Bivocational church model best, Page says

ATLANTA (BP) -- The bivocational church model is the best way to make disciples in the 21st Century, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page told bivocational and small-membership church pastors he assembled in Atlanta.

Photo by Diana Chandler
"I'm convinced that in the 21st Century, the best stewardship model is bivocational," Page said at the first meeting of the Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council Sept. 11 – 12. "We've got a lot of students coming out of seminary now who have no intention of being full support."

Giving small-membership churches and bivocational pastors their proper focus, respect and participation in the SBC is one of his main leadership goals, Page told the 21 pastors he appointed to advise him on meeting this population's unique needs.

"I will not allow the Southern Baptist Convention to forget who we are," he said. "Part of my goal in this is to elevate the role of the small-church pastor and the bivocational pastor, period. And that's going to happen.

"The majority of our boards and agencies are run by small-church trustees. And I assure you that's true. ... You are represented in every level of the Southern Baptist Convention," Page said, calling the leaders true heroes. "Some would say 35,000 of our 46,000 churches, maybe more than that, are in the two categories of small church or bivocational.

"I appreciate each one of you," he told the council. "Each of you brings a different perspective to this table, and ... I thank God for you."

Page, who for the past year has used the theme of an earthquake fault line to pinpoint volatile areas of friction within the SBC, identified a fault line based on church membership size, and pledged to address the tension. Page defined small churches as those with 125 or less in Sunday School attendance.

A "methodological" fault line also exists, he said, based on the question of 'How does one do church in the 21st Century?'"

"That's probably one of the biggest issues facing us in our convention today. 'How do you do church?' When you go plant a church, are you using a more traditional model or a more contemporary model?" Page said. "That's a big question out there now, and it's going to be a huge question in the future.

"Because whether you know it or not, bivocational ministry is the wave of the future. People are beginning even to realize that the best way to be a church planter is through a bivocational model," Page said. "Some of our Christian universities are actually realizing that and training pharmacists how to be a pharmacist and a pastor at the same time.... There is a new receptivity to a model that I think you represent. But how does one do church, that's going to continue to be a huge issue."

Gathering statistics and information to define the characteristics of Southern Baptist churches will be a main function of the council, said Ken Weathersby, SBC vice president for convention advancement. The council's goal is to use that data to compile a report at the end of the group's three-year term in 2017.

"Hopefully we'll come out with a report that will be used to help pastors, that will be used to help associational missionaries, state convention leaders, and of course all of our entities who are responsible to assist the church," Weathersby said. "In every ministry assignment that the Southern Baptist Convention has given all of our entities, it all begins with, 'To assist the local church.' We hope that we will be able to provide … good information."

Page named the council to help the Executive Committee and SBC entity leaders gain greater understanding of and appreciation for the perspectives of churches and pastors in the categories the council represents. Ray Gilder, pastor of Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville, Tenn., and national coordinator of the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network, will serve as council chairperson.

Other council members present were Ira Antoine Jr., Minnehulla Baptist Church, Goliad, Texas; Vernon E. Beachum Jr., First Baptist Church; Fort Ashby, W.Va.; Paul Biswas, Cambridgeport Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass.; Fredrick Brabson Sr., New Covenant Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tenn.; Bobby Clark, Abbott Baptist Church, Mansfield, Ark.; Gordon Donahoe, Neely's Bend Baptist Church, Madison, Tenn.; Kenny Heath, Grace Baptist Church, Cumberland, Md.; Hal Hopkins, Lighthouse Baptist Church, Breinigsville, Pa.; Stephen R. Jones, Central Baptist Church, Alameda, Calif.; Pusey Losch, Mountain View Community Church, Richfield, Pa.; Henry Luckel, Ethne Church, Larkspur, Colo.; Gary Mitchell, First Baptist Church, Chataignier, La.; Joel Perez, Iglesia Bautista La Cosecha, Okeechobee, Fla.; Michael Pigg, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.; Shannon Smith, Westside Baptist Church, Fremont Campus, Omaha, Neb.; A. Scott Tafoya, Indian Nations Baptist Church, Albuquerque, N.M.; Mark Tolbert, Bedico Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, La.; Elizondo Marcos Villarreal, Iglesia Cristiana Bautista, Lufkin, Texas; Cliff Woodman, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Carlinville, Ill., and Joe Young, Calvary Chapel, Parchman, Miss.

Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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