By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BAXTER — As a pastor for more than 65 years, John Davis, now 82 years old, served both full time and bivocational churches.
When he had a choice, Davis took the bivocational route. Now retired, Davis shares why in a recently released book, From Glory to Glory to Glory to Glory to Glory (based on II Corinthians 3:18).
Davis observed that he never accepted a pastorate without following the leadership of the Holy Spirit through prayer. “Each move was made with God’s clear leadership and accompanied with His evident blessing,” Davis affirmed.
Davis added that over the years he watched “too many” preachers who tried to “climb the ladder” to what they perceived as the next big position. “The most important position I ever had was where I was at the time,” he affirmed.
The Nashville native recalled that he never had a desire to serve in a vocational ministry in a “big city.” Instead, his desire was “to be close to the people and close to God. So many priceless souls are in smaller churches that cannot afford fully-funded pastors,” he said.
As a result, nine of the 11 churches he served in Tennessee and Georgia were in a bivocational role. “I felt that I was walking in the steps of a great example, Paul the Apostle, who earned his living by working with his hands,” Davis related.
His longest tenure was at Cedar Hill Baptist Church in Baxter, where he served three different times (1971-75, 1978-81 and 1991-2014). He officially “retired” for the last time in 2018 after serving for two years as pastor of Dodson Branch Baptist Church near Cookeville.
Over the years, Davis served as a public school teacher (four years in Georgia and 11 years in Tennessee), a carpenter, heavy construction, a roofer, school bus driver, insurance sales and a variety of other activities.
Davis cited several reasons why he intentionally chose to be bivocational.
First, a pastor is not totally dependent upon a church to take care of his family, he observed. “I had a degree of independence that I enjoyed. I knew that if I had to leave the church, my family would not suffer financially. There might be a bump in the road, but it wouldn’t be drastic.”
Second, a bivocational pastor has opportunities to “touch lives and help people that they come in contact with” through their second job that they might not have otherwise, Davis said. In the marketplace you work with people who need the Lord. “Open your eyes and ears to the opportunities to help people you’re brought into contact with because of your job.
“God loves each one of them and they are very, very important to Him. Some may never come to our church but we can reach them on our own personal mission field,” Davis said.
Third, Davis enjoyed doing the other jobs he did over the years. That is imperative, he said. “If you are unhappy with your other job, it will affect your health and happiness or even spill into your church work. I know. I’ve been there.”
Davis stressed that there is no such thing as a “part-time” pastor. He knows that he always worked two full-time jobs as a bivocational pastor.
The key to making both work is to make family a priority. “I have been blessed with a lot of happiness by taking time to enjoy my family.”
He is especially appreciative of his wife of 59 years, Faye, who has encouraged him throughout his ministry and also “pushed me” to write his book. “I’ve been blessed with a mighty good wife,” he affirmed.
Davis has no regrets as he reflects on his ministry. “If I had to do it all over again, I would still choose to be bivocational.”
Those who know Davis well have seen the results of his ministry. “John is one of the most dedicated bivocational pastors I have ever known,” said John Parrott, bivocational ministry specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“His call to ministry is sewn into every pattern of his life’s journey. Only eternity will tell how far reaching his ministry has been through the years,” Parrott noted.
— For more on his book, contact Davis at 931-260-2351.