DULUTH, Ga., (BP)—Wesley Thompson would probably contend he’s devoted to ministry. A student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he’s pursuing a degree in church ministries, with an emphasis on students and families, to improve his ability at presenting the Gospel.
Thompson also might say he is
devoted to being a better educator.
A teacher at a small private school about 20 minutes from Southern’s campus in Louisville, Ky., He looks forward to returning to his native Tift County and entering the classroom full-time and improving his ability at presenting the Gospel.
Neither calling is exclusive from the other, even if they did become apparent at different times, says the 23-year-old Thompson, who calls Mount Zion Baptist in the community of Chula his home church.
“My desire to be a teacher came first,” Thompson says. “I love school and helping young people, and teaching allows me to do that on a daily basis.
“My passion and calling in life is to mentor and assist students—especially middle school and high school age.”
Although Tift County High School boasted a graduating class of approximately 500 in 2008, the year Thompson graduated, the surrounding area is typical of south Georgia and made up mostly of smaller communities.
Such rural settings are often typical for bivocational ministry, but that picture is expanding, says Ray Gilder of the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network, formerly the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association.
In all likelihood, the Southern Baptist Convention is already predominately bivocational, though hard data can be difficult to find.
“Getting the exact figure is difficult, because many churches fill out their annual profile each year but fail to check the box ‘bivocational’ when they are,” Gilder says.
Gilder was a full-time pastor before becoming the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Bivocational/Small Church specialist nearly 20 years ago. At his insistence, he has served various churches since that time in a bivocational role.
According to 2011 statistics found at the organization’s website, http://www.bivosmallchurch.net/, half of Southern Baptist churches had fewer than 50 in Sunday School. That points to at least half of SBC churches having bivocational pastors, Gilder says.
Now factor in the push for new churches. Some initial funding may help a pastor focus fully on his ministry responsibilities, but many of those financial commitments are for only a time.
All told, it means that being an effective minister in the future may require mastery of a craft that isn’t taught in seminary. Gaining credibility comes through knowing your business, inside and out, alongside your theology. And for a growing number of people, answering a call to ministry may refer to time around the water cooler with guys who have no interaction with church.
Finding what matches
Standing on the other side from Thompson with a life’s worth of perspective in bivocational ministry is Georgia Baptist Pastor Paul Reviere.
Don’t make the mistake of referring to Reviere as “part-time.” He will quickly correct that description and note that considering hours worked, there’s very little difference between full-time and bivocational ministry. Reviere should know. He’s been the pastor at Tabor Baptist Church in Tignall for 38 years.
After graduating from Georgia Southern University in 1973, Reviere moved back to his hometown of Lincolnton. He had already answered a call to serve as pastor, but a part-time salary wasn’t going to provide for himself and his wife, so he became a paraprofessional in the Lincoln County School System.
He enjoyed the work, and went back to school and earned a teaching degree. The result was a 37-year career teaching third grade at Lincoln Elementary School.
In 2010, budget cuts led to a staff position being eliminated. It so happened that the most recently-hired teacher who was about to lose her position had once been a pupil of Reviere’s.
Rather than see his former student lose her job, he retired.
Through the years Reviere has preached many times at other churches for revivals. He’s also turned down numerous opportunities to be considered for full-time positions.
“My philosophy is I don’t need to be ‘full-time,’” he says. “My calling is to supply my own needs as far as making a living is concerned so I can minister in a church where they otherwise can’t support a minister.
“Of course, there are circumstances that require a full-time minister. It’s just not me.”
Last July, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer took an informal poll on Twitter as to how many hours a week full-time pastors work. Responses indicated that 87 percent of full-time pastors work 40-59 hours weekly. A more scientific poll Rainer cited by LifeWay Research in 2008 among full- and part-time ministers stated that 49 percent of pastors work that same amount of hours.
Most would agree that part-time ministers work more—or at least are expected to work more—than their salaries would indicate. People in smaller congregations can occasionally grow envious of the bigger church with more resources and a full-time minister. Those expectations to attract more people end up at the pastor’s desk, even if that desk is in a spare room at his house.
As more churches move forward with bivocational positions, ministry responsibilities will fall more on the laity. That’s far from being a bad thing, Reviere says. He points to the benefits of faith being a strong part of one’s identity in the workplace.
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