SAN ANTONIO (BP)–When Bob Butler walked his family off the airplane in Vermont that February morning, white snow was on the ground and gray clouds in the sky. This was nothing unusual for Vermont, but quite different than weather in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.
Butler worked for an insurance company while also being involved in music ministry of his church. Influenced by the ministry of local pastors, Butler felt the Lord leading him into the Gospel ministry. Through a local contact, he heard of the need for pastors in New England and began checking into it.
The only thing that could pull the Butler family out of the Bible Belt and into the rural towns of picturesque New England was a strong belief that God was calling him to a local church that needed sacrificial love and strong commitment. He found such a church in Macedonia Baptist.
“The church was in a survival mode,” Butler said. “They were without a pastor for about two years, and there were only 11 people present on the day I came to visit. We definitely saw a big need.”
Butler took stock of the church’s spiritual condition. He wondered whether it would even be possible to build Macedonia back into a vibrant church. Through talking to men like Jim Wideman, then-director of missions for Vermont’s Green Mountain Baptist Association (and now executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England), Butler took the enormous financial step of faith. In 2000, at the age of 37, he began serving as the bivocational pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Plainfield, Vt.
Pastoring in New England can be lonely work compared to areas in the South, which is why Butler said he is grateful for the opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meetings.
The Pastors’ Conference gives him the opportunity to get his batteries recharged by listening to great preaching and fellowshipping with other pastors. He also served on this year’s Committee on Committees, a responsibility he enjoyed as part of the process of filling trustee slots on the SBC’s various entities.
At Macedonia Baptist, tight finances have been an obstacle since the beginning. “There was drastic change in our family finances when we moved from Tampa to New England. The price of land is ridiculously expensive in Vermont,” Butler said.
In the beginning, the primary means of supporting his family came by working at Wal-Mart where he served as manager of six different departments.
“The managers have bent over backwards for me since I came to the store,” Butler said. “There have been associates with family problems in need of on-the-spot counseling, and managers have cleared out of their office in order to have me talk to them. The manager even encouraged me by telling me to do more of that kind of thing, even on the clock.
“When 9-11 came along, we actually had a prayer meeting right there in the middle of the store. It is kind of like being a Wal-Mart chaplain,” Butler said. “I have conducted three weddings for associates, performed some funerals, shared the Gospel with co-workers and seen some new people come to the church as a result of their knowing me at work.”
He now serves as “Wal-Mart community coordinator,” a position in which he goes into the community to assist people and groups with the resources of Wal-Mart, giving him an incredible opportunity to meet people.
Back at the church, Butler has found evangelistic success by implementing some new ideas. For the past five years, the church has served a free community spaghetti dinner each week, drawing 200-plus people. For many, it has been the only hot meal they would eat that week. Because of this ministry, 50 people would stick around for the church’s mid-week service and 25 people eventually came to faith in Christ — “just by doing what Christ did — first, meeting the physical need and, then, the spiritual,” Butler said.
Butler knew the church would have to turn a corner when it came to finances. “I started preaching on stewardship, leading the people to the point of deciding whether they were going to step up to the plate and support the ministry of the church. Were we going to be a mission or were we going to be a church? They began to act upon his stewardship challenge.”
Butler knows that bivocational ministry simply means that a pastor must be willing to put in long hours doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Janitorial services, bulletin-folding, music, preaching, counseling are all parts of the job, alongside his duties for Wal-Mart.
While the community of Plainfield only has 1,200 people, Macedonia has grown from 11 members to 95. Some people drive from 35 miles away to attend the services.
Since the Butlers’ arrival in Vermont, they have seen 62 people come to Christ and follow in believer’s baptism. In 2006, LifeWay Christian Resources named him as the “outstanding smaller church pastor of the year” for states east of the Mississippi.