SAN ANTONIO—The Baptist Bible Institute at Baptist University of the Américas—a series of off-site instructional centers that provide basic training to Hispanic church leaders—is rooted in the school’s founding mission, said Pablo Juarez, director of the institute.
BUA started in 1947 as the Mexican Baptist Bible Institute under the direction of San Antonio Baptist Association to provide theological education in Spanish for Mexican-American ministers.
Since then, the school has changed its name, as well as the language of instruction in its classes, and it has received accreditation to offer baccalaureate degrees. Through it all, the basic Bible classes for church leaders, offered in church settings, have remained a core part of BUA.
“The truth is that BUA is BBI,” said Juarez, who also serves as the university’s dean of student services.
While BUA now looks at developing and educating leaders for the future, Juarez said, it does not forget to maintain its relationship with ministers already serving congregations.
“BBI represents BUA’s tentacles that reach out towards the community,” Juarez said. “That is where you see the connection with ministers—the fellowship.”
Accessible and affordable classes
Ministers who did not have the opportunity to receive theological education and who need an affordable program in their language, offered at accessible sites on a flexible schedule, can receive that opportunity through BBI, he explained
“Our main focus is to provide the tools our pastors and churches need to do the ministry,” Juarez said.
While the program greatly benefits those who already are serving in ministry, it really is a service to all members of the church, Juarez said.
“We understand that every Christian is a minister,” he said. “Every member is a minister with a different role.”
The requirements for admittance to the courses are simple. Students must be Christians and provide letters of recommendation from a pastor.
Because the program is open to anyone in a congregation, it helps ministers and churches develop stronger discipleship programs, Juarez noted.
A church that seldom meets other than for its weekly Sunday worship can have a difficult time discipling its members who come from different contextual backgrounds. Discipleship can be difficult for a pastor to accomplish with just a few minutes of preaching a week, he said.
At the Baptist Bible Institute, every student starts with a “biblical foundation and a spiritual formation to be a good minister,” he explained.
The curriculum is divided into three levels, with certificates of completion offered at the end of each.
Level One focuses on basic biblical studies. Level Two teaches practical tools necessary to be a minister. Level Three is geared toward students who have been called to serve as a pastor or church planter.
The essence of all the levels—and of the program as a whole—is discipleship, Juarez stressed.
Equips laity to assume leadership
Juarez views discipleship as a core of the church’s identity. He is convinced God calls and gifts church members for service, and the Baptist Bible Institute classes help them sharpen the tools God has given them.
As churches go through transitions, the program equips students to serve, he noted. Courses help members be prepared to assume additional responsibilities when a pastor leaves a congregation or equip them to serve when a church notices it needs more ministers, he said.
“BBI is not putting the theologically training in the hands of only one person. It is putting it in the hands of the whole church,” he said. “The roles may change, but they will all have the theological training.”
Juarez believes in the program’s effectiveness, and he want to make it accessible to more people. Whether Hispanic church members speak English or Spanish, he wants to offer them the tools to follow the call God has given them.
It is made for Christians to follow Christ in service, Juarez noted. It’s emphasis is practical rather than academic—not just “informational” but “transformational,” he said.
For any who wonder whether the classes can benefit them, Juarez points out he is a product of the Baptist Bible Institute program.
He learned about it from a friend in North Carolina while he already was engaged in ministry, and he finished the program in 2001. It marked the first step in his pursuit of theological education. He went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in religion, a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Campbell University.
Juarez, who has worked at BUA seven years, sees the Baptist Bible Institute program as an investment in and for the church.
Any congregation can start the process to become a center, he added. Currently 14 centers operate throughout Texas.
“I hope BBI will be available and accessible at every church in Texas,” he said. “That may not be possible for me to do, but it is possible for God.”