In 2022, after many years of faithful service as the EFCA Texas-Oklahoma district superintendent, Dr. Bob Rowley passed the baton to EFCA pastor Dr. Brent Burckart. Before stepping into the district superintendent position, Dr. Burckart planted Cornerstone Community Bible Church in Rosenberg, Texas, where he pastored for twenty-one years.
Dr. Burckart has now served as the TX-OK district superintendent for a year. To see how he was feeling in the role, we spoke with him about his story, his passion for ministry and the district’s vision for their region.
What led you to serve in ministry?
Well, my parents were in ministry. So it wasn't an unfamiliar path for me. Before I was born, they were church planters in New Jersey; they planted five churches in seven years. And when I was born, my dad was a pastor in Michigan. Shortly after, my mom and dad helped start a small Christian college in Wisconsin. They were founding faculty members.
When I was in high school, I had a few small opportunities to do some teaching, and even a little bit of preaching, and I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed it. And furthermore, people seemed to affirm that I had some gifting in that area. The call to ministry for me wasn't a lightning bolt experience. It was just a matter of figuring out where God had gifted me and where my desires were. And so based on that, I went to Bible college and then to seminary [at Dallas Theological Seminary] and then in the ministry [in Texas].
The call to ministry for me wasn't a lightning bolt experience. It was just a matter of figuring out where God had gifted me and where my desires were.
How did you get connected with the EFCA?
I always had a heart for church planting; I grew up hearing stories about my parents’ church planting experiences and always thought that it’d be a neat opportunity to go to a growing area that needed new churches. So, I called Dallas Theological Seminary and said, “Hey, I'm thinking about planting a church. Who should we be talking to?” They put me in touch with Bob Rowley, who at that time was the church planting director for the district. And then shortly after he became the district superintendent. But I had a call with Bob. And there was an interesting twist on that call.
He talked about church planting and how it worked with the Free Church. At the end of that conversation, he said, “Do you want to plant one church and stay there and grow with it? Or would you like to plant multiple churches?”
I said, “Well, you know, my dad planted multiple churches over time, but I'd really rather not do it that way. I think I would prefer to plant a church and just grow with it over time.” And he said, “Oh, your dad was a church planter. Who did he plant with?” And I said, “Well, he was with the Conservative Baptist Association.” He said, “No kidding. I was with CBA. Where did he plant?” I said, “Well, they planted in the state of New Jersey.” “No kidding,” he said, “I'm from New Jersey.”
Come to find out, Bob had been saved, discipled and married in one of the churches my dad had planted 40 years earlier.
Come to find out, Bob had been saved, discipled and married in one of the churches my dad had planted 40 years earlier. And then what was cool, too, is Bob went back to his home church in New Jersey and said, “Hey, remember Pastor Burckart? He founded this church.” And there were still a few old timers that remembered that. And he said, “Well, his son is planting a church, and you need to support him.” So one of the churches my dad planted ended up supporting our church financially. The long-term legacy of church planting came full circle.
So that was what caused us to affiliate with the EFCA. The Free Church had experience and systems and structures in place to help church planters.
What was it like when you planted your first church?
Any church planter will tell you it's both exciting and terrifying. We went public Easter Sunday of April 2001. We met in a movie theater, which today is not all that uncommon, but back in that day, it was pretty novel. We launched with well over 100 people. And then, of course, you dip and ebb and flow, but our growth was slow and steady growth, healthy growth.
We began aggressively saving over the years for a future home and the Lord ended up giving us 21 acres of an old golf course that we bought and developed into a church campus. We started with one service in English and then two services in English, then we added a Spanish service.
What did church planting teach you about ministry?
I think the big thing is God is faithful. And His timing is always right. As a church planter, you always want things to happen faster than they do. But in retrospect, you can see where His timing is perfect. And sometimes He was protecting you from yourself, and from some things along the way. And we just saw that over and over again.
I think the big thing is God is faithful. And His timing is always right. As a church planter, you always want things to happen faster than they do. But in retrospect, you can see where His timing is perfect.
How do you feel God has prepared you for leading as the TX-OK district superintendent?
I never envisioned doing this. I love being a pastor and envisioned doing that till retirement. But the Lord, in many ways, clearly led us. And I'm grateful. As I look back, I can see how every experience is serving me well now. Because in our district, we’ve got churches of all different sizes and in all different stages, and I’ve been through all of those personally—from planting a church and renting facilities to buying land and building buildings; from starting as a solo pastor to building healthy leadership teams and hiring and managing multiple staff; from having one worship service to having multiple services in different languages. And with each new challenge and each new stage of growth, I had to learn a different set of leadership skills. So I don't feel like some sort of church expert, but when guys come to me and ask me questions, I've been there, and I can speak to that out of experience.
Tell me a little bit about your district.
We've got about 75 congregations of all shapes and sizes and languages. We've got a growing number of second-language services, especially in Spanish. There’s a lot of diversity, especially in Texas. Houston is now the most diverse major city in the nation. Hispanics have now passed Anglos as the majority ethnic group in Texas. Texas economically has done very well. So there's a lot of growth, a lot of people moving into the area. It creates a lot of opportunities for cross-cultural ministry, second language services and church planting. Those are some of the things that we're excited about pursuing in our district.
What is the district's primary areas of focus?
It comes down to the basics. We start and strengthen churches by equipping and mobilizing church leaders for local and regional gospel impact. That first phrase is a result of Acts 16:5 that says that the churches were being strengthened and increasing in number daily. That is what we want to see happen. We want to see our churches strengthened in the faith, and we want to see them increasing in number. Starting and strengthening churches is what we're about.
We want to see our churches strengthened in the faith, and we want to see them increasing in number. Starting and strengthening churches is what we're about.
We do it particularly through church leaders; that's our focus. They're on the front lines and we’re on the supply lines. That's where we invest our time because healthy leaders make for healthy churches.
What do you think are the greatest challenges for churches in your district and how are you helping to overcome them?
We're such a large district that connecting churches and helping them engage with each other across such a wide region is a challenge. And one of the ways that we're addressing that is by creating cohorts.
We have virtual cohorts that enable church leaders in similar areas of ministry to gather together online several times a year to encourage each other and swap ideas. We also have several regional cohorts that allow pastors from similar geographic regions to gather together in person several times a year for equipping, encouragement and prayer. As our district grows, to facilitate more meaningful engagement, I think we’ll need to regionalize even more. Over time, I envision that I’ll need to replicate myself through regional directors who can provide more effective local support for our churches.
The other challenge that every church and every district is facing right now relates to the unique cultural moment that we find ourselves in. Culturally speaking, the ground beneath us is shifting very quickly. Think about all the changes and challenges of the last few years—the racial and political tensions, the shifting views on gender and sexuality, not to mention the pandemic which, in many ways, only served to exacerbate and accelerate everything.
Our churches are facing a variety of difficult issues right now, and no single church leader can be an expert in every area. So one of the roles that I see our district playing is in creating and compiling good resources that can equip our church leaders to think biblically and strategically about current cultural issues so that we can more effectively minister the gospel in these challenging and changing times.
How can the EFCA pray for the district?
It may sound really simple but pray that we would be faithful. We've been given this little kingdom assignment called Texas-Oklahoma. Pray that we would be faithful in multiplying disciples, multiplying leaders and multiplying churches, and that God would raise up godly leaders and godly churches.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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