Area Representatives are the boots on the ground for Texas Baptists. They spend the majority of their time on the road, driving to various churches in their regions and responding to needs each day. Last year alone, the nine representatives made approximately 9,500 contacts with church leaders across Texas. So, when the pandemic hit, they had to make adjustments to continue supporting their churches.
Reflecting on the past year, Tim Watson, Area Representatives director and Area 7 Representative, explained that there was a big learning curve for everyone, including the Area Representatives, as churches switched to online services and giving due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were limited in what we could do because we usually do face-to-face interactions, so we had to take precautions and make a lot more calls, in order to help them get set up with virtual services,” Watson said. “We had to get out of our comfort zones.”
Offering support to pastors burdened with decisions about mask policies, in-person services and other pandemic-related decisions became an important part of their ministry. There was no protocol for a situation like the pandemic, and pastors often found themselves stuck in the middle as groups argued over what the right thing to do was.
“If there has ever been a time the Area Representatives have needed to be a pastor to the pastor, it was this year,” Watson said.
Providing Sabbath for pastors
For many Area Representatives, helping pastors facing burnout is a crucial part of the job. To combat burnout, many of them have compiled a “pulpit supply list” of local preachers and speakers who can preach for a Sunday to give the pastor a break from preparing sermons.
Area 3 Representative Joe Aguilar served on staff at First Baptist Church of Weslaco for 13 years, so he understands the needs many pastors are facing. He explained that many pastors are preaching not only a Sunday morning sermon, but also teaching a Sunday school class, sharing a Wednesday night message and handling all of the other things going on in the church body. Giving them a break on Sunday mornings allows them to emphasize priorities other than preaching, such as administration, bereavement or visiting with church members.
He also emphasized the importance of the Sabbath, a God-mandated day of rest that pastors need to observe. He tells pastors that if they allow themselves to be too worn out, they will be like a dull ax chopping down a tree. By temporarily stopping to sharpen the ax, they will be able to do more and do it more efficiently.
“If you’re not recharging and resting with God, eventually you won’t be of any use to anyone,” he reminds pastors.
Pulpit supply lists are aimed at giving pastors the opportunity to sharpen themselves so that they can better serve their congregations.
Encouraging churches in transition
Another important role Area Representatives play is in aiding churches going through the new pastor selection process. Kris Knippa, the representative for Area 1, explained that for many churches, the process can be overwhelming.
“It’s a very complicated process that doesn’t really have a guidebook,” he said.
For pastor search committees, there can be a lot of pressure and anxiety as they make the monumental decision of who will lead their church. Furthermore, if the former pastor was there for a long time, the church may not have a procedure for handling the situation. Knippa and the other Area Representatives offer support, encouragement and resources to churches as they go through the process. This can include coaching them through the interview process, ensuring candidates go through the proper background check and helping them navigate benefit packages.
“The loss of a beloved pastor can be very hard on a church, and having an encourager and a helper can mean so much to them,” Knippa explained. “So that’s one way we can really be valuable to them.”
Celebrating God’s work in the local church
“One of the most rewarding parts of being an Area Representative is celebrating milestones with churches,” David Vela, Area 2 Representative, shared. “Seeing how a church has persevered for many years and reflecting on how they have made an impact on their community is a special experience to share with the congregation.”
In March, Vela was able to attend the 138th-anniversary celebration for New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Colorado City.
“It was a special time to see how this small town church prevailed and continued to meet the needs of their community,” Vela said.
During the celebration, Pastor Quincy Randall preached on Galatians 5:7, and a man in the community came to know the Lord during the celebration. Vela celebrated alongside them and presented them with a letter of congratulations from Texas Baptists.
For Vela, being there to encourage and support churches is what being a Texas Baptists Area Representative is all about.
“We’re running the same race and we’re here for each other,” he said. “When you’re there to really serve people, they can see it, and it makes a difference.”
To learn more about Area Representatives and how they can serve your church, go to txb.org/areareps.