How one pastor learned to love God and his family

March 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.”


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 editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24