More preachers need a ‘day job,’ too
By Bob Smietana, The Nashville Tennessean, June 21, 2010
Ray Gilder has some advice for Baptist preachers who are just starting out.
Prepare to get a day job.
"Make sure you have a marketable skill," said Gilder, bivocational ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Gilder was in Orlando this past week to meet with bivocational ministers, preachers with day jobs, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are truck drivers and government workers, contractors and teachers, who also feel called to preach. They often minister in out-of-the-way places, far from the spotlight.
But while Baptist megachurch pastors get the spotlight, says Gilder, bivocational ministers keep the convention running. Without them, many small churches would close, says Gilder, national coordinator for the Southern Baptist’s Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network.
And they are a growing group. About three-quarters of Southern Baptists churches draw fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning. That means they often can’t afford to pay a preacher a full-time salary. So about half of Southern Baptist churches nationwide, and two-thirds in Tennessee, rely on bivocational ministers.
"We represent the majority of churches," said Gilder, who also pastors Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville.
The idea of bivocational ministry dates back to the Bible. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman before becoming a preacher. The Apostle Paul, when he wasn’t writing most of the New Testament or starting new churches, made tents for a living.
"He was a pretty good preacher on the side," Gilder said.
For much of their early history, many Southern Baptist preachers were farmers or teachers as well. That changed in the 1950s, as more churches began to hire full-time ministers.
Today, bivocational ministers can be seen as second-class citizens. “People sometimes say, ‘If they were any good as preachers, they’d have a full-time job,’” Gilder said.
That irks the Rev. Bo Brown, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Maylene, Ala. Brown, who works for the Social Security Administration for his day job, says he works as hard as other ministers. He’s not looking for a full-time church job. He took vacation time from work to attend the Orlando convention.
"Bivocational ministry is a calling," he said. "It’s not something that you do until your church gets bigger and you don’t have to do it anymore."
And don’t call Brown a part-time pastor. “It’s not part time,” he said, “because you don’t work half as hard as any other minister.”
Many of the bivocational ministers got a call to preach long after they’d had established careers. They often can’t afford to quit their jobs and go to seminary. So they preach where they are.
That’s the case of the Rev. Andy Courtney, pastor of Bledsoe Creek Baptist Church in the Sumner County community of Bethpage. He has driven a truck for the Dunlap & Kyle Tire Co. for 16 years and been a pastor for 4½ years.
"I drive a truck to pay the bills," he said, "but my job, my calling, is the pastorate."
It’s not a lucrative calling. According to a 2008 compensation survey from LifeWay, the average pastor of a small church with between 50 and 74 members makes $39,459. For a bivocational pastor of the same size church, the salary is $10,181.
"I’d starve to death if I had to depend on preaching for a living," said Kenny Louden, who preaches at McCrae’s Chapel in Big Sandy, Tenn. "I don’t look at preaching as a job. That’s working for the Lord."
Louden runs a construction company, along with pastoring the 60 or so people who attend his church, which is part of New Harmony Baptist Church in Paris, Tenn. The church had been closed for a number of years before Louden began preaching there.
"I preach in cowboy boots, a pair of blue jeans and a button-up shirt," he said.
Like many bivocational ministers, Louden didn’t start his career as a preacher. Until his mid-30s, he didn’t want much to do with church.
"I sowed a few wild oats," he said, "and I ran with a pretty rough crowd."
But his wife was a churchgoer who prayed for years that her husband would find faith. That happened when Louden was 36.
He started preaching in his early 40s. Because he runs his company during the days, writing sermons happens at night or on the weekend.
Finding time to write sermons and take care of other pastoral duties, like visiting the sick, can be a challenge.
The Rev. Bobby Clark of Abbot Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ark., gets up at 4 in the morning to work on his sermons before going to work. He is also a contractor, and carries two phones with him. One is for work, and one for the church.
If the two ring at the same time, he answers the church phone first. Having two phones helps him draw a line between his two roles.
"I don’t want to answer the phone for someone whose loved one just died in the same way I’d answer a guy calling with a problem on the job site."
Gilder said that in recent years, a number of pastors have decided to stay bivocational, even if their church grows large enough to hire a full-time pastor.
They believe that having financial independence allows them to preach what they want to preach in the pulpit, and allows them to stay out of church conflict.
If they disagree with the church’s deacons or other members, the pastors can deal with the conflict without feeling that their job is threatened.
And some pastors say that staying in the work force helps them relate to their parishioners better.
"If someone comes in and says, ‘My manager is killing me,’ I can say, ‘My manager is killing me, too. Let’s pray together,’" said Brown, the Alabama pastor.