By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Whereas there may have been a stigma attached to being a bivocational pastor in the past, that’s no longer the case, says Ray Gilder.
Gilder has led bivocational ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention since 1995 and also serves as the national coordinator for the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network.
After World War II the Southern Baptist Convention made a push for every church to have a fully-funded pastor and to provide a home for him and his family, Gilder recounted in a book he wrote entitled, Uniquely Bivocational: Understanding the Life of a Pastor Who Has a Second Job.
“Soon the attitude developed that if a pastor had another job, he was a second-rate preacher who was not capable of serving a fully-funded church,” he wrote.
In Tennessee, it is estimated that approximately 65 percent of all pastors are bivocational.
“The attitude toward bivocational ministers has changed over the past 10 to 15 years,” Gilder affirmed and he credited the Tennessee Baptist Convention in being a leader in helping to change the views regarding bivo ministry.
Gilder likes to share a story about preaching at a church in the absence of their pastor. When he asked the church if their pastor was bivocational he was told that was not the case. Yet when Gilder asked where the pastor was, the reply? “He’s at work.”
But today as more and more ministers are becoming comfortable with their bivocational role, the appreciation for what they do has increased, Gilder said.
“People are now realizing that if we are going to have more churches in order to reach people with the gospel of Christ in America, there will have to be a massive increase in the number of bivocational pastors,” he said.
The image of bivocational pastors has changed for the better, he affirmed.
And Gilder is always quick to point out that a bivocational pastor is not part-time. In his book, he wrote, “He may be receiving part-time pay, but if he is the pastor, he is the pastor all the time.”
Gilder speaks from experience.
Gilder was a fully funded pastor in Memphis in the early 1990s before joining the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Convention as church and community ministers director.
When he was asked to take over bivocational ministries in 1995, Gilder made a decision that some people questioned.
He specifically requested to give up his “full-time” status with the convention so he could serve as a bivocational pastor.
Gilder moved to McMinnville and began serving as a bivocational pastor. As he began to work and minister with other bivocational pastors, Gilder had “credibility” because “I was one of them,” he affirmed.
Two of Gilder’s primary responsibilities are encouraging bivo ministers and their spouses and helping them get training.
Through his role with both the TBC and the national network, Gilder helps provide training and resources for bivocational ministers. Training is one of their greatest needs, he said, noting that most bivocational ministers are not seminary trained.
A tool Gilder has used in Tennessee for 19 years has been a weekend retreat for ministers and their spouses.
The retreats do not offer “how to” training but they provide opportunities for the couples to focus on their relationships with each other and with God.
As a testimony to the effectiveness of the retreats, attendance has gone from about 25 couples that first year to 120 couples this past year, he said.
In addition, Gilder said many times he has received notes or calls about how the retreat either helped save a marriage or prevented a minister from giving up and quitting or retiring. That in itself is gratifying to Gilder. “They know I care.”