How This Pastor Used his Dissertation Research to Transform His Church

by Kelsey Madas ('15)

May 14, 2019


Steve Pinto (’19), the associate and teaching pastor at Faro Church based in Lake Forest, California, cares deeply about the church. He has a special affection for the Latino church and the unique needs and challenges they present as a congregation. A bilingual Latino himself – he and his family immigrated from Bogota, Colombia to the United States in 1987 when Steve was just nine years old – he has firsthand experience just how difficult it can be to assimilate to a new culture.

Today, Steve, in addition to his responsibilities as a husband, father, and adjunct professor and a pastor, is also a student in our doctoral program. He’s studying in the doctor of ministry program with a concentration in formational leadership and has been using his research to address challenges in his own ministry pastoring a bilingual church. So why did he decide to add doctoral studies to his work load? “As a response to God’s call,” said Steve. “I’ve never viewed education as a career planning strategy but as a response to God’s call and leading. God can use many things to equip us for ministry. Our gifts, talents, abilities, and even our hurts and pains. And he can use education.” And God has certainly been doing just that.

Given Steve’s background and unique position in ministry with Faro Church, ministering in a multicultural church comprised of first, second and some third generation Latinos, has lead led him to a deep study of how the church can better serve them. “Faro Church reflects a unique Latino demographic and is one of a handful of Latino churches in Orange County, California that provides weekly services that are given entirely bilingual interchangeably between Spanish and English,” he explained. “While the bilingual church model has provided opportunities for retention of some of its first and second-generation Latino congregants, it has also become a hindrance in the retention of some second and third generation Latinos who tend to lose the Spanish language and intermarry with other ethnicities.” Steve, deeply embroiled in his doctoral studies at this point, noticed that this format was becoming a barrier to the non-Spanish speaking Latinos congregants, and used it as an opportunity to make a change “At the beginning of 2019 as part of my ongoing dissertation research, our church launched a monolingual English service,” he said. “While it’s only been running for a few months, the response from the congregation has been positive,” said Steve. “We’re beginning to see new Latino faces in our English service every Sunday – Latinos who don’t speak Spanish but who have an appreciation and sense of the Latino culture. Our service is in English but it definitely has a Spanish flavor!”

Steve has used the church he helped to plant with his brother and senior pastor Joshua in 2002 as a central part of his research, which allows him to apply what he’s learning in the classroom directly into his ministry in real-time. “My doctoral dissertation examines the recruitment and retention of second and third-plus generation Latinos in immigrant churches in America,” he explained. “In my research, I developed an integrated design and analysis environment for this methodology in which first generational Latino churches can retain and recruit an emerging generation of Latinos by recognizing changing demographic and sociological factors.”

Steve says that he thinks it’s important for church leaders to pursue higher education as a part of their calling as believers. “I believe that a college education is crucial because it has the potential to prepares us for a more effective ministry,” he explained. “One of the primary Christian challenges of the 21st century is a battle of reason. We need educated Christians leaders equipped to combat the rise of skeptics and secularism in our communities.” He also noted just how much he’s learned from the program. “Some of the most impactful things I’ve learned from the program are character building and the emotional intelligence of a leader should be one of their primal tasks,” he said. “People look to the leaders, not only for what they say but more often for emotional cues and responses. Healthy leaders find effective ways to understand and improve the way they handle their own and other people’s emotions. In a world that lacks godly exemplars, God calls church leaders to be examples of emotional health and intelligence.” He continued on, saying, “I have learned to prioritize a healthy, sustainable ministry that lasts through an emphasis on spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, and maintaining a balance between marriage and family, and leadership and management. This is how I prioritize my roles: I’m first and foremost a disciple of Jesus Christ, second, I am a husband to my wife, third, I am a father to my children, fourth, I am a pastor to my church, and fifth, I am a teacher to my students.” He went on to explain that he makes decisions about ministry opportunities that come his way by ensuring that he prioritizes self-care, knowing that it will lead to better, more Christ-like leadership.

In fact, Steve said that he’s learned how self-care – or the lack of it – can define a leader and a church, for better or worse, it’s something he’s taken to heart. “It’s not easy to do ministry in our media-saturated, fast-paced, success-driven culture,” he said solemnly. “At Capital Seminary & Graduate School, I have developed a deeper understanding and level of soul care for the church, and church leaders, in the digital age. The health of our churches is directly related to the health of our church leaders. I have learned how to engage the responsibilities of ministry while adequately caring for others by not losing sight of my spiritual health.”

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