By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
PIGEON FORGE — They’re machinists, salesmen, police officers, bankers, teachers, college professors, retirees, electricians, plumbers and the list goes on, but they all have one thing in common — they are dedicated servants of God devoted to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One hundred and twenty-one bivocational ministers from across Tennessee, along with their spouses and two other family members, gathered Jan. 26-28 in Pigeon Forge for the 2019 Bivocational Ministers and Wives Retreat sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Including participants, program personnel and exhibitors, 274 people representing 114 bivocational churches and 34 Baptist associations in the state were represented, said John Parrott, bivocational ministry specialist for the TBMB.
This year’s retreat theme was “Unwavering,” based on Hebrews 10:19-25, Parrott said. “God is unwavering in His faithfulness to us. We need to be unwavering in our faithfulness to Him,” he said. The retreat is planned by a Bivocational Ministry Council (led by Parrott) that includes bivocational pastors and wives and directors of missions from each region of the state.
More than 50 percent of churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention are led by pastors who are bivocational, Parrott noted. He defined a bivocational pastor as a man “who is called by God to the gospel ministry as a pastor and supports his family through a secular job as well as serving a church.” The definition also applies to other staff ministers, he added.
“This means that these churches have a leader who works on a secular job while serving as pastor of the congregation,” he said.
Hundreds upon hundreds of churches across Tennessee have less than 100 in attendance on any given Sunday, Parrott continued. “Bivocational pastors are the reason every church in the TBC can have a pastor regardless of size or resources,” he noted.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said bivocational pastors play a pivotal role in reaching the state for Christ.
“Jeanne and I have walked and worked closely with bivocational pastors and their wives for nearly two decades,” Davis said.
“These are some of the most gifted, committed and creative servant-leaders we’ve ever had the joy of knowing. Every trend we’ve looked at points to the number of pastors and ministers with vocations beyond the pulpit escalating. The ‘bivo’ pastor will continue to be the Iron Man of the TBC,” he said.
Parrott, a former pastor and director of missions, observed that many churches simply could not afford to have a shepherd were it not for the men who serve in a bivocational role. But, he is quick to emphasize that bivocational pastors are not “part-time.” They do everything that full vocational ministers do, in addition to their secular jobs, he stressed.
What’s more, Parrott continued, some churches could afford a full vocational pastor, but chose not to because the pastor and congregation see value in having the pastor “in the marketplace every day. There is nothing negative about helping a church move from being full vocational to bivocational,” he stressed. “This may very well be God’s plan for the church — and the role is biblical.”
Phil Young, director of missions for Knox County Association of Baptists, estimated that between 55-60 percent of the churches in his association are led by bivocational ministers.
Young related that a large number of churches reflect the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole with 100 people or less in attendance. Bivocational pastors have traditionally served those churches over the years, he said.
Recently, however, Young has seen a trend of more pastors intentionally becoming bivocational in order “to connect with our culture that is increasingly moving away from church.”
In addition, he knows churches that are seeking to be led by a bivocational ministry team. A single pastor church can take the money used to fund the pastor and be able to fund a bivocational pastor and at least one or two other bivocational minister positions with that single salary, Young observed.
“It enables the church to function more effectively in reaching all age groups in their community,” he added.
Young stressed that he has “the highest respect for bivocational pastors and their families. It takes a strong skill set, but most importantly, a call of God to balance the demands of bivocational ministry,” he said.
David Hawkins, director of missions for Nolachucky Baptist Association, said bivocational pastors play a prominent role in spreading the gospel in East Tennessee.
“The Nolachucky Baptist Association is comprised of 59 churches, serving 5 counties in East Tennessee,” Hawkins said, “and two out of every three of those churches are served by bivocational pastors.
“Simply said, the mission field of our cities and rural communities alike would not have shepherds encouraging the saints and evangelizing sinners at the present level of engagement without the service of our bi-vocational pastors,” he added. “Here at Nolachucky, we are trying to raise the awareness of our great appreciation and respect for those whom God has called to serve in such a manner.
James Hickey, director of missions for Union Baptist Association, based in Sparta, agreed with his counterpart about the importance of bivocational ministers.
Just under a third of the 21 churches in his association are led by full vocational pastors. “The rest are bivocational. Because of God’s calling in their lives, they are in the process of allowing Him to use their gifts in ministry,” Hickey said. “The call of God is so important to these men, as it is to anyone in ministry.”
Hickey noted that the greatest challenge for most bivocational pastors and ministers is wise use of time. “They hold down a secular job but they also must find time to prepare sermons and Bible studies, do hospital visitation and all the other things” that full vocational pastors do, he added.
James Ramsey, bivocational pastor of Catherine Nenney Baptist Church in Whitesburg, agreed that time management is one of his greatest challenges. He credited his church family especially and his wife for helping him get things accomplished. “My wife is a great blessing. She helps get things done.”
Randall Kellough, pastor of Woodland Baptist Church, Brownsville, noted that a component of time management is keeping family a priority. “I have tried to keep my family as a top priority but at times it is tough,” he acknowledged. “You don’t want them to feel that they’re second rate or second best.”
Jim Blevins, bivocational pastor of Chadwell Station Baptist Church in Ewing, Va. (a Tennessee Baptist congregation in Cumberland Gap Baptist Association) noted that serving in a bivocational role helps him to better understand the “everyday needs and challenges of the families” that he ministers to. “I love bivocational ministry.”
— For more information about the retreat and other events or resources to assist bivocational ministers, contact Parrott at email@example.com.
5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ‘BIVOS’
What is a bivocational pastor?
John Parrot, the bivocational ministry specialist for the TBMB, defined the role of bivocational pastor as, “A man who is called of God to the gospel ministry as a pastor but also supports his family through a secular job as well as serving a church. There are those who also serve in staff positions in churches who are bivocational. However, the bivocational pastor never sees himself as ‘part-time’ in pastoral ministry.”
How many bivocational pastors are there in Tennessee?
There are more than 1,300 across the state. This number includes 718 in East Tennessee, 348 in middle Tennessee and 240 in West Tennessee.
What are the benefits of being bivocational?
Parrot says, “Bivocational pastors generally don’t feel as much pressure because the church is not his only income. Also, he’s in the marketplace.
What are the challenges of being bivocational?
The answer to this question is rather lengthy, Parrot said. He noted that “time-management” is perhaps the biggest challenge. Parrot also said some bivocational pastors might lack the opportunities for theological training, and some churches can put unreachable expectations on their bivocational pastor.
Why do some bivocational pastors struggle with guilt?
Parrot said: He feels the pressure on his relationship with his wife and his family when trying to balance pastoral ministry with family time.