Article

How one pastor learned to love God and his family

Mar 25, 2019

Nathan Velasquez remembers it like it was yesterday. His dad, using the Lord’s words in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” re-enacted the scene to share the gospel. He went to their front door, knocked, opened it, and came in, demonstrating a picture of salvation to his four-year-old son. The Spirit used his dad’s illustration, and he trusted in Christ.

Velasquez’s dad has been a pastor in Venezuela for 47 years and has been extremely involved in other evangelical organizations. Although he grew up in a Christian home and was around ministry, he wasn’t interested in following in his father’s footsteps.

“As son of a pastor,” Velasquez said, “I was sure I would never be a pastor.”

But he couldn’t resist the call of the Lord. After surrendering to ministry, he obtained his theology degree at 20 years old and married his wife Karina. They started out as missionaries in a Venezuelan church, which led to them serving in four different churches over their 20 years in South America.

Accomplishing big things...for whom? 

As a go-getter and the son of a man active and influential in ministry, people expected big things from Velasquez. In 2008, he became the senior pastor of the 450-person Immanuel Baptist Church in Caracas. The church was doing incredible things—they were involved in social work in the community, preached the gospel to their neighbors using various methods, and even had a TV program.

In addition, Velasquez was elected as president of the Venezuela Baptist Convention, where he served for three years, and was also the vice president of the Council of Evangelical Churches in his country.

By 2013, the church had grown to 1600-1700 people. Velasquez was involved in a lot of great things and saw himself spending his life on the good work of ministry. He, too, believed that God’s calling coincided with the big expectations others had of him.

“The only thing I didn’t have time to do,” he said, “was take care of my wife and daughters.”

Big things, bigger problems

Although it looked like he was in the prime of his ministry, his lack of focus on his family was an indication that not all was right in Velasquez’s life.

“When the enemy wants to take you out, and he knows you are someone who loves Jesus,” he explained, “He won’t ask you to do bad things. He won’t ask you to sin . . . . but he will ask you to do a lot of things for God without the calling of God. And that will burn you out.”

Velasquez considered himself a super minister who could do everything with God’s help. But, in reality, he was doing a lot of things in his flesh, relying on his experience and talents—and was doing them because people wanted him to. And even as he was serving God, it was without truly loving him—he was merely following orders and habit. The only reason he didn’t fall into grievous sin during this time, he said, is because he was taught to fear God early on.

Meanwhile home was a place he would just come to rest.

“I was getting some sleep,” Velasquez said, “and waking up another day to save the world,” though he didn’t recognize what he was doing was wrong at first. “I thought because I was never involved in a big sin, that I was doing good . . . . [My wife] didn’t have a right to be mad at me.”

Though she always showed her husband grace, Velasquez’s relationship with his wife became cold. Over time, he began to notice emptiness and suffering in his wife’s eyes while also realizing that he never had time to be with his two daughters. Troubled, he started asking God, “Why? If I am doing good, why am I feeling this?”

“That experience was my breaking point,” he recalled. “I realized I had one life, and I was selfish. Everything I was doing was for me—to be accepted, to be loved, to make people happy around me.”

Everyone except his wife and daughters.

The intervention of an even bigger God

The Holy Spirit soon helped him understand that God had never asked him to do a lot of the ministry tasks he was heavily involved in.

“One night, I was in the middle of my personal crisis, and I was thinking of taking my own life,” Velasquez shared. “I could not accept that I was a failure. Even though everyone could see I was a good pastor, I was empty inside.”

With his family out of town, he fell down on his knees and prayed. By God’s grace, he came to the realization that he was wrong, though he was full of fear to accept the truth and to have to explain to those that relied on him that he needed to start over. In those moments, Velasquez knew that his relationship with God had been focused on what he had been doing.

“My mother and father taught me to serve and fear [God],” he said, “but I never learned how to love him.”

In the deepest parts of his heart, Velasquez felt that the next step in a new relationship with God was to show his wife and daughters that they were more important than ministry. The only answer was to quit everything.

“When I did,” he recalled, “every single person who loved me, started hating me,” he said. “They would ask me questions about the church, and I would say, ‘I don’t know. But if it is from God, he will take care of it.’”

Velasquez could only be concerned about doing what was right before the Lord and for his family.

Learning to love 

One of the bright spots during those years was the incredible mercy his wife displayed. She showed Velasquez “the true face of the love of Jesus.” Through her care in particular, he learned how to love God.

After his crisis in 2013, an opportunity to come to the States and continue his studies opened up. He now lives in the Nashville area and is pastoring a small church while also serving at a supporting church in the area. His family is involved in helping their community and is trying to plant a new church in a nearby area. He’s also teaching at two Bible colleges and finishing his master’s degree. Everything he is doing, though, is now with the help of his wife and daughters.

And although his family has been blessed with a new start in the United States, Velasquez says he’s still healing.

“Even after [receiving] the mercy of my wife, daughters, and God, I wake up sometimes and still fight [on the] inside because I can’t believe how stupid I was,” he said.

His continued struggle is a constant reminder that he needs to guard his heart in ministry.

But the experience has made him feel closer to the Lord and his family. He’s been able to spend quality time with them, and now that his first daughter is off to college, he has come to the realization that all the things he left behind are not worthy of the time he gets with his wife and daughters.

Lessons from the loss

Velasquez has learned that these painful moments are what God often uses to mature us.

“I feel like a new person,” Velasquez said, “Without that experience, I [had] never felt the true love and mercy of God. . . . Now I know.”

He has several lessons to share with Christians, especially pastors, after what he has walked through.

“Ministry as we have been taught is not necessarily what God is calling you to do,” he said. “God never said we have to have big churches or make money. Whatever he is calling you to do, make sure you are in the center of the will of God.”

Furthermore, regardless of where or how we serve, Velasquez said, “There are no small people in ministry. Every single person who is serving is big in the eyes of God. Never let the devil try to convince you [that you] are small.”

He also encourages young men in ministry to allow a senior pastor or friend to be involved in their lives.

“You need to be reporting to someone with more experience,” he admonished.

And, perhaps the hardest learned lesson of all is that, “Your first ministry is family,” Velasquez said.

His time leading a church in Venezuela taught him that sometimes the church wants to be the “wife” of the pastor.

“The church is the wife of Jesus, not mine. . . . Now, before I have to decide what to do, I realize that God will take care of the church.”

At the same time, he calls for responsibility in caring for the church, while facing your limits.

“I am not Jesus or the Holy Ghost,” he said, “I am just a human trying to serve him, and I have limitations. I know what they are, and I can live with that.”

Conclusion

Velasquez has learned the true meaning of the passage his dad so winsomely acted out when he was just a boy. He has now come to love and treasure the God he grew up primarily fearing and serving.

As a result, after all he’s seen and been through, he doesn’t look back with longing.

“I don’t miss the big things I did in the past. I learned a lot of good things, but I wouldn’t change being close to God and to my family. I have things in the correct order now.”

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the Managing Editor of Content. She oversees the day-to-day management of our online content from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have... Read More