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PANAMA CITY (BP)—Tim Dowdy had been in training for more than a year when he looked out over the Gulf of Mexico, ready to brave it for a swim.
Members of the church where Dowdy is pastor, Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., had joined him on the beach to cheer him on.
The waves were choppier and the water colder than expected, and he was about to swim farther than he ever had.
A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and a marathon run would put Dowdy’s mind and body to the test for nearly 15 hours.
It would be a meaningful feat, no matter his reason for doing it.
But Dowdy wasn’t staring at the expanse of water just to prove he could finish the 140-mile Ironman Florida triathlon on Nov. 3. The 51-year-old pastor and his 25-year-old son Micah were in Panama City sending a message to Southern Baptist bivocational pastors.
“The water’s a little chilly today, but it’s warm outside so hopefully they’ll balance each other out,” Dowdy said as the crowd of competitors gathered at the start gate. “Bivocational pastors, this is for you. I hope you’re praying for me. I’m going to float on the prayers of people today. Thanks for all that you’re doing.”
Early last year, as then-chairman of the North American Mission Board’s trustees, Dowdy was inspired by NAMB’s goal of a net gain of 5,000 congregations by 2022.
He was also struck by the reality that it would require many more pastors—and many would need to balance their ministry with a money-making career and a family in order to start churches in areas where expenses are high and congregations could be small.
“I had done a couple of races and a short triathlon and at the same time I was meeting all these bivocational pastors,” Dowdy recounted. “I saw the correlation. I got to hear some of their stories and thought, ‘These guys are the real Iron Men.’”
During the 2012 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, NAMB President Kevin Ezell emphasized the need for bivocational pastors in penetrating lostness in North America with the Gospel.
“[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 at a luncheon to honor bivocational pastors.
On average, the SBC loses more than 900 congregations every year. To counter this trend and achieve a 3 percent increase in the SBC church-to-population ratio, it will require bivocational pastors to plant churches.
As part of its long-term emphasis on bivocational pastors, NAMB’s Send North America strategy includes a support network, resources and educational opportunities for these “Iron Men of the SBC.”
A few hundred yards into the Gulf, Dowdy experienced what everybody had warned about in competing with 3,000 other swimmers. He’d never raced with that many people.
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