“It used to be the joke that you couldn't say anything bad about anyone because everybody around here was related. Now that's not true,” Koger said. “But we're going to build a new multipurpose building, and I think that will be a signal to the people moving in around here that we want them to come.”