Elder Candidate Profile – Mario Paniagua

Mario Paniagua was presented as a candidate to serve as Foothills Baptist Church 5th Lay Elder. Below you will find his Elder Candidate Profile.

Where do you work and for how long?

City of Phoenix, for the last 21 years.

How long have you been married? When is your anniversary?

On May 29, 2019, Kris and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage.

How many children do you have? Their ages?

Maya, 19; Adam, 17; Jacob, 15

Personal Testimony of Faith in Jesus

I gave my life to Christ at the age of 33, when my previously hard heart was overcome by God’s amazing grace and love. When I was three, I lost my father. A couple years later, my mom began a severe and long-lasting drug addiction that devastated our family. I did not know God, but I often cried to whoever I knew to be God to take away my mother’s addiction and drug dealing. Growing up was a hard road full of shame and pain.

When I was 14, my mom was sentenced to jail for several years. (Looking back, it is clear God protected me from the many dangers and influences that were all around me.) He gave me incredible grandparents who took care of me until I turned 18 when I joined the Air Force (AF). I did very well and promoted quickly. While in the AF, I also attended college and earned a Business Management degree. When I left the AF after seven years, I was hired by the City of Phoenix, which is where I met Kris, who at that time was also not a believer.

We got married and had three great kids and were doing well. I was successful in my career. Life was good, and in my naïve and prideful mind, I was making it all happen myself. I thought, all of my hard work, my self-discipline, my good judgment, my smarts, my grit all brought me out of that difficult life. I didn’t feel I needed God in my life. When the kids were still very young, Kris and I decided we wanted to expose our kids to more moral structure. Church sounded like a good idea, for their sake and not our own, and we went to Arizona Community Church in Tempe. But my heart was hard.

Satan used my arrogance and independent spirit to keep me blinded to the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Soon after, at a church women’s group, God reached my wife and she turned in faith to Christ, while I still had not. I continued to be skeptical of the pastor’s teachings. I felt I knew better. At one point, with a posture of pride, I decided to read through the Bible so I could come to church at least knowing what it said. I started in Genesis and kept going. Initially, so much of it didn’t make sense, which affirmed my skepticism at that time. But I kept reading. Midway through the book of Isaiah, I started to piece together the prophecies of Christ and who God was, along with the preaching I was hearing each week.

One day, I realized my heart had changed. It was gradual, so I didn’t notice it right away, but I came to see I was believing everything I read in His Word. And not only did I believe it was true, I realized I loved what I was reading! I couldn’t explain it, and I know it was purely a miracle of God. God had made His light shine in my heart to give me “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). I had been reborn (John 3:3) and have joyfully never looked back. By His grace, I love Jesus Christ and always will.

How do you practice personal worship?

Each day, the first thing I do is pray with my wife. Almost every day, before we do anything else, we read from the Psalms and pray together. We pray thanks and praise to God, for one another, for our family, for Foothills and for the people and issues in our lives. I also often pray during my commute to or from work and listen to audio versions of the Word or to teachings and messages from other pastors. Throughout my day I pray, as I depend on God as my source of wisdom, strength and ability. Most nights, before I go to sleep, I am in God’s Word, and listen to His voice through Scripture, meditating on its meaning and how I need to respond.

How long have you been a member at Foothills?

We have been attending and been members of Foothills since 2013. Prior to coming to Foothills, we were members of Arizona Community Church (ACC) in Tempe for about 7 years. It was through ACC that Kris and I were led to Christ.

How do you currently serve at Foothills?

For the last three years or so, I have led a Growth Group each week- I love digging deep into the Word, teaching and facilitating discussion to disciple and help members grow closer to God through a deeper understanding of Scripture.

I also serve on the Welcoming Committee. I enjoy meeting and getting to know my Foothills family. I often serve during service to assist with the offering collection and the Lord’s Supper.

At Foothills, I have:

  • led prayer during service and a prayer and “sermonette” at Family meeting,
  • served in Family Promise for homeless families,
  • delivered Angel Tree gifts and prayed with families,
  • filled in for weekend facilities maintenance/set up,
  • assisted with the new member class check-in,
  • and served as chaperone during youth camp.

For the last 5 years, along with other government officials, I have led a public prayer at the National Day of Prayer event at the Arizona State Capitol representing City government. In my workplace, I serve as the Executive Sponsor for the City of Phoenix Employees for Christ employee organization and regularly speak at their luncheons.

Previously while at ACC, I led a weekly growth group, taught adult Sunday school, helped lead the “Salt and Light” children’s ministry, assisted with VBS, and served as a mentor/disciple to other men.

1 Timothy 3:1 says, “…if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” What is the “noble task” of an elder, and why do you believe you are called to serve as a lay Elder at Foothills?

I was approached by other leaders at Foothills about serving as an elder, to work alongside other godly elders and help shepherd God’s flock. Since then, for more than year, I have been praying about this with my wife and others. After much prayer and consideration, I believe God is calling me and set me upon this path. Acts 20:28 stirs my heart deeply as it says to “…be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

When I read the description of the elder in 1 Timothy 3, I am drawn to the job. The calling to me is persistent and clear. As I examine myself, it does not come from my flesh, yet I still desire it. In my prayers, I feel God leading me to the role. In my contemplation, I consider my Spirit-empowered gifting and abilities to be well-suited for this role. In my conversations with other godly people I trust, I have been encouraged by their support. God has given me a love for deeper understanding of His Word in order to help others know Him more.

I believe I am qualified for the role and that God has been preparing me and will continue to enable me to serve Him in this way. I trust Him. I love Him. I love this Church and want to serve in the way God calls me to.

How do you lead your family spiritually?

I have led my family spiritually in many ways. I have discipled my family in the Word, reading and teaching through books and passages of the Bible. My wife and I pray and read the Word together almost every day, and she works alongside me to lead our family in their spiritual growth. With my boys, I went through “Living by the Book” by Howard and William Hendricks, so they could learn how to study the Bible better on their own.

I (off and on) set aside daily times of prayer for us. We have all served others together in many ways over the years. I disciple and teach them often on the importance of our character and living reflecting the faith we have in Christ and His holiness. I discuss with them essential doctrine to ensure strong understanding and equipping for the challenges they will face.

Who are two or three people you’re praying to know Jesus, and with whom have you most recently had a Gospel conversation?

Corey is someone who we have been praying for some time to know Christ. I have had Gospel conversations with him in the past. He is now serving outside the state. Last week, I prayerfully sent him a letter to encourage him and in which I outlined the Gospel once again.

John is a coworker and friend who I have been praying for years to turn to Christ. I have been meeting with John for months to support him in recent difficult events in his life. As part of that, we have reading the Bible together, praying, and discussing the Gospel. I am praying for him to find and begin attending a solid church near him.

Sarah is a member of my family and for whom I’ve been praying for the whole time I’ve been a Christian. I have had Gospel conversations with her several times, which are not easy conversations, but I continue to show her the love and power of God as much as possible.