PIGEON FORGE — In 1996, the first retreat for bivocational ministers and wives was held at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, drawing about 20 couples.
Twenty-seven years later, the Bivocational Ministers and Wives Retreat, now held annually in Pigeon Forge, drew a record attendance of more than 300 people, including 146 couples.
The registration included more first-time participants than ever before, said Roger Britton, bivocational ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
The 2023 retreat stood out as one of the “best” on record, Britton said.
“We had several pastors and wives considering resignation, separation and even divorce, but God provided what was needed to revive marriages, encourage couples and strengthen relationships for each pastor and wife to return to the church field refreshed and excited about their God-called ministries.”
Britton related that several bivocational pastors and their wives had the opportunity to share Jesus with a lady working at Music Road Resort and the lady (Ann) accepted Jesus as her Savior on Friday night in the lobby of the hotel.
Because of the increase in number of registered participants, the decision was made to go with round tables rather than conventional rows of chairs that had been used in the past, Britton said. “Everyone loved the open feel of the retreat and the time it gave to learn new people around the tables,” he noted.
In addition, “we also moved all vendors into a larger area, and this gave more freedom to talk with our vendors and made moving around much easier,” he added.
Britton cited two factors for the increased attendance. When the conference was canceled in 2021 due to COVID concerns, smaller banquets for bivocational ministers and their wives were held all across Tennessee, allowing more ministers to learn about the retreat.
In addition, Britton said, he met with many directors of missions/associational missions strategists across Tennessee and sought their assistance in promoting the retreat among their bivocational pastors. About 60 percent of pastors in the state are bivocational, he observed.
“We are trying to reach the ones who have not been here before,” he said. “If we can get them here, we know it will help and encourage them.”
Many who attend once return for future retreats because of the fellowship and connections made through the retreat, Britton said, adding that he and his wife, Kathy, attended their first retreat 25 years ago.
“I enjoyed it when I was a bivocational pastor,” said Clay Gilbreath, director of missions for Big Hatchie Baptist Association, based in Covington.
“I encourage all bivocational pastors to take advantage of this great opportunity offered by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board,” he said.
Lloyd Stiller, AMS for Bledsoe Baptist Association, attended the retreat for the first time. “I want to get plugged in to what they are facing so I can effectively step alongside them,” he said, adding that about two-thirds of the pastors in his association are bivocational.
Randy Nichols, pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church, Fayetteville, and a member of the Tennessee Bivocational Ministry Leadership Council, is a strong advocate of the retreats.
“We want people to leave the retreat like David, with a sling in hand, slinging the rock — representing the Army of God with a zeal for evangelism.”
Derek Wright, pastor of Unity Baptist Church, Ashland City, attends to meet other pastors.
“As bivocational pastors, it is important to network,” Wright affirmed.
Pastor Ron Mathis of First Baptist Church, Lafayette, and his wife, Charlotte, have attended for about six years. “We get recharged. I find that the problems we face are universal. That’s encouraging,” he said.
Joy Hunter, whose husband, Jeff, is pastor of Marble City Baptist Church, Knoxville, said they love the retreat because “we are on the same ground. Everyone has a church and a job and are trying to find balance.”
She added that the retreat also provides an opportunity to meet new friends and realize that “we are not alone. It soothes the soul,” she said.
The retreat offered worship opportunities and breakout sessions for the pastors and their wives.
Nationally known author and speaker Charles Lowery encouraged the couples with humor and Scripture during the banquet on the first day of the retreat.
He reminded the pastors that most of your stress and frustration comes from you trying to straighten out someone else.
“In the ministry, you can care for people but you can’t cure people. That’s God’s problem,” Lowery said. B&R