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Welch: Bivocational pastors crucial to evangelizing America

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Since almost half our Southern Baptist churches are led by bivocational pastors, I believe it’s high time we recognize them and honor them,” SBC President Bobby Welch told the East Tennessee Bivocational Evangelism Conference.

Welch, who was among the featured speakers during March 11-12 gathering, noted that a bivocational pastor will preach during the June 21-22 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville.

“[If] we are going to evangelize America,” Welch said, “it will not be without the crucial efforts of all our bivocational pastors.”

Welch currently is in the midst of numerous speaking engagements in Tennessee and neighboring states to promote the “Everyone Can!” evangelistic thrust to be launched during the SBC meeting to reach 1 million baptisms by the time of the 2006 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

Also afoot for June: a push to involve 10,000 volunteers in the Crossover evangelistic efforts held each year in conjunction with the annual meeting.

The bivocational evangelism conference, held at Knoxville’s Grace Baptist Church, was sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and organized by bivocational pastor Ray Gilder, who also serves as bivocational ministries specialist for the state convention.

The weekend conference offered a variety of breakout sessions on topics such as “Getting Your Church to Pray,” “Keeping New Converts in the Flock” and “Leading Your Church to be Evangelistic.”

Some bivocational pastors “get a ‘Lone Ranger’ mentality, but they need the fellowship, they need encouragement, and they need to be around their peers,” Gilder told Baptist Press.

Many of those attending the conference gave up a day off from work.

“These guys don’t come to our seminars and conferences just to coast. They come to get,” Gilder said. “They’ve made an investment of time to be here, and they’ll take what they learn and put it in practice in their pastorates.”

Time management is the number one issue for bivocational pastors, Gilder said, noting, “We juggle job, church and family.” In some cases, it’s “sad to say that the family gets the short end of the stick,” said Gilder, pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Tenn.

The bivocational pastor’s tendency is to be so eager to do a good job with the church that he will neglect his wife and children. “But probably the best message they’ll ever preach is their family and their home,” Gilder said. “So, I go heavy on telling our men to put their families before the church. Some Baptists think that’s unspiritual, but I believe the only person that comes before family is God.”

Gilder said he divides his waking hours evenly among home, church and job, spending about 30 hours at each per week.

“You might come to my house on Tuesday afternoon and see me working in the garden with my wife,” he said. “But that’s the way bivocational work goes. We have to juggle everything in order to get anything done.”

A bivocational pastor spending time with his wife is vitally important, Gilder said, explaining, “She needs fellowship, and she needs to know the feelings she may be having are pretty common –- resentment, bitterness, frustration and questions like, ‘Is this what God really wants us to do?’”

Retreats sponsored by the state convention help address these and other issues, said Gilder, who noted their growing popularity, saying he’s looking now for a larger facility for next year.

So many couples in ministry need some fresh wind; they need to be encouraged, refreshed and challenged, he said, calling the retreat sponsored by the TBC “one of the best investments a church can make.”

Though bivocational pastors face struggles, they do have many advantages. “Some fulltime pastors relate little to their local culture, but bi-vo pastors have intimate knowledge of what everyday people face every day,” Gilder said. “They get to relate to the real world and have more opportunities for evangelism.”

Bivocational pastors have a better financial base with two incomes, which helps to give the pastor job security, Gilder said.

“Of necessity, the laypeople have to get involved in ministry,” Gilder continued, “because the bi-vo pastor cannot do it all, and the members accept that fact. So, I encourage churches with bi-vo pastors to develop ministry teams. The teams do the bulk of the work, and just plug the pastor in where he can be the most effective.”

Gilder lamented that, “Too many church are killing their preachers. We expect them to be Superman. But the Scriptures teach that the pastor is to equip the members to do the work of the ministry.”

Gilder added, “A lot of people think a bi-vo pastor is a guy who can’t get a fulltime church or has some sort of chaplain-type ministry. But the truth is some of the greatest preachers out there are bivocational.

One of the keys to successful bivocational ministry is to be sure it’s God’s will, he said. “There is no big assignment or small assignment in God’s Kingdom. If you are where God put you, there is no move up.”

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller