By Linda Lawson Still
NASHVILLE — At age 83, Lloyd Elder retired for the fourth and what he termed the “final” time on May 31 after more than six decades of ministry.
In his most recent position, Elder served as volunteer administrator and chair of the development board of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN) with offices at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville. While his passion for BSCLN will continue, he plans to focus on family and health issues. He is battling leukemia (CLL) and pulmonary fibrosis.
At the BSCLN national meeting, held in May at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, Mo., Elder was presented the Lifetime Ministry Award “expressing our deepest gratitude for your Christian leadership, wise counsel, and devotion to the extension of the kingdom of God.”
BSCLN began in the late 1970s and was chartered in 1996 as the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association. The name was changed in 2009 to Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network to reflect a growing nationwide ministry among small churches and bivocational pastors of Baptist and other evangelical congregations.
Looking back, Elder said every position in his career has equipped him in different ways to serve small churches and bivocational pastors. He started in 1953 as a bivocational pastor in five churches in Alaska and Texas, and then led full-time pastorates in Texas.
Then he moved on to executive denominational positions at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). From education through churches, Elder moved to Christian higher education. He taught preaching and worship, administration, and leadership at Belmont University in Nashville and then founded the Moench Center for Church Leadership at Belmont in 1996.
Ray Gilder, who recently retired as national coordinator of BSCLN, said Elder approached him 20 years ago when he headed small church ministry at the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Elder offered support through resources and training among pastors of churches with Sunday School attendance of 125 or less.
“He became a volunteer in BSCLN in 2006 and then established the national office in 2014,” Gilder said. “It’s been amazing to watch him give his time and talents to this organization. He’s been at work five days a week even when he developed health issues. He has always maintained a positive and courageous attitude. His associate, Joyce Byrd, serves as an invaluable volunteer treasurer and officer.”
Gilder noted that funds raised by Elder have enabled BSCLN to produce more needed resources for churches and pastors. “The Lord has blessed BSCLN and Lloyd Elder has been one of the keys.”
Elder said the research and writing for college classes he taught at Belmont “prepared me to become a coach in this organization.” Also, students, bivocational pastors, and others with whom he served “have nudged and taught me so that I’ve been fulfilled working out of their needs rather than mine. We all work as a team, mostly as volunteers.” To broaden the organization beyond the national staff, nine regional consultants serve smaller churches and bivocational pastors in 26 states.
In addition to raising funds, Elder also has contributed to new resources and sought to be advocate, listener, and encourager to this ever-growing group. He also has conducted research and led training sessions on topics of need. While Southern Baptist churches include many so-called mega-congregations, the number of small membership churches, many with bivocational pastors, totals more than 38,000.
“While some bivocational pastors have college and graduate degrees, we also work with many who have great passion and ministry abilities for their churches, but may never go to college,” Elder said. “Many feel they do not have a place in the denomination. When you encourage them or thank them for their important ministries, they light up with gratitude.”
He projected in the near future as many as “80 percent of those called to be pastors will need to become ‘intentional lifetime bivocational pastors’ because of their sense of calling, or churches will not be able to fully support them financially.”
Elder said a redesigned, “robust website, bscln.net, carries our ministries across the nation.” He called for continuing efforts to “build awareness and tell the stories of the churches we seek to serve.” Continuing initiatives include developing a national network, partnering with other Christian groups, launching a national funding campaign, and providing scholarships.