“No one would confuse Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a bastion of Bible Belt Christianity,” Collin Hansen wrote roughly four years ago. That statement certainly remains true today. And yet we continue to see, as Hansen observed four years ago, the Holy Spirit drawing churches together for gospel-centered ministry throughout this area.
To learn more about God’s work in Albuquerque and the surrounding region, I corresponded with Ryan Kelly (pastor for preaching at Desert Springs Church, and a Council Member of The Gospel Coalition) and Trent Hunter (pastor of administration and teaching, and coordinator of TGC Albuquerque Regional Chapter). Desert Springs Church is currently hosting Clarus, the Southwest Regional Conference for The Gospel Coalition. Please pray for fruit from this conference as believers gather together to unite around God’s work in this region.
Tell us a little bit about the place and the people of Albuquerque.
Albuquerque is loved by the people who live here and largely unknown by those who don’t. Our city is nestled in the valley between the Sandia mountain range on one side and five dormant volcanoes on the other, with the Rio Grande running through it. The high desert climate brings a bit of every season but mostly sun—310 days of sun per year actually. It’s a true gem of Southwestern beauty.
But more beautiful than the outdoors are the people who live here. The state’s three major demographics—Caucasian, Hispanic, and Native American—make for a culture unique to this part of the country.
The Albuquerque metro area is home to about 800,000 people, approaching half the population of the state. Outside the major city centers of Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe, the state is largely barren desert and volcano fields sprinkled with small rural cities.
What are some of the greatest challenges in ministry in your area? What particular cultural idols or areas of resistance to the gospel stand out?
Our city and region share some unique challenges. Three come to mind.
The first would be spirituality without the Spirit. New Mexico is home to 21 Native American tribes and within a day’s drive of more than half of all the Native American people in the United States. Our Pueblo and Navajo Indian populations are spread around the state in various reservations, keeping a semblance of their historic traditions and beliefs. Interestingly, these reservations are sprinkled with churches, but these churches are almost exclusively Roman Catholic. Spanish Catholics settled here in the 1500s to establish churches among the tribes. The resulting syncretism is with us more today than ever before.
A second challenge would be creativity without the Creator. Human creativity takes on several distinct forms in our city and region. Santa Fe, the state’s capital, is famous for its art museums and art culture; Albuquerque has a quickly growing film industry. New Mexico is also home to two engines of incredible human invention and creation: the Sandia National Laboratories and the Los Alamos Laboratory. These people are creative, brilliant, and highly educated. Los Alamos has highest number of PhDs per capita of any county in the country.
Yet for all of this spirituality, human creativity, and problem-solving genius, this region is known for some pretty sad realities. New Mexico is the late-term abortion capital of the country with the least restrictive abortion laws of any state. Poverty is a real problem with its various causes and consequences, including disintegrating family structures, a gambling culture, and fatherlessness. In terms of productivity, Forbes said that New Mexico is a “Death Spiral” state, finishing 50th with the most unsustainable government dependency. In terms of education, our state finished 50th as well.
So, yes, there are some challenges here. And each of these challenges comes with its own set of idols. Native Americans worship nature, while the highly educated and creative-types worship their work.
Do Christians ever experience persecution or ridicule in your setting?
The answer to this question is surely, “Yes!” as it is anywhere else. Albuquerque is home to the photographer you have heard about in the news who declined to photograph a same-sex wedding. Elane from Elane Photography is a member in one of our TGC chapter churches. This challenge to Christian faith clearly represents the difficulties Christians are having all across the United States. Also, as you’d expect, new believers often deal with varying degrees opposition and estrangement from their traditionally Roman Catholic, or Native American, or highly scientific families.
Where do you see God at work in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico? What encouraging trends do you see?
For every challenge or cultural idol there’s a unique opportunity for the gospel.
Our first reason for encouragement is what appears to be a growing number of faithful preachers in our city and region. Through our work with the Albuquerque regional chapter of TGC, we come into contact with brothers from throughout the area. We’re a group of about 30, each of us committed to expository preaching, church discipline, and everything else represented within TGC’s Foundation Documents. This chapter is not made up of men from big churches, but largely small churches. Most of these men are solo-pastors or bi-vocational pastors. But they are committed to the work of faithful Word-ministry, and God is at work among them.
A second reason for encouragement is the fact that our churches consist of men and women from every corner of darkness in our region who are now transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. In our congregations are former Roman Catholics; former nature worshipers; men and women from poverty sitting next to those with the highest levels of security clearance; some from broken homes and others who once broke their homes, but today walk in repentance.
This is a great pleasure of pastoring, which pastors everywhere know. Sinners come in many colors and kinds. Albuquerque certainly has its unique variety. But we are all sinners just the same. It is a great blessing to continue to see our Lord save his people through the gospel and bring his gospel to bear in the details of their lives.
Tell us about the Albuquerque Regional Chapter of The Gospel Coalition. What resources does it offer? How can pastors and church leaders get connected?
In 2005 a group of area preaching pastors began meeting annually for fellowship in connection with Clarus, a conference hosted by Desert Springs Church. The Albuquerque Chapter of TGC was formed in November 2010, when this group of broadly Reformed preaching pastors decided to formalize their friendships under the umbrella of TGC’s Foundation Documents. Our 2015 Regional Conference of TGC starts March 20. Alistair Begg, D. A. Carson, and David Helm are leading us on the topic “Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and the Church.” (The conference is sold out, but readers should keep an eye out for the forthcoming audio and video of these important sessions.)
The primary mechanism for our partnership together in TGC Albuquerque is a quarterly three-hour gathering for lead/preaching pastors to promote fellowship and growth in a number of ways:
- Overt relationships and partnerships between churches
- Prayer for each other, our ministries, and our cities
- Burden bearing and advice pursuing
- Discussion of theology and ministry philosophy
- Networking for shepherding members in transition between churches
- Possible partnerships for ministry and mission
Preaching pastors interested in connecting with our chapter’s work should visit our chapter site to learn more.
While our goals through chapter meetings and membership are somewhat modest—strengthening churches by connecting and strengthening preaching pastors—some new partnerships and works have sprung up among our churches. One of these is Albuquerque’s Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition. The chapter network provided the context for this strategic means of strengthening pulpits in our region.
How can we be praying for the spread of the gospel in your region?
Please do pray!
Pray for our preaching pastors to continue to grow in what is central to pastoral ministry, the ministry of the Word. Many of our pastors are working alone or leading their churches in a bi-vocational context; many of the same also serve in locations many miles away from like-minded pastors. Pray for their endurance and encouragement.
Pray also for the health of the church in our region. There are challenges to healthy ministry in any area, and ours has its own difficulties. We need more men and women committed to the church, committed to the Word, committed to discipleship, and committed to the glory of God.
Finally, pray for our Lord to save souls among the people of Albuquerque and around New Mexico. We will keep planting and watering, by his grace. Pray with us that God would bring the growth.