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Bivocational ministers ask NAMB for office to support their work

PICAYUNE, Miss. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association has voted to submit a proposal to the Southern Baptist Convention asking that the North American Mission Board fund an office of bivocational ministry.

The proposal, approved unanimously by more than 70 bivocational ministers at the organization’s May 5-6 meeting, has been delivered to NAMB’s board of trustees and the SBC Executive Committee, association leaders said.

The meeting was held in Mississippi at the Pearl River Baptist Association’s campground near Picayune.

The proposal, framed in resolution form, noted that “bivocationally-led existing churches baptize more new believers per 100 members than churches led by full-compensated pastors.”

The statistic, however, cannot be readily confirmed by current data, officials at NAMB and LifeWay Christian Resources, which oversees the SBC’s Annual Church Profile, subsequently told Baptist Press. Dale Holloway, bivocational consultant of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board staff, told BP the statistic appeared in three research reports by the former Home Mission Board (now NAMB), in 1983, 1991 and 1993.

The bivocational ministers’ resolution stated that NAMB “no longer supports a national bivocational missionary who provides assistance and encourages bivocational ministers and their churches, except in cases of new church plants.”

Holloway told the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector that NAMB has a staff person who does some work for bivocational ministers, but the staff person also has several other jobs.

Holloway, who formerly worked in bivocational ministry at the Home Mission Board, reported that NAMB had a bivocational ministry consultant for 21 years until 2003.

A statement issued by the North American Mission Board regarding the bivocational ministers’ proposal noted:

“The North American Mission Board strongly affirms the excellent work of bivocational ministers and their churches. The lostness of North America will not be penetrated significantly through seminary-educated, fully funded ministers alone. Both lay and bivocational leaders must engage the mission fields in ever-increasing numbers.

“However, NAMB’s primary ministry assignments are to assist SBC churches in doing effective evangelism and planting healthy new churches among all peoples and in all communities in North America. Therefore, NAMB’s responsibility and desire is to work with all of our churches, both bivocational and fully funded, to assist them in reaching the lost. Every SBC church regardless of size, location or type of leader can involve its members in reproduction both of new believers and new churches. It is to this end that NAMB’s passion and resources will be deployed.”

During their meeting, the bivocational ministers also heard a report on their numbers from Lloyd Elder of the Moench Center for Leadership Training at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Elder reported that about 70 percent of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have average Sunday School attendance of 92 or less, with Elder projecting that most of those churches are led by bivocational pastors.

Adolphus Cleveland of Lubbock, Texas, president of the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association, appealed to SBC leaders and church members in his address to help small churches “be the best they can be where they are.”

Cleveland also challenged “every association in the Southern Baptist Convention to help at least one pastor a year become mortgage-free.”

Some churches need to be “re-purposed,” he said, especially if survival is their goal. Some Anglo churches need to become black and some black churches need to become Hispanic churches, he suggested.

An African American, Cleveland referred to the racial and economic divisions in America and said divisions exist in the SBC. Bivocational ministers can help other ministers and churches see those gaps, he said, and build bridges to help cross them.

In conjunction with the meeting, the ministers and some members from their churches participated in mission projects to help other bivocational ministers who were victims of last fall’s Gulf Coast hurricanes, working at sites in both Louisiana and Mississippi May 1-4 or 8-12.

The association added the first-ever mission projects to this year’s national meeting which already had been slated for Picayune in the New Orleans area.

Ray Gilder of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, which provided funds for lodging while a Tennessee association sent 14 volunteers to provide meals, noted that the bivocational ministers’ involvement in the mission projects was a challenge because they had to arrange for time off from their other jobs. But if the ministers could make such arrangements, it would help them lead their church members to be involved as well, Gilder said.

Because the mission work, which had focused in large measure on renovation of damaged homes, was rewarding for the participants, the association began plans to develop a Bivo Builders group. Plans also were made for a mission project in conjunction with the April 26-28, 2007, association meeting in Denver.

Ed Murphy, pastor of Shoreline Park Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, Miss., was among the pastors assisted in the missions projects.

The congregation is constructing 6-by-8-foot storage sheds, or pods, for hurricane victims who are still living in FEMA trailers or other housing and need a place to store items. The church and volunteers have delivered 500 pods to area residents and plan to build 200 more if they receive enough funds.

“It’s quite a monumental task that we’re going through,” Murphy noted.

The church, located five miles from the ocean, was flooded to the ceiling of the sanctuary by about 28 feet of water. The first worship service held back in the church building after the storm was on Easter. The congregation earlier had met under a tree and then in a tent. The church only canceled one Sunday morning service.

Murphy’s home was not damaged, but he lost his maintenance job at Gulfshore Baptist Assembly in Pass Christian, Miss., which was too damaged by Hurricane Katrina to remain open. His wife also lost her office job there because the office building was destroyed.

Most of the church’s members lost their homes. Murphy and his wife hosted several church members for two months in their 1,000-square-foot home.

Murphy has led his church to respond to the needs by developing a small village on its grounds. He and volunteers have adapted storage buildings into air-conditioned dorms which can house 40 volunteers and an air-conditioned kitchen. They also built bathrooms with showers and erected a huge tent where volunteers meet and eat.

Murphy, who has served the church for seven years, noted, “If we don’t have people in the community, we won’t be able to reach anybody” on the Gulf Coast where 75 percent of residents are unchurched.

He asked for prayer as the “long hot summer” begins and for volunteers, who don’t need to bring tools because they already have been donated.

Another pastor at the meeting was Vernon Robinson of First Cornerstone Baptist Church in Picayune.

Robinson said the church building sustained only minor damage to the roof, which was repaired with an insurance settlement. The worst impact on his congregation, he said, was that over half of the members lost their jobs. Another third left the area to attend a college which moved its campus.

“We suffered quite a bit like that,” Robinson said.

He also had lost his job recently, not because of the hurricanes, but from a job-related accident at the automotive and construction painting company where he had worked 18 years. Unfortunately, his wife, Betty, had just quit her job to go back to college to prepare for opening a daycare in the church. The couple have several children, some at home and some at college.

“[God] is still blessing. We’re still surviving,” Robinson said. “God is providing in many different ways,” he added, referring to his family and his congregation. First Cornerstone members have moved “beyond the walls” of the church because they have seen the needs of others, the pastor said. Because of his personal troubles, “I know what they’re going through,” he added.

The future of the church is bright, he said. The city of Picayune has doubled since the hurricanes and in five years planners predict 400 new houses will be built near the church.

The only thing the church needs is a bus to conduct a bus ministry especially for children, Robinson said.
With reporting by Art Toalston.

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