What do a banker, a contractor, an elementary teacher, a chemist, an engineering professor and a farmer all have in common?
Answer: They are all faithful pastors.
Unbelievably, approximately 60 percent of the pastors in Tennessee are bivocational. Let that sink in a moment. The majority of the churches connected to the Tennessee Baptist Convention have pastors who have a vocation apart from their ministries as a church’s pastor. And, if you include churches that have fulltime pastors but whose wives have secular jobs in order to make ends meet, the number jumps to probably 75 percent.
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, once called these pastors the “Iron Men of the SBC.” That is a good characterization.
They are not part-time ministers with full time jobs. They give themselves totally to the people they shepherd. They are all in when it comes to serving the Lord. They charge ahead in advancing Great Commission work. They are full time ministers with part-time pay. I’m proud that so many Tennessee Baptist churches are led by these gentlemen.
My wife Jeanne and I have worked closely with “bivo” pastors and their wives for almost 20 years. We’ve grown to appreciate these hero ministry couples and enjoy the annual Bivocational Ministers Retreat which we recently attended.
We spent a couple of days with hundreds of these warriors of the faith. Their spirit of commitment, the comradery among their number and their passion for the Lord is contagious. And here is the thing about bivo pastors. I see their number tremendously increasing within the next 10 to 20 years.
Unbelievably there is a growing shortage of pastors, and I believe so many of our churches will need a bivo pastor to lead them. Every week I talk to directors of missions and they tell me of nine, 10 or 12 churches in their respective associations needing pastors.
They all tell me the same thing. They’re having a hard time finding pastors. That’s why I believe the gentleman farmer that becomes the pastor, and the engineer down at the plant, and the mechanic that fixes your car, and the accountant that does your taxes will all be part of a rapidly growing trend in the near future.
I don’t see that as a bad thing at all, but I do see it creating a need that organizations like the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, along with other ministry partners, must meet. These men are heroes, and they see the challenge ahead of them.
They have a vision for where they want to go and where they want to lead their churches but may not quite know how to get there. Many of them may be uncertain in their ability or recognize they aren’t fully equipped to succeed in that role, yet they know the church must be a shining light in their communities. That’s where the TBMB will come alongside them and bridge the gap for them. That’s what we do. We serve churches.
I see this taking a very practical approach. These men may have a full time vocation, but they want to know how to study the Bible in a deeper fashion for sermon preparation, and even to know how to pull sermons together. There are other aspects like how to lead weddings and funerals, and church administration. There is so much that goes into being a pastor that we can help these guys with.
And it isn’t just them. Serving their wives well and their families is also important. Being a bivocational pastor and family is difficult, extremely difficult. Every year we attend the bivo retreat, we’ve had more than one pastor and wife articulate they were ready to quit, but after coming to the retreat were ready to go back.
It was literally and figuratively the mountaintop retreat they needed to spiritually recharge and get back in the fight and keep going.
As a side note, Tennessee Baptists help make this retreat possible for these warriors through their Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions giving. Strong giving enables us to offer strong support to strengthen these men and women serving the Lord and His people.
I’m extremely grateful to these bivocational ministers and their families, and if you are a member of a church that has a bivocational minister, I’d encourage you to express your appreciation to him and his family; then lay your hand to the plow with him.
Together cultivate a healthy church that proclaims the name of Jesus and rescues the perishing in your community.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.