PIGEON FORGE — Pardon Ray Gilder for feeling like a proud papa these days.
Gilder joined the staff of the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) in 1992 full-time to work with church and community ministries. Three years later he accepted the assignment of working with bivocational pastors across the state.
In order to relate better to bivocational ministers, he felt he should be one.
After praying with his wife, Diane, Gilder negotiated an agreement with Executive Board leadership to work part-time with the board and to also serve as bivocational pastor of Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville.
“That was God’s call in my life,” he affirmed.
He recalled that he specifically prayed that God would lead him to an area of ministry where there was a need and where he could make a difference.
“Bivocational ministry has been my heartbeat ever since.”
Gilder, who is now pastor of First Baptist Church, Gordonsville, stressed the importance of bivocational ministers. “If there were not guys willing to work another job and to pastor in order to support their families, there would be a lot of churches that would have to close their doors,” he observed.
He noted there used to be a stigma associated with being a bivocational minister.
“It’s an honorable thing to work and support your family and still have the call of God to pastor a church.”
In 1996, Gilder planned the first bivocational ministers and wives retreat at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer. The first retreat was a Friday afternoon-Saturday morning event and drew about 20 couples, he recalled.
It has been held every year since then except 2021, when it was canceled due to concerns over COVID-19. The retreat later expanded to an extra day (beginning on Thursday) at the request of participants, he noted.
“This retreat has had the anointing of God and it is evident by what He has done in the lives of those who attended,” Gilder said.
“Several pastors have told me they would not be in ministry today had it not been for these retreats,” he added.
Gilder retired from the TBMB staff in 2015. He also led the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network for several years before before handing over the reins to a former Tennessee Baptist pastor Joe Wright.
Wright was unable to attend the retreat and set up the organization’s booth, so Gilder volunteered to man his booth. It was his first trip back to the retreat in several years.
“I am glad to see the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is supporting the bivocational retreat with resources and staff,” he said. He also praised the leadership of Britton who regularly testifies that the retreat saved his ministry. “Roger is doing an excellent job and he has a great team around him.”
Gilder was excited to attend the recent retreat in Pigeon Forge and to know that the work he helped begin 27 years ago is still meeting a need.
“It has been a rewarding experience to have been a part of these retreats,” he affirmed. “I have seen my baby grow up.” B&R