Thriving Concilio Church Cultivates Culture of Prayer, Discipleship
By Carl Stagner
Sam Walton may have put the town on the map, but there’s another name deserving recognition in Bentonville, Arkansas. Leo Chavarria has served as pastor of Iglesia de Dios Exquisita Presencia since the summer of 2014, and has since led the Hispanic work to incredible growth and reach. Cultivating a congregational culture of prayer and discipleship, he’s watched as the Lord has added to the church those who are being saved and sanctified. A product of intentional leadership development himself, Leo pays it forward through intentional strategy designed to make disciples who make disciples. While training up-and-coming pastors to embrace their God-given journeys inevitably means letting go of qualified leaders, the resulting kingdom expansion makes the investment a deal anyone can afford.
In July 2014, Leo Chavarria and his wife Fanny arrived in Bentonville, Arkansas, to take the reins of a small bilingual ministry. Like multiple ministers of the Hispanic Council (Concilio Hispano) of the Church of God, Leo’s calling was realized and his skills were honed under the leadership of Pastor Jorge Palacios and Iglesia de Dios Shalom. For more than a decade, Leo called the Bensalem, Pennsylvania, church home.
Home today, for the Chavarria family, is over a thousand miles away, surrounded by a culture of visible (and audible) contrasts. Though the sights and sounds might be dramatically different than what they were once used to, the mission remains the same—to go and make disciples. Commitment to raising up the next generation of spiritual shepherds is, in his mind, a recipe for revival. For Pastor Leo, that includes empowering others to lead. After all, the flock doesn’t belong to this “under-shepherd,” but to the Good Shepherd.
“I understand my call clearly,” Leo explains. “[That is to] be a leader who is making new disciples for Christ. The church is not mine. The Lord is the owner.”
Against the backdrop of a disturbing trend of seemingly more and more churches declining and closing, Iglesia de Dios Exquisita Presencia presents an especially positive picture. The congregation has grown remarkably quickly in recent years, while maintaining and increasing spiritual and functional health.
“One of the biggest reasons for our church growing,” Leo surmises, “is prayer.” He explains, “We believe in the power of prayer. And the second reason is discipleship. Seventy-five percent of our congregation is involved in our weekly classes!”
That’s a uniquely encouraging statistic. But not everything’s perfect for the Chavarrias and the congregation. Some hurdles, however, reflect the growth the church is experiencing. “My biggest challenge right now is the ministry needing its own place to do services,” Leo explains. “We are using a United Methodist Church location for all services.”
When asked what he’s most thankful for today in ministry, he responds concerning his work environment. “My biggest blessing in ministry right now is to be working with my wife and having a great leadership team.” He describes the dynamics with his team as having “the same vision and mission.”
Stock in discount superstores may be reliable, but Leo Chavarria’s reaping the greater benefits of kingdom investment, always. Save souls. Live better. Live eternally.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org. Learn more about the Hispanic Council (Concilio Hispano) of the Church of God (in Spanish) at www.conciliochog.org. Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 through October 15.
Feature (top) collage: Leo and Fanny Chavarria (left), special worship service at the church (right).