By Art Toalston
MEXICO CITY – It wasn’t that long ago the LifeWay Global team dreamed about ways to resource pastors and other church leaders around the world—those with extremely limited or no access to formal theological training.
The vision of Ariel Irizarry, the leader of LifeWay Global’s training, became a reality when LifeWay Equipa (pronounced aye-KEEP-ah)—a Spanish-language training platform—launched in May 2019 at lifewayequipa.com.
The digital platform stems from the desire to respond to the needs of pastors and lay leaders around the world, said Craig Featherstone, senior director for LifeWay Global.
“We’re hearing the heartbeat of the church and the nations toward understanding how to contextualize solutions for the local church,” Featherstone said of the international outreach of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is now distributing resources in 164 countries.
Latin America is at the forefront of an emerging LifeWay Global strategy extending beyond LifeWay’s longstanding publishing and distribution of Spanish-language Bibles and translations of books, Sunday School curriculum and other resources.
LifeWay Muerjes authors (L-R) Aixa de López, Wendy Bello, Karla Fernandez and Catherine Scheraldi de Núñez participate in a panel discussion at the 2019 Equipa conference in November. López and Bello are instructors on the Equipa digital training platform. Photo by Jorge Pavía
Authors, conferences, digital training
A major shift several years ago was LifeWay Español’s enlistment of Hispanic pastors and authors—now numbering more than 40—to produce books and resources within their cultural context.
Mexico was the site of two large-scale conferences: Crece (“Growth”) in 2018, a gathering in Merida that drew 1,700 pastors and church leaders and Equipa (“Equip”), a 2019 conference in Querétaro attended by more than 3,000 in November. Equipa conference registrants came from 60 denominations and church networks, 20 Mexican states, five U.S. states, and five other Latin American countries.
The 2019 conference served as a catalyst for the Equipa online training platform. The LifeWay Mexico team, led by Eva Uria, voiced the idea of linking the Equipa name to the conference and pointing attendees—and the many believers they influence—to the platform’s resources.
Uria said some of the participants already have their own content in printed publications, “but they are really excited about the online platform. They believe it is a great tool. And they trust our biblical content.”
Uria also noted a hunger for unity at the two-day conference.
“Everybody is saying how amazing it is that LifeWay made it possible—God made it possible—to unite all these people with the gospel and the sense of unity that Christ put in the Church.”
Juan Sanchez, LifeWay author and senior pastor of High Point Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, is a featured instructor on the Equipa digital platform. He was one of the keynote speakers for the 2019 Equipa conference in Querétaro, Mexico. Photo by Jorge Pavía
The reach of the digital platform
The Equipa digital platform now has 7,250 members who have earned 2,500 certifications for completing Equipa courses, which include interactive quizzes interspersed within a teacher’s video instruction typically spanning an hour.
To use Equipa, a pastor or church member creates an account at lifewayequipa.com, explores the descriptions of potential courses of interest and their teachers, and then enrolls to begin his or her interactive study.
Encompassing 35 courses in leadership, groups, women’s and children’s ministry, the interactive video courses are taught by LifeWay Español authors and other experts with an evangelical view reflecting Southern Baptists’ 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
“The opportunity to train leaders and equip them well has been limited for the Spanish-speaking church … especially in Latin America,” said author and women’s speaker Wendy Bello.
“One of the main reasons has been a lack of resources produced originally in Spanish and by people that can truly identify with the culture, the needs and historical background of this area of the world.”
Equipa, Irizarry said, provides basic-level instruction to serve as a map any believer can use for their own development.
Equipa’s interactive nature reflects what he describes as “the double side of the coin of equipping. On one side, the pastor or church wishes to have mature leaders to serve effectively in the different areas of ministry, and on the other side, the members want to serve and be an active part of the church.”
Irizarry added that when people aren’t equipped, “churches decline, leadership burns out, and church members stay passive or immature.”
Equipa’s next steps will include courses on ministry to youth and an extended program of 12-15 courses including New and Old Testament, preaching and church administration.
Featherstone noted Equipa will be alert to pastors and future leaders who could be ready to study in one of the Southern Baptist seminaries in the U.S.
“But the overwhelming majority of pastors around the world have neither the time nor the financial resources to do that,” he said. “Most of them are bivocational or tri-vocational. They have families, and they just don’t have the margin time-wise or financially.”
LifeWay Global has a nine-member advisory board of Hispanic ministry leaders.
“LifeWay isn’t developing this content in a vacuum,” Featherstone said. “We have key people from our seminaries and from state conventions serving as advisers for how we build out our entire strategy, whether it’s publishing or training or social media or events.”
Dr. Daniel Sanchez, distinguished professor of missions at Southwestern Seminary, teaches two Equipa courses:
- “Realidades Hispanas Transformando a Norteamérica” (Hispanic Realities Transforming North America): Surveys trends in the Hispanic American community, pointing out implications for evangelism, discipling new believers and starting churches in that context.
- “Cosmovisión: Implicaciones para la Obra Misionera” (Worldview: Implications for missionary work): Explores the worldview of non-believers as the gospel is shared with them, dealing specifically with Animistic, Syncretistic, Monotheistic (Christian, Muslim) and postmodern worldviews.
“[Hispanics] are showing more receptivity to the gospel message than at any other time in American history,” Sanchez said. “LifeWay has established more contacts in countries around the world that enable church leaders to obtain training that previously was not available to them.”
The 2020 VBS theme, “Concrete & Cranes,” was introduced to the 3,000 in attendance at the 2019 Equipa conference in November 2019. Photo by Jorge Pavía
Other notable Equipa instructors include:
- Luis Ángel Diaz-Pabón, general editor of the “Fisher of Men Bible” (B&H Español).
- Miguel Nuñez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista International in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and author of nine B&H Español books.
- Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, author of two B&H Español books and past president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Within the U.S., Featherstone said, Equipa can be an aid to Southern Baptist churches with Hispanic congregations or ministries, as well as those who have contact with Hispanic pastors in their communities.
Featherstone, Irizarry, and the rest of the LifeWay Global team share a heart for the nations that informs a vision to develop strategies for China and India, as well as Latin America.
“I’d like to tell you we had this grand vision for how this whole thing would work,” Featherstone said, “but in some regards, the Lord has just said, ‘Be obedient to the next thing I’m calling you to do.’”
Art Toalston is a writer based in Nashville, Tenn.