An empty church with pews and a cross at River Oaks Baptist School

Meet Senior Pastor Dr. Steve Laufer

Dr Steve Laufer as its new Senior Pastor at River Oaks Baptist School

In May 2022,River Oaks Baptist Church installed Dr. Steve Laufer as its new Senior Pastor. An ordained Baptist minister for almost two decades, Steve has dedicated his professional life to preaching and teaching the gospel around the world

Steve brings a wealth of Biblical and theological scholarship to the Church. He received a B.A. in Applied Ministry from Oklahoma Baptist University, followed by a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After pastoring churches in the Rio Grande Valley and Mississippi, he returned to graduate school with fresh questions, obtaining a Master of Theology and a Ph.D. in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Steve also holds an M.B.A. from the University of Houston Clear Lake.

Steve recently talked about why he became a pastor, the journey that brought him to River Oaks Baptist Church, and some reflections about the ROB community.

What drew you to the ministry?

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, where church was an important part of my life. I planned on becoming a doctor, but I didn’t love my pre-med classes in college. My enjoyment came from helping people. Thinking about the various aspects of the human condition—physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual—the spiritual dimension is often the most neglected. Spirituality can help people who are struggling with hard things like loneliness or poverty or lack of direction. That’s what nudged me towards Christian ministry. There are other ways for people to pursue the divine, but what God did in the person of Jesus is unique.

Tell us about your professional background

I’ve been employed by churches almost continually since I was 19. I started working as a youth pastor nine months out of college. My first full-time church was in Harlingen, Texas. Then I was called to be senior pastor at a church in rural Mississippi. After finishing graduate studies, I returned to Texas to pastor a church near NASA for ten years. Along the way, I have taught and spoken at graduate and missionary schools around the world, in Honduras, South Africa, Thailand, Russia, Colombia, Mexico….I am also currently working with a partnership between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a Christian non-profit organization that provides theological education and ministry training for inmates at the Memorial Unit in Rosharon, Texas. I greatly value the diverse range of Christian environments in which I’ve been involved, and I appreciate how the ROB campus mirrors facets of that diversity.

So, I would say the two threads that run throughout my career are the church and education. Knowing the Bible well—understanding its languages, history, and cultures—provides tools that can help all of us practice our faith today as best we can. My goal is to make the faith of the Bible understandable and applicable for the ROB community and beyond.

What brought you to ROBC?

After Pastor Martus Miley retired a few years ago, ROBC went through a pastor search process, and identified a candidate for this position. A number of factors led to that connection not being realized, and the repercussions of its dissolution were quite painful for the Church as a whole. It also sent the Church back to square one on its pastor search. Someone from the Church contacted me in the summer of 2021askingif I would preach one Sunday. I had recently left my previous church, my marriage had ended, and I was wounded, too. That’s how my relationship with ROBC began. I preached a few more times and eventually was offered the position of interim pastor. The interim role allowed us to get to know each other over several months, in a low-pressure way, before the Church offered me the permanent role. It feltlike a divine meeting. I think our relationship has been redemptive for both the Church and for me, and I feel very blessed to be here.

Other churches and denominations have been torn apart by hot-button social issues. What is your vision for ROBC, and what role can you play in that vision?

My hope is for ROBC to be the healthiest possible version of itself. Our Church is comprised of thoughtful, educated people with varied political and ecumenical views. I think it’s important for a pastoral leader to minimize the political voice within the church. A church is better when the pastor represents the entire congregation, so my goal is to be as apolitical as possible. There’s tremendous value in reminding everyone of the things we have in common. Ultimately, what we share as Christians is far more important than any political or theological issue we disagree about.

All religions have extremists who use religion as a power play. The way to keep Christianity from being commandeered for extreme purposes is to know the Bible well. When people have intense and opposite feelings about an issue, I believe my role is to act as a mediator and a peacemaker. I encourage people to give a gracious ear to those with differing views. We can disagree, even biblically at times, and act respectfully towards each other at the same time. While ROBC will never be all things to all people, I hope we can be as many things to as many people as possible.

How would you describe ROBC to a ROBS family?

Baptist churches have certain things in common. We govern ourselves, meaning the members make the decisions on matters large and small(including who is called as the pastor).We believe in symbolic sacraments like baptism and communion. The Bible plays an important role in our faith: we believe it is divinely inspired, written by men, and offers us the best way to know who God is. Perhaps what ROBC is not is just as important as what it is. We don’t fit the “no dancing, no drinking” Baptist stereo type, nor do all our members vote for the same political party.

I think of ROBC as a “boutique” church. Although megachurches have more resources, our small size means every member has personal access to our pastors and other church leaders, and our members know each other. Over the last year, attendance on Sundays has grown from 30–40people to120–140people.Some new attendees are ROBS employees and School families. Others are longtime members who decided to return after waiting to see what would happen after the many challenges presented by the COVID pandemic and the leadership transition. To any ROBS family who may be looking for a church home, I hope you’ll come visit. ROBC welcomes you.

What do you see as opportunities for further spiritual growth within the ROB community?

The Church and School are blessed with members who are extremely accomplished—in law, medicine, finance, oil and gas, real estate, and many other fields. I’d like to see us growing faith-filled Christians who want to be both leaders in the Houston community and servants for the Kingdom of God. One new ministry is an evening worship service in the School’s Blue Box Theater on the third Wednesday of the month during the school year. Our Youth Pastor Christian Johns is helping with boys’ sports teams at the School, including football, basketball, and lacrosse. I’ve been asked about the possibility of starting a Spanish-language service at the Church. I hope new mission opportunities arise from the relationships between Church members, School families, and the broader Houston community. I’m letting God lead and praying for Him to open doors.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I have two sons: Noah,who’s20, and Sam,who’s18.I love music; I even owned a vinyl record store for a few years. My interests include sports, pop culture, food and drinks, and travel. I play beach volleyball and tennis (my Dad was a tennis coach),fly fish, watch Netflix, love the theater, enjoy country dancing, and read continuously. The books in my current reading stack include And There Was Light, Jon Meacham’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, Keith Richards’s autobiography Life, and a variety of books on the Book of Revelation in preparation for our fall series at ROBC. I generally try to squeeze as much out of life as possible.

A group of people standing around a Christmas tree at River Oaks Baptist School

The Church/School Relationship

River Oaks Baptist School is a mission of River Oaks Baptist Church. The Church founded the School in 1955 to educate the young children of its members. Over the years, the School has grown in size and stature through the support, generosity, and prayers of Church members and School parents, past parents, and alumni. Church members hold a majority of the seats on the School’s Board of Trustees, and the Senior Pastor of the Church holds an ex-officio position on the Board. The role of the Senior Pastor, according to School Bylaws, is to provide spiritual guidance to the School and to interview and approve the School’s Bible teachers. Since its inception, ROBS’ Christian identity has been and remains a cornerstone of its mission and academic philosophy.

This article was featured in the River Oaks Baptist School Summer 2023 Vine & Branch issue. Get to know the Senior Pastor of River Oaks Baptist Church, Dr. Steve Laufer, and the spiritual relationship between the Church and the School in an interview conducted in the Spring of 2023.

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