Article By: Suzanne R. Holsomback
"We just love them," Kelli Barron-Agricola beams as she describes First Baptist Spring Branch in Houston, Texas. The people are open-minded, faithful, willing to think creatively, and overcome obstacles, especially about ministry. In 2004, the members of FBSB thought creatively about ministry and their vacant senior pastor position and called Kelli and Cory Agricola together as co-pastors.
Kelli and Cory met while attending George W. Truett Theological Seminary and started dating after taking a Greek class together. With jovial grins, they tell how they wanted to give Dr. Joel Weaver their wedding picture so he could show his students the multiple benefits of taking Greek. As the laughter quieted, they explain that this was nearing the end of both of their seminary careers and after they both had spent time refining their ministerial callings and directions. Kelli says, "The problem came up that I was called to be a minister and he was called to be a minister, so what do you do with that?" Cory agrees and says, "We really needed to know if our gifts and calls could merge. Could we work together? It was getting involved in Meadowbrook Baptist Church and doing things together at Meadowbrook, where the Lord showed us we were called to be together as a team."
Kelli says, "We began to pray about it and look for different things. It's not like there are other co-pastoring Baptist folks out there. It's not like we looked at them and thought, 'that would be a good solution for us.'" They explain that several other Christian traditions have co-pastors, but they either pastor two separate churches or there is a division between the two in pastoral and administrative responsibilities. Kelli says, "[W]e just wanted to share the senior pastorate. We felt like we would be a more complete pastor together than separately. So we said, 'Okay Lord, if that is what you want us to do, you have to bring a church that is willing to think outside of the box.' And He did. It shocked us that we got hired...we felt like that was our confirmation that we are on the right path, so that is what we are trying to do."
Cory says, "[A]t First Baptist Spring Branch, where we serve in Houston, it is tremendously difficult ministry...and without the Truett foundation, we would be totally unprepared. And without the foundation we have in each other, in this team approach we would be really ill equipped." Kelli goes on to say, "After having served as a team, we are big proponents of a team approach to ministry as a much healthier approach...because of the accountability, relief, the fact that you're bringing more than one personality into the situation, I think this is the best idea for our church." She especially supports mixed gender teams, explaining that in many biblical models, pairs went out into ministry, either married couples or sibling pairs. They both agree that the intimacy of co-pastoring ministry works best when there are close family ties between ministry partners.
Kelli and Cory explain that they share responsibilities for the pastorate almost completely half and half. They preach every other week and only vary when one has a sermon series. Cory adds, that "every other week, one of us has time to really study and rest." He also says that they are able to minister to families during difficult times in their own unique way because of their personalities and gender. "I don't relate to women the way Kelli does. Having her and having this team approach to it has really helped us."
Kelli says that they naturally gravitate toward areas that they are stronger in (Kelli administration and Cory pastoral ministry), but they encourage and "push each other to stay involved." They also use each other as sounding boards for ministry ideas. They say that finding agreements refines the ideas into what is best for the church. Kelli admits that "sometimes it is not an easy balance, sometimes it gets frustrating, but in the long run it helps us."
As a team, Kelli and Cory minister to members of FBSB and the surrounding neighborhood. They have maneuvered difficult waters and are walking with the church as they look into the future and formulate plans for their building, ministries, and community. The Agricolas say that they see their church as a tool of reconciliation in the world, truly being the hands and feet of Christ and growing into a multi-ethnic, Revelation 7:9 church where everyone gathers and worships God. They dream big, think outside of the box, and grow their visions with their church. As partners with each other and with their church, Kelli and Cory are following the call and will of God on their lives.
More information about First Baptist Spring Branch, click here.