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Bivocational pastors ‘not alone,’ Page says

HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP) — “Bivocational pastors are my heroes” said Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, as he addressed the annual session of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network, May 13-14, at Hannibal-LaGrange University.

“You are not alone,” Page told the 55 pastors and wives gathered at the auditorium of the university in Hannibal, Mo., repeating a message he often shares as he speaks around the nation.

But one day a bivocational pastor wrote Page a letter disputing that statement.

“I am alone,” the pastor wrote. He went on to describe his bleak ministry situation and said, “I doubt you will even read this letter because you probably have a secretary to read your mail.”

The pastor even pointed out that he was penning the letter by hand because he didn’t have a secretary or a computer. He closed with his phone number but said he didn’t expect a return call.

Page said he picked up the phone and called the surprised pastor to encourage him and let him know he was not alone. He listened to his hurts and arranged for the pastor’s state convention executive director and association director of missions to also reach out to the pastor.

“In bivocational ministry you will walk through valleys,” Page said. “There will be times when God will wrap his loving arms around you, and He will give you rest.”

In I Samuel 3, God called the young prophet Samuel and He called him by his name, Page said. “God calls and He knows your name,” he noted “Learn to rest in that call.”

Cliff Woodman, the conference coordinator, said the concept of the bivocational pastor being lonely and hurting is a common image.

“The term ‘bivocational’ is no longer a stigma,” he said. “We used to think that, if a man couldn’t afford to live on the salary of his ministry, he would have to get another job. Today there is more respect for the bivocational pastor. Men are intentionally going into bivocational ministry. Full-time ministry is not better than ‘bivo.’ There is no ‘move up.'”

Many “bivos,” he said, are highly educated, and they intend to serve a church and have another job most of their lives. Woodman is a pastor in Carlinville, Ill., and he serves as president of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network.

Ray Gilder, national coordinator of the BSCLN agreed the term “bivocational pastor” has been a “chokehold” for many. “Most people are no longer adverse to the term.”

With church attendances declining in many places, it is the only reality for some congregations running 75 or less.

Gary Mathes, pastoral ministry specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, said he estimates 50 to 60 percent of Missouri Baptist congregations call a bivocational pastor. Mathes noted some rural associations may run as high as 70 to 80 percent.

Breakout sessions for the pastors and their wives rounded out the conference with session topics ranging from evangelism, finishing well, Christian worldview and leadership development. There were also free books, audio-video and printed resources available.

Dan Wilford, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Milan, attended the conference. As a bivocational pastor, he said, he always thought he had an advantage in his 56 years of ministry. “It put me out where people were rather than just being with the church people all the time,” He noted. “There was a sense of security of income. I could walk away from a church if I needed to and still had income.” Wilford serves as a mental health professional in the Trenton area.

Micah Fries, vice president of LifeWay Research, challenged the pastors to create a culture of multiplication and disciple-making in their churches.

“We need to find a way to maximize leaders,” Fries said. “There are not enough dollars available to employ all professional ministers. The biblical plan is to multiply and mentor leaders where you are.”

The conference is held annually in different locations around the nation. For more information, check the network’s website at bscln.net.