SBC Life Articles

Tusculum Hills to House Bivocational/ Small Church Center


BSCLN annual celebration

Charles Billingsley leads worship during the Friday night banquet of the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN) annual celebration on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, just prior to Johnny Hunt’s message of encouragement. Pastors and wives from twenty-two states participated in this year’s celebration. Keynote speakers included Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia, and former SBC president; Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg; and Cliff Woodman, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, Illinois, and current BSCLN president. The celebration took place on June 26–28 and included twenty-four breakout sessions on topics designed for bivocational and small church pastors. Photo by Gary Mitchell.

Noting that 80 percent of Southern Baptist churches have less than 125 in weekly Sunday school attendance, Ray Gilder, national coordinator of the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN), called on pastors and churches to “find your life by giving yourself away.”

Drawing applications from Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:39, He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (NKJV). Gilder told members and guests at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, that this teaching is “true if applied to an individual or to a church.”

Gilder spoke at the church on August 17 to celebrate a new partnership with the church and dedicate the newly completed National Center for Bivocational and Small Church Ministries housed at the church.

Gilder, who served as pastor of inner-city Speedway Terrace Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, from 1978 to 1992, illustrated his sermon from his experiences in revitalizing a declining church in a transitional neighborhood.

When pastors and churches gauge their value to the Kingdom by visible measurements such as “bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings,” they are often at a loss when the numbers begin to decline, he said. “When things start to go down, churches have a tendency to turn inward, trying to hold on to what they have. When our focus turns inward, we begin the inevitable steps toward death.”

Bivocational and Small Church Ministries

New office dedication for the Bivocational and Small Church Ministries which is the coordinating council for the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN). (Left to Right) Allen Burton, Hope Manifest, Birmingham, Alabama; Gary Mitchell, Louisiana regional consultant; Lloyd Elder, chairman of the Development Board; Ron Ward, South Carolina regional consultant; Joyce Byrd, treasurer; Bobby Clark, Arkansas and Oklahoma regional consultant; Sue Ward; Ray Gilder, BSCLN national coordinator and bivocational/small church ministries specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Convention; Diane Gilder; Jean Beachum; Vernon Beachum, West Virginia regional consultant; Janet Orange; Larry Orange, Kentucky and Illinois regional consultant; Tom Echols, Texas regional consultant; Shannon Smith, Nebraska regional consultant; and Brenda Echols. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Baptist and Reflector.

The allure of three enemies to self-giving service Jesus addressed in his ministry—extensive possessions, exalted positions, and excessive pleasures—hasn’t changed, Gilder said, repeatedly driving home the theme that “we must find our lives by giving ourselves away.”

The Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network seeks to provide “encouragement, resources, fellowship opportunities, validation, and training for leaders of bivocational and smaller membership churches across the SBC,” according to a statement posted on its website, BivoSmallChurch.net.

The Network traces its origins to 1977 when the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) employed its first national consultant for bivocational ministries. The following year, deans from the six SBC seminaries met to discuss training programs targeting the needs of bivocational ministers. The first national convocation for bivocational ministers was held at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina in 1979.

In 2009, at the annual convocation in Birmingham, Alabama, Network leadership voted to adopt its current name. The Network currently has seven regional resource centers for bivocational ministry and twelve regional consultant positions.

Bivocational/Small Church Advisory Council Named

Calling the local church the “headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, has announced the appointment of a Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council.

The Council is a three-year ministry initiative (2014–2017) designed to help the Executive Committee and other SBC entity leaders gain greater understanding of and appreciation for the perspectives of churches that are served by bivocational pastors and/or run 125 or less in Sunday school.

The Council represents a cross-section of the country and reflects the cultural diversity of the Convention. Its purpose is consultation, communication, and cooperation. It will neither launch nor execute ministries. Its role is to provide information, insight, and counsel to EC staff relative to the special needs and concerns of bivocational and small church leaders in the Southern Baptist family of churches and serve as bridges to pastors who often lack the flexibility and/or resources to participate in Convention meetings.

During Page’s four years at the helm of the Executive Committee, he has set an aggressive agenda to “encourage the cooperation and confidence of the churches, associations, and state conventions and facilitate maximum support for worldwide missions and ministries” (from the EC Mission Statement in the Convention-adopted Organization Manual).

Page visited with each SBC entity leader and each state convention executive director in their place of service during his first few years in office to build and strengthen relationships and gain a better understanding about how to address questions of cooperation among the different entities of the Convention, and among the entities of the Convention and our cooperating state convention ministry partners (see SBC Bylaw 18.E.[5]). In addition, he appointed and has hosted annual meetings with four ethnic advisory councils (Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Multi-Ethnic).

Beginning in 2013, Page began to devote more focused effort to meet directly with pastors to build and strengthen relationships by hearing their perspectives on cooperation and Convention work and sharing the good works of the Convention with them. Since January, he has met with more than four hundred pastors in fourteen states where he has had other Convention-related duties (for a related story, see www.sbclife.net/Articles/2014/06/SLA16). The Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council will work with Page to expand the reach of these listening sessions among their friendship networks.

Bivocational/Small Church Advisory Council Members:

  • Ira Antoine Jr., Minnehulla Baptist Church; Goliad, Texas
  • Vernon E. Beachum Jr., First Baptist Church; Fort Ashby, West Virginia
  • Paul Biswas, Cambridgeport Baptist Church; Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Fredrick Brabson Sr., New Covenant Baptist Church; Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Bobby Clark, Abbott Baptist Church; Mansfield, Arkansas
  • Gordon Donahoe, Neely’s Bend Baptist Church; Madison, Tennessee
  • Ray Gilder, Gath Baptist Church; McMinnville, Tennessee
  • Kenny Heath, Grace Baptist Church; Cumberland, Maryland
  • Hal Hopkins, Lighthouse Baptist Church; Breinigsville, Pennsylvania
  • Stephen R. Jones, Central Baptist Church; Alameda, California
  • Pusey Losch, Mountain View Community Church; Richfield, Pennsylvania
  • Henry Luckel, Ethne Church; Larkspur, Colorado
  • Gary Mitchell, First Baptist Church; Chataignier, Louisiana
  • Joel Perez, Iglesia Bautista La Cosecha; Okeechobee, Florida
  • Michael Pigg, Philadelphia Baptist Church; Lithonia, Georgia
  • Shannon Smith, Westside Baptist Church (Fremont Campus); Omaha, Nebraska
  • A. Scott Tafoya, Indian Nations Baptist Church; Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Mark Tolbert, Bedico Baptist Church; Ponchatoula, Louisiana
  • Elizondo Marcos Villarreal, Iglesia Cristiana Bautista; Lufkin, Texas
  • Cliff Woodman, Emmanuel Baptist Church; Carlinville, Illinois
  • Joe Young, Calvary Chapel; Parchman, Mississippi

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