It is pretty easy for people associated with the Southern Baptist Convention to rattle off the names of some of our most influential pastors past and present. We’ve had W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley and Jim Henry. There are contemporary pastors who are stalwarts of our denomination like Steve Gaines, Fred Luter, Jack Graham and Johnnie Hunt.
And then there are a group of men who are the mostly unknown champions, the majority who, along with their spouses, toil in relative obscurity known mostly to the good congregations they lead. They don’t usually get enough recognition – bivocational pastors rarely do – but that’s okay; they aren’t seeking recognition.
Some people hear the word “bi-vocational” and immediately assume, “Oh, he’s a part-time pastor.” Not true. There is no such thing as a part time pastor. You’re a 24/7 pastor when God separates you out and places upon you the responsibility of leading His sheep. Being “bivo” usually means you get part-time pay for full-time work.
And then there is a category very closely related. It is pastors who aren’t bivocational yet they are in church situations where their wives must work outside the home whether they want to or not just to make ends meet. All these dear brothers and sisters are my heroes, and Jeanne and I spent time with them last week during the Bivocational Conference held in Pigeon Forge. It has been a highlight on our annual calendar for over a decade.
Since you don’t often hear about bivos you may not know that out of our approximately 3,200 TBC churches, 65 percent are led by bivocational pastors. That’s more than 2,000 of our churches. That’s an astounding number. It is fair enough to say that these pastors are the backbone to our state convention of churches. That number multiplies exponentially when consideration is given to the larger context of the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
Bivocational pastors and their families face some significant challenges that vocational pastors do not. Having an advocate who can throw out a lifeline is imperative. Our TBC network of churches is fortunate to have the deep, vast and wise leadership of Ray Guilder working with bivocational pastors and churches across our state. Ray also leads the national effort of encouraging these “Iron Men of the SBC.” Collectively all our churches who give through the Cooperative Program support Ray and the TBC’s ministry to help bivocational pastors succeed.
That support is important because I believe – and others have projected – that bivocationalism will grow in the years ahead. An economic downturn of financial support in our churches will be a contributing factor. However, the bigger motivation must be the Great Commission.
I’ve continued to spend a lot of time talking about the Five Objectives we’ve affirmed as Tennessee Baptists. Over the next 10 years, we are praying for and working toward God using us to see at least 50,000 people annually saved baptized and set on the road to discipleship. We want to see at least 500 churches revitalized and 1,000 new churches become a part of the TBC. We want to see Cooperative Program giving average 10 percent in each church and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions increase from $1.5 million to $3 million. I am convinced that if we’re going to realize a genuine church planting movement that eclipses anything we’ve seen in the past, it will be because laymen in our churches answered God’s calling to go out and embrace a servant leadership role as a bivocational pastor.
These will be hot-hearted people fueled by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a passion for others to hear the gospel. They will be willing to work outside the church, especially in cases where a financially struggling churches in need of revitalizing can’t afford to pay much salary. They will be people engaged in the marketplace as well as the church place.
I ask for your help in this, and here’s how. First, pray for these men and their families already serving bivocationaly. Pray for God’s provision and for His protection.
Second, pray as Jesus led us, that God will call out more workers like this to the ripe harvest fields of Tennessee. With 3.5 million spiritually lost people, there is room for a lot more workers.
Third, give generously to both the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. Both of these great financial opportunities support the advance of the gospel in our state and around the world.
Finally, pray and ask God what your role is in reaching Tennessee and reaching the nations for Christ. The theme at the Summit this past year was, “Whatever it Takes.” How serious are you about doing whatever it takes to see God’s Kingdom grow in the Volunteer State?
I tip my hat to our bivocational pastors and their families, and bend my knee to offer thanksgiving and appreciation as they serve the people of our state. We may not know their names, but I can assure you they are well known by our Heavenly Father.