Season 6 - Episode 615
Preparing the next generation of pastors is central to Jared Alcantara’s work at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, and his research advances understanding of cultural engagement, race and ethnicity in preaching. In this Baylor Connections, Alcantara shares more about his role as holder of the Paul W. Powell Endowed Chair in Preaching, highlights figures whose work animates his research, and examines qualities he hopes to nurture in future ministers.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today, we are talking at preaching with Dr. Jared Alcantara. Dr. Alcantara serves as Professor of Preaching and holder of the Paul W. Powell Endowed Chair in Preaching at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Dr. Alcantara's research interests include global and cultural engagement, race and ethnicity, and preaching, preaching in the global south, and more. He pastored churches in four states and served as an Associate Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before coming to Baylor. Been here about a little over four years now, and he's with us on the program today. Dr. Alcantara, it's great to meet you. Great to have you on the program. Thanks for joining us today.
Jared Alcantara:Oh, the pleasure's mine. I'm grateful to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Well, looking forward to diving into your work, and I think anyone hearing your title and what you do, when you talk about the title of an endowed chair at preaching at a seminary, that seems kind of important. That seems like a meaningful and multifaceted role to get to have. How would you describe that role, your role at Truett for you and for your students?
Jared Alcantara:Great question. Well, it's multifaceted in the sense that I teach different levels of students, so I teach mostly Masters of Divinity students, who are preparing for church ministry in the church. Some are preparing for nonprofits, some are preparing for academic ministry alongside the church, so they have different callings and trajectories in their lives, but I teach those preaching courses to them at the master's level, and then I also teach in the PhD program. So a few years ago, we launched a PhD in preaching track for students, and so these would be pastors. Many of them are full-time pastors. Some of them are teaching at schools right now and are trying to get that terminal degree, but they live all over the country. Some live in other countries and come to our modular seminars throughout the year, and then we have some students in residence as well, so I also have a role mentoring PhD students and residents, and now, advising students in their dissertations.
Derek Smith:That's great. It seems like, as you described that, just from a little bit of far, it seems like at Truett Seminary, the growth there in programs, in new degree programs, in joint degrees, in continuing education, it seems like that's ever-growing there. Is that the case?
Jared Alcantara:It's been wonderful. A lot of seminaries in divinity schools are really struggling with enrollment and with attracting students, but by God's grace, by God's mercy, that hasn't been the case at Truett. For the last several years, it's been growing up into the right, in multiple programs, and so we're growing at the masters of Divinity level, we're launching new MAs. The certificate program has been extremely popular for those who aren't able to, say, get a master's degree, but want training in church ministry in some way. They're able to participate online and in-person, and then, at that PhD level as well, so it's been an exciting time of growth for the school.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. That's great to hear as we visit with Dr. Jared Alcantara. When you think of who Truett Seminary is, the niche it holds in that space, how seminal is the role of preaching at Truett?
Jared Alcantara:It's played a major part in the history of Truett. The endowed chair that I occupy is called the Paul W. Powell Endowed Chair in Preaching, and Dr. Powell was a leading figure, leading Pastor in Texas Baptist Life, but also, came to Truett and was Dean at our school, and cared deeply about preaching, and so we're one of the only schools in the country that has three endowed chairships in preaching. So I play a role as one of the faculty members at the school, so does Joel Gregory, who's a living legend of sorts around Texas, around the country, and in other parts of the world, Scott Gibson, who's a leading figure as a researcher, writer, preacher, academic leader, and now, mentored a PhD students as the Director of the PhD program, so it's all over the place at our school. It's an exciting time for preaching to play such prominent role at Truett.
Derek Smith:Yeah, and a fantastic team, really working on those efforts. Let's get to know you a little bit. New Jersey native. You mentioned he came here to Baylor about four and a half years ago. You've both preached and taught. What was your journey like to that? What led you from one to the other, to a mix of both?
Jared Alcantara:Yes. Well, I'm originally from New Jersey. Alcantara is a Honduran name. My father immigrated from Honduras when he was 20 years old, joined the military, ended up in the Air Force, which ended up, meaning that he was at an Air Force base called McGuire Air Force Base in South Jersey. So born and raised there. I gave my life to Christ when I was 14, and very early on, I would say in high school and then into college, sensed a call to pastoral ministry, which led to seminary, and was convinced during seminary and at end of seminary, that God had called me to pastor as long as I could for the rest of my adult life, and so served churches in Oregon, and originally in Illinois, even before that, Massachusetts, but during the time serving a church in Oregon, just sensed that God's call was shaping and shifting into something new. Part of why that was the case is that I just not only loved the life of the mind, but loved training others to get better at preaching and wanted to grow in that way. So I loved reading about it, writing about it. I loved doing it, of course. I still love the local church very much. Wherever I am doing something, I feel pulled to do the other thing, if that makes sense.
Jared Alcantara:So when I was in local church ministry, felt pulled to the academy in further study, and now that I am teaching at a school, when I'm out preaching on the road in churches, people say, "Have you thought about being a pastor?" They didn't know my backstory, and I know how much I love the local church. It's why I'm still preaching so regularly in those spaces, but yeah, really feeling a sense of call, and there was that bigger question of, "How do I multiply minds? How do I multiply talents? How do I steward the gifts God's entrusted to me in such a way that's faithful and honoring to God?" So this was how I answered that question, is a chance to not only preach, but also teach the next generation of preachers, now through the PhD program, teach the next generation of those who teach them, and that's a really exciting work.
Derek Smith:Very exciting as we visit with Dr. Jared Alcantara. You talked about your father, and you have a background. You grew up in a multiethnic family. I'm curious for you, how did that shape you as an individual, as a professional? In what ways has that really left an imprint on your life?
Jared Alcantara:Yes, as I said, my dad's from Honduras. My mom is white and was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, or born in New Jersey, raised in Allentown, so being part of a mixed culture, mixed ethnicity family was really formational for me. Was around English and Spanish. Was around Latinos and Latinas all the time, but also around white folks all the time. Was raised in a neighborhood that had 40 different nationalities represented.
Jared Alcantara:So we were in a subsidized housing complex in Central New Jersey, where I was just around lots of different nationalities, races, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and that really shaped me. That marked me in really significant ways in terms of who I became, who I am becoming, and that has really impacted my research interest. It's impacted my commitments to what I believe is an intercultural church with an intercultural future. It's impacted my regular practices of preaching. I think about the diversity represented within contexts. There are contexts within a context, and thinking about those issues as well, so it's really marked the person that I am, that I'm becoming. I continue to write in English and in Spanish, preach in English and in Spanish, and then my academic work was on leading African-American preacher. So that cross-cultural work, that multiethnic work is really core to my sense of call.
Derek Smith:As you talk about that, there's that sense of people, people from different backgrounds coming into the church, and I'm curious, as you look out, how did growing up in a multiethnic family ... You mentioned given your life to Christ at 14. In what ways do you feel like that shaped your own faith journey?
Jared Alcantara:Well, I know that part of the answer to that question lies in the fact that I was exposed to all these different traditions of church, and so whenever I was around my Honduran family, there was ways of being the church and participating in church that looked different than the church that I grew up in in New Jersey. Then, when I was around other Christians in my neighborhood, who worshiped different churches, perhaps they were different races or ethnicities than me, learning about their experiences as well, really helped me see that the Capital C Church is so much bigger than my capacity to see. Then, I think traveling internationally and nationally, being involved in Christian missionary work as a teenager, and then later on, as an adult, helped me see the global church, the rural church, the urban church in different ways. That just gave me a bigger, fuller picture of the Body of Christ, and in my area of preaching, all the different ways that preaching is beautiful and effective in different spaces.
Derek Smith:As you talk about that, the church, Capital C, what are some ... I mean, you could probably do a whole show just on this, or paper, or whatnot, but in what ways do you see opportunities for the Capital C Church for a greater understanding of those different ethnic contexts of preaching and serving as people get to know one another, growing faith with one another, and just get to know people as neighbors?
Jared Alcantara:Well, there's an old saying, "There's nothing like the local church when the local church is working right," and you could say the same thing about the global church, when the global church is interconnected, when people are listening well to one another, when people are partnering in gospel work. Another saying that I'm a big fan of, "As we can do more together, then we'd be able to do on our own." So when we're able to collaborate work together, the church is stronger, our witness is stronger in the world, especially in such a divisive and polarizing world. To be able to partner across various differences, to be able to navigate differences as well, I think is going to become increasingly important for pastors, Christian leaders, and preachers. Preachers who are able to navigate cross-culturally, speak, think, preach interculturally, to have that level of intercultural competence is going to be more important rather than last in the future.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Jared Alcantara, Professor of Preaching and holder of the Paul W. Powell Endowed Chair in Preaching at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Well, as we talk about you teaching and training up the next generation, and I'm going to ask you about classes here, but first, I want to ask you, tell us about your background. What was it that brought you and your family to Baylor a few years ago?
Jared Alcantara:Well, I taught at another seminary before this, Trinity Evangelical Divinity in Chicago, and I sold my snow blower and moved to Texas.
Derek Smith:Sounds good.
Jared Alcantara:But it was a wonderful opportunity for us to peripherally consider we're very happy where we were, but knowing that Truett was moving in a wonderful direction, a healthy direction, the launching of the PhD program was a piece and something bigger that God was up to because I was also rethinking my call again, that wanting to see if I could invest in students at that level as well, at the PhD program level. Some things that drew me to the school and to Baylor, of course, the reputation of the university preceded it in all of the right ways. Heard so many great things about this institution, this university, and heard about Truett, which is a younger school at an older university, but knew some people there had so much respect and regard for Joel Gregory, who was already here. So when Joel Gregory calls you, answer that phone call, and knowing that this school had a commitment to a church that was increasingly becoming intercultural, interdenominational, global, while also at the same time, holding fast to its Baptist roots, to its Baptist identity. That was just a really exciting space to think about being a part of. Then, of course, my colleagues are wonderful colleagues, and so knowing that this would be a great community to participate in was a key factor as well.
Derek Smith:So you came here and dove in. What are some of the key classes? What are the foundational classes that you teach?
Jared Alcantara:Well, I've taught a few courses since coming. The one that I teach just about every semester would be Preaching 1. So that's the introduction to preaching course, and you get students who are just starting out, who've never preached before, but you also have students who pastored before coming to seminary, so they might have been doing it for 10 years, and so you get all kinds of different starting points, which poses a really unique challenge for me as a teacher. How do I help one student get better at one thing and another student maybe learn to preach for the first time?
Derek Smith:You have a little coach in you, it sounds like.
Jared Alcantara:Actually, that model ... Coaches can be true tellers. Coaches can say, "Work on your free throws." Coaches can say, "Do some other things in order to improve," so I do think of it that way, that each individual student might be able to set some specific goals that are unique to them in order to improve. So that would be the course that I teach every semester. I've also taught Preaching 2, which is a more advanced course. I've taught a course called Spiritual Formation for Preaching, in which we talk about soul. We talk about growing in integrity and character in our connection with God, so that preaching is coming from that place and not just from a different place of trying to impress people, or trying to perform a certain role. Then, in the PhD level, History of Preaching 1, I only need to cover 2,000 years in that course.
Jared Alcantara:Then also, studies in minoritized preaching, hermeneutics, Augustine and Chrysostom, so we're trying to give them history, theology, theory, and then also studies in minoritized preaching course. That's very close to my sense of call, so helping students be able to read, learn from, listen to the voices of Black preachers, Latino, Latina preachers, Asian-American preachers as well.
Derek Smith:Dr. Alcantara, you've touched on some of your research interests. Let's dive into those a little bit. What are some of the questions that you feel motivated to answer, or the topics in which you want to learn more that you're just motivated to go down some paths?
Jared Alcantara:Well, I shared earlier that I did some of my earliest work on African-American preaching, so I continued to write about that. One of the things that I tell people is I'm an ordained Latino Baptist Minister who studied Black preaching at a Mainline Presbyterian Seminary, so let that sit for a moment. Let that breathe, but the person I study was a brilliant Christian leader named Gardner C. Taylor, and wrote my dissertation on him. Wrote a second book on him as well, and that's really opened a lot of doors for me to serve in Black church spaces because of the great regard that people have for Dr. Taylor and his ministry, and then was able to also do some work on a conference called the EK Bailey Preaching Conference, which is a leading national conference on Black expository preaching, that happens in Dallas every year. So was able to do an edited volume with them based on their Living Legend award that they give every year to leading preachers in Black church spaces, and so that's been really exciting work. The latest project is on another prominent leading preacher from the 20th century named Joseph H. Jackson, and a lot of folks don't know that name as well as they know the Gardner C. Taylor name, but I'm just trying to finish up a homiletical biography on him. So 440 pages. I hope that it will fly for the reader, so I'm going to try to get down under 400 and do a little better storytelling before it's finished. Then, in Latinx spaces, a Latino, Latina spaces, like I said, being able to write in Spanish, has been really helpful. Then, as I think ahead to the future, thinking of different ways that I can serve in a similar way to how I've done in Black church spaces by lifting up leading names, leading figures, so Cecilio Arrastia was a famous Cuban preacher, Osvaldo Mottesi was a famous Argentinian preacher, Orlando Costas, famous Puerto Rican preacher, and many others, whose names could be lifted up in various ways. So just thinking about the future and how to highlight that work in my work is what's on my mind these days.
Derek Smith:As you talk about you chose to, worked about Dr. Taylor or Jackson, or some of the pastors in Latin America that you just mentioned, what is it that elevate ... Obviously, there's many great pastors that you could study. Are there certain qualities that stand out to you that you want to kind of tug on the string a little bit more to learn more about some of these individual figures?
Jared Alcantara:Well, a lot of these figures not only were known as great preachers, but they also wrote about preaching. So they held that tension in mind that they need to preach and lift up proclamation as central to their ministry, but they also need to write about it, train others to do it better. So that's one of the common bonds that each of these figures hold, is that they prized and treasured preaching. They were seen by their peers as leading preachers, pastors in their day, and then they also wrote about it, and because of that, we have access to those sources, but also because of their legacies. We have access to people who knew them, and so for me, getting a chance to do oral history interviews with people just helps me learn a lot of the nuances and textures of the personalities behind the names and what made them tick, what made them think, and what made them care so much about preaching. That rubs off on you when you do that kind of work. When you're around other people who love preaching, even if they're dead and gone, it's really exciting, I know for me, to be able to be around folks like that.
Derek Smith:As we talk about Baylor as a Christian research university, I think it's easy to think about science, or sociology, or health, and those are all important things, but how big of a role does research play at Truett to ... It's not just you, but a lot of professors there seem to be doing a really important research in a number of different areas.
Jared Alcantara:Absolutely, yes. It's fun to be part of the Truett team. There are lots of great projects that are going on right now. In my area in preaching, there's been a lot of interest in history, a lot of interest in the practices of Christian preaching, a lot of interest in thinking through issues related to celebrity, to leadership, and just some of the dangers that can be inherent when you're an effective preacher, an effective pastor as well, and just thinking a lot about character and integrity as well, but we've got folks who are doing things in Hebrew Bible, who are publishing with the University presses, and we've got folks who are doing commentaries on books of the Bible, folks who are doing history, folks who are doing really good work in 20th century theology or 19th century theology, and so just to be part of that team and part of that research that's going on now, has been really, really invigorating for me, so it's been a good time to be at a place like Truett.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Dr. Jared Alcantara, and as we head into the final couple of minutes of the program, I want to bring it back to the preaching side and your work with students. I know this could be a, go down so many paths, but in general, what are some of the qualities, when you think about nurturing qualities in future preachers, what are some of the things that rise to the top for you when you're in classes with these students?
Jared Alcantara:Great question. One of the things that comes to mind right away is to see preaching as not just a communicative practice or an interpretive practice, but to see it as a spiritual practice. So issues related to our conviction, "What do we believe about God?," "What do we believe about people?," "What do we believe about the gospel?," and then, "Are we engaged in such a way that we're tending to our own soul?" So just as we tend to other people's souls, if we're pastors, ministers of the gospel, so also we need to tend to our own souls, otherwise we're trying to offer them water that we don't have, or take them to a place that we haven't gone, and that can be especially dangerous to our own souls and dangerous to others as well. So focusing on those convictions that we hold dear and having preaching come from that space, but then, of course, when it comes to the task of preaching, making sure we bear witness to hope. We want to preach Christian sermons. Sometimes we preach semi-Christian or sub-Christian sermons, where we're not really pointing people to the gospel. We might be explaining something, but we're not proclaiming something. The ability to contextualize, the ability to be concrete through illustration and application, the ability to be creative, like as storytellers, as poets, as people who are able to put pieces together and to form a beautiful shape out of them, to be able to be clear, I think with the practice of preaching, so there's the task with the practice, trying to be get better. We talked about coaching earlier, having a growth mindset. Sometimes we can be really high stakes like, "I either did well," or, "I blew it," when, in fact, we're on this journey of trying to get better, cultivating good practices over time.
Derek Smith:So what's ahead that you're excited about?
Jared Alcantara:Well, the J. H. Jackson project is coming to its final lap or final mile, if you will, on this marathon. So that project started in 2015.
Jared Alcantara:So the book will come out in 2024 with Oxford University Press, probably the fall of 2024. Then, as I think ahead to different projects that I'm most interested in, thinking about exploring issues related to Latinx preaching, Latino, Latina preaching, things related to these leading figures that I told you about in Latin America and in the U.S., written about it, or who are considered highly respected figures as well. Still doing lots of things related to commentaries because preachers like to read commentaries, especially written by other preachers who are familiar with the task of preaching on a regular basis and maybe drawing things out from biblical texts that other folks might not. So those are some of the areas that I've been most interested in in my research, and then always trying to grow as a teacher. So those four commitments that I talked about, those aren't original to me. That's K. Anders Ericsson and Deliberate Practice, so I have to set goals for myself as a teacher and engage in focused attention and listen to constructive feedback, and take risks, and so I'm trying to invest in myself as a teacher as well so that I'm the best teacher that I can be.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. Really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us and share more and paint the picture of what you do and the great work taking place with your students and throughout Truett. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Jared Alcantara:Pleasure is mine. Great to be with you.
Derek Smith:Great to be with you. Dr. Jared Alcantara, Professor of Preaching and holder of the Paul W. Powell Endowed Chair in Preaching at Baylor's George W. Truett Seminary, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.