Ezell: bivocational pastors are SBC's 'Iron Men'
"Thank you for all you do as bivocational pastors," said Kevin Ezell, NAMB's president. "Not until I came to the North American Mission Board did I realize the enormity of what bivocational pastors do in North America.
"If we're really going to penetrate the lostness of North America, it's going to have to be with the help of bivocational pastors because there's no way possible to completely fund missions work full time without your impact," Ezell said.
Under its Send North America strategy, NAMB has a goal of a net gain of 5,000 new SBC congregations by 2022, a 3 percent increase in the congregation-to-population ratio for Southern Baptists. The convention loses an average of 890 churches each year.
The key to achieving this goal is to increase the number of bivocational pastors who plant new churches, Ezell said.
Ezell said NAMB's leadership and staff want to come alongside the SBC's bivocational ministers across the United States. According to statistics, bivocational pastors make up as many as 50 percent of the SBC pastors in southern states like Alabama and Arkansas, but they also minister in states throughout the U.S. -- from Maine to California.
"We see you as a vital player in our Send North America strategy and we want to provide you with what you need," said Ezell. "And this isn't a one-year emphasis but a long-term commitment. We need to do a better job of providing resources for you and encouraging you along the way."
Ezell said he got the idea of calling SBC's bivocational pastors "Iron Men of the SBC" from outgoing NAMB board of trustees chairman Tim Dowdy, himself a triathlon athlete competing in an upcoming "Ironman" competition.
"I want to bring attention to your work across the convention," said Dowdy, senior pastor at Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga. "You guys make an incredible difference to SBC life in reaching the nation with the Gospel.
"But we need thousands of more guys to be bivocational pastors," Dowdy said.
Ezell referenced the account in Mark 2 of the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof of a house so he could be healed by Jesus. "Those men did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus," Ezell said. "I believe you guys are just like those men. You do whatever it takes -- when it comes to your family, your vocation and your church."
Ezell announced a pilot program making educational opportunities available for bivocational pastors. NAMB -- partnering with Union University in Jackson, Tenn. -- will offer bivocational pastors a 33-hour online master's degree in theological studies, with a limited number of scholarships being made available each year.
Nashville-based Ray Gilder, national coordinator for the SBC's bivocational/small church leadership network, said he is pleased with the progress the network has made since the SBC annual meeting in Orlando two years ago.
"We're growing and there's more awareness of bivocational pastors, thanks to our partnership with NAMB," Gilder said. "A lot of men are bivocational because of funding issues, but some are intentionally bivocational because they believe God called them to be bivocational. They have full-time careers but are also full-time pastors, although they may only receive part-time pastor's pay."
Gilder said 37,000 of the churches in the SBC run 125 or less in Sunday School, "so there's a lot of bivocational churches across the country."
"These guys are in the trenches on the front lines," he said. "In the future, their challenge will be to serve as the role models and mentors for the young bivocational pastors to come. The young guys coming up will need to prepare and get their education up front. In the past, bivocational pastors often got called into ministry later in life and didn't get the opportunities for the education they needed."
Gilder also announced three upcoming conferences for bivocational pastors -- an Appalachian Bivocational Celebration in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Sept. 28-29; a national bivocational celebration at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss., April 18-20, 2013; and an international bivocational conference at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2014.
For more information on the National Bivocational/Small Church Leadership Network, visit bivosmallchurch.net or email Gilder at email@example.com.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.