Ellis Orozco is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richardson, where he has served seven years. He shares his background and thoughts on ministry in the Baptist Standard’s “Deep in the Hearts of Texans.” To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column or to apply to be featured, click here.
• Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
Corpus Christi Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, January 1993-December 1999, senior pastor
Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, December 1999-May 2009, senior pastor
• Where did you grow up?
• How did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in church and accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of 12. I was baptized in the church where I was raised, Templo Bautista in South Houston.
My family was the greatest influence on my decision. They talked to me about Jesus and modeled his love in such a way that it would have been difficult for me not to except Jesus.
• Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
Texas A&M University, College Station—bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, 1986
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth—master of divinity, 1993
George Truett Theological Seminary, Waco—doctor of ministry, 2004
• Why do you feel called into ministry?
I experienced a call to ministry as I was starting a career in engineering. I also was serving as a volunteer in the youth department at my church, and I slowly realized I was built for ministry. Eventually, the call was rather dramatic in that it pulled me away from the field for which I had devoted four years of concentrated study. However, once I made the decision, God began to confirm it in various ways. Engineers are problem solvers. Instead of solving mechanical problems, I now help solve community problems, spiritual problems and people problems.
I had a sense I could work for 40 years as an engineer and do a decent job, but I never would be a great engineer. It never would be completely fulfilling for me. I knew that if I served God full time—in whatever capacity he had planned for me—I would live a fulfilled life. There was a sense of “rightness” about it.
It hasn’t always been easy. People problems are more difficult to solve than mechanical problems. But I never have looked back, and I never have regretted the decision.
• What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
Helping people. Whether it’s preaching or teaching or counseling or simply listening, I have the opportunity to help people almost every day.
I love being a small part of people’s lives and watching them grow spiritually. I love being there in the special moments of life—weddings and birthday parties—and in the difficult times—funerals and hospital waiting rooms. It’s hard work in that it has a way of consuming all of life—the work is always there—but it is very fulfilling.
• What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?
As I mentioned above, helping people in their time of need, listening to them in their time of pain and rejoicing with them in their time of joy.
I love watching their children grow. I love when the children run up to me on Sunday, give me a big hug and call me “pastor.”
• What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?
Administration, organization and management. I don’t do these well and am happy to let others do them for me.
• How do you expect congregational life to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
Wow. It’s probably easier to list the few things that will not change. We are experiencing massive paradigmatic shifts in our culture, and the church is feeling the weight of those changes.
I believe there are foundational principles that never change—the powerful impact of love for God and neighbor; the hunger for friendship; the need for human contact and community; a thirst for answers to deep philosophical questions about life and work and death; a desire for something beyond the material. These will remain. However, almost everything about the way they are delivered and experienced will change.
We already are seeing it in changing attendance patterns, styles of worship, discipleship pathways, and methods of connecting and building community. The changes seem tsunami in scope.
For most churches, the challenge of the next 10 to 20 years will be navigating these tsunami-like changes without drowning. But remember, the basics don’t change. It’s still one person telling another person about Jesus.
• What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
Denominationally, it’s probably the same that any organization built in the 20th century is facing. How to stay relevant in a 21st century Christian landscape that is rapidly changing?
The denomination will need to do three things—clearly define her relevance in 21st century kingdom work, become extremely agile and become more open. The new reality is we have more ability to connect than ever before, which means the walls are coming down all over the globe. Baptists have a history of building walls. We are not as adept at tearing them down. Worn out pathways, bureaucracy and myopic practices will kill us.
• Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My earliest mentors were my grandfather, father and Uncle Ellis, who I was named after. They modeled what it meant to be a Christian man. Another huge influence was my mom, who modelled what it meant to be a strong and passionate leader.
My other mentors in ministry were, in no particular order:
Rudy Sanchez, a great pastor who loved me like a son and was the first person I talked to after feeling called to ministry.
Phil Strickland, who modeled what it looked like to think deeply about my Christian faith and practice.
Mateo Rendon, who was my first friend and colleague in ministry. He taught me how to navigate the tricky political waters of being a pastor, how to love the sheep and where all the best taco places are located in Corpus Christi.
Ken Hall, who was president of Buckner the 10 years I was on the board of directors. He taught me a lot about being an effective leader.
Joel Gregory, Calvin Miller, Chuck Swindoll and Haddon Robinson, who were my first preaching mentors, albeit mostly from afar.
There are many others. I hate to leave someone out. I learned mostly by developing a keen eye and squeezing a lot of information out of small mentor moments.
• What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
Leadership in general and being a change-agent in particular. I learned a lot in seminary about theology, homiletics, hermeneutics, church history, Christian ethics, pastoral care and church organization. All these are important and have served me well. But I learned almost nothing about how to be the kind of leader that is a change-agent.
This is the greatest challenge facing most of our pastors.
• Name some of your favorite books (other than the Bible) or authors, and explain why.
How much time do you have?
Overhearing the Gospel by Fred Craddock, because he was not only one of the best at the craft of preaching, but he also could also explain why.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, because it was formative in my understanding of social justice and the rhetoric that can be truly prophetic.
To Walk as He Walked by T.B. Maston, because it is brilliant and so simple you think to yourself, “I could have written this.” But you couldn’t.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, because it was the first book I read when I got to seminary, and because Bonhoeffer lived it out and died for it.
The Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz, because the Sermon on the Mount is sublime and Betz is exhaustive.
Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry, because I love narrative.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, because I resonate with its values, and it was formative for my understanding of how to lead teams.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, because after 30 years of reading it, it still kills me.
The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner, because I couldn’t speak for an hour after I finished reading it—just like when I walked out of the theater after watching Schindler’s List for the first time.
Cathedral by Raymond Carver, because I love short stories, and Carver was the truest.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, because I was young and impressionable, and if a book could make me feel this way—it made me want to read everything.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because the story is epic, but mostly because he was an inspiration to me as a Latino.
I could go on—but I’ll stop.
• Who is your favorite Bible character (other than Jesus)? Why?
The Apostle Paul, because he was an interesting combination of crazy and broken and vulnerable and brilliant. And when you read his letters, you never doubt how much he loves Jesus.
• If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
My family. I would spend more time with my family. Don’t we all say this one?
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