Archives For bivocational

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

“If they (your church) keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked. Because you are nobody’s Superman.”
– Pastor Curtis Gilbert on how a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Ministry can be chaotic, said Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert. In fact, it definitely will be. What pastors are called to is not a calling of ease or of superficial comfort, Gilbert told leaders at the 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, but one that will call everything out of you.

The pastor of The Journey’s Metro East campus opened the conference with an encouragement to pastors to acknowledge the chaos, and to assess their lives and ministries in four key ways described by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:5-9. The Scripture passage was the foundation for the conference and its theme, “Time for a Check-Up.”

Gilbert urged pastors to evaluate their own love for Jesus, for the gospel, for their family, and for God’s people.

“Even the sheep that bite you are precious souls,” Gilbert said, adding that pastors can become arrogant and impatient when they stop viewing church members as God’s children, and when they forget that they themselves are every bit as much a sinner as their people. Don’t delegate all the shepherding to other people, Gilbert told pastors.

“Be with the sheep; it gives your preaching credibility,” he said, emphasizing that a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Joe Valenti spoke after Gilbert and smilingly accused him of stealing his message. “What he preached to you is what I’m going to preach,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Namely, that if you would fall in love with the God of the gospel, if he would be your everything, then everything else comes out of that.”

Valenti, whose church is engaged in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel, quoted pastor and author John Piper, who has said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.” When pastors treasure the God of the gospel, Valenti said, relying on him for everything and never forgetting the first day they experienced his grace, “missions comes out.”

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

Pastor Brad Pittman

Brad Pittman (center), pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction, accepted this year’s IBSA Bivocational Pastor of the Year award this morning at the Pastors’ Conference in Decatur. 

In light of eternity
The mass shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, just two days before the conference began lent a heightened urgency to the meeting and the messages. Randy Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, preached on how to share the gospel as if it’s going to be your last opportunity, while Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told pastors the world they minister in is only getting darker.

The Christian worldview decreases a few percentage points every year, said Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and a long-time analyst of church and religion trends. And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, he added.

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons Southern Baptists are declining is that we have hidden our light under a bushel,” Stetzer said. But as aliens and strangers in the culture—as exiles—can we love people in the midst of cultural change, he asked. “If we can’t, we have a lot of explaining to do to Christians who have—for 2,000 years—done that.”

The 2018 IBSA Pastors’ Conference is Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Officers are Bob Stilwell, president; Ben Towell, vice president; and Rayden Hollis, treasurer.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

In two out of three Southern Baptist congregations, fewer than 100 people gather for worship on Sunday morning. Megachurches may get more attention, but small churches are the backbone of the SBC, Frank Page has said.

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of a new advisory council on small and bivocational churches.

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of a new advisory council on small and bivocational churches.

Still, small church pastors often feel overlooked and marginalized, left out and under-resourced. A new advisory council assembled by Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, exists to communicate the unique needs of these categories of churches with denominational leaders.

“I will not allow the Southern Baptist Convention to forget who we are,” said Page during the first meeting of the Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council. “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.”

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of the 21-member council, which will work over the next three years to develop a report on the statistics that define Southern Baptist churches. The group, one of several Page has brought together in his first four years as Executive Committee president, represents a large majority of Southern Baptist churches.

“Some would say 35,000 of our 46,000 churches, maybe more than that, are in the two categories of small church or bivocational,” Page said at the Sept. 11-12 meeting in Atlanta. For the council’s purposes, he defined a small church as one with 125 people or fewer in Sunday school attendance. The group also looked at research on the percentages of SBC churches by worship attendance. According to 2013 data, 68% of Southern Baptist churches have 100 or fewer people in worship, compared to 78% of IBSA churches and missions.

Woodman, now pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, spent more than 25 years as a bivocational pastor at Harmony Baptist Church in
Medora. He told the Illinois Baptist small church and bivocational pastors (most who also work a second job) often feel out-of-the-loop. Sunday school curriculum may feel tailored to larger churches with more people and more classroom space, for example, and large church pastors often are the ones invited to speak at meetings or conferences.

But non-megachurches can be effective churches. Woodman, whose Carlinville church reported an average worship attendance of 145 in their 2013 Annual Church Profile, is leading Emmanuel to look closely at what makes a congregation healthy. He referenced LifeWay President Thom Rainer’s 2013 book “I Am A Church Member,” which outlines members’ responsibilities to their congregation.

“If a church member’s not supposed to look at ‘what’s in it for me,’ then maybe churches ought to stop looking at ‘what’s in it for me,’” Woodman said. The better question is, “What can I do for the bigger body?”

Major shift toward bivocational
Page has used a “fault lines” analogy to describes areas of SBC life where there are rifts between different groups. One of those fault lines, he said in the Atlanta meeting, is related to church methodology, or how churches do church. The discussion centered on bivocational ministry, a strategy Page called “the wave of the future.” It’s also the wave of the past.

Southern Baptist churches have long relied on bivocational pastors to lead churches. Decades ago, many pastors were farmers; today, they also drive school buses, deliver the mail, and run small businesses.

“I’m convinced that in the 21st Century, the best stewardship model is bivocational,” Page said. “We’ve got a lot of students coming out of seminary now who have no intention of being full support.” In other words, they’re prepared to work more than one job to make ends meet.

That news was encouraging to Woodman. There was a day, he said, when “the underlying current was that the bivocational guy wasn’t good enough to have a full-time church.” Page shared with the group that some Christian universities are now training students to be pastors along with learning another vocation.

While there will always be churches that want their pastor to be full-time, Woodman said, bivocational ministry is imperative if Southern Baptists want to extend the reach of churches into more communities. “And we’re going to have to do a better job at it,” he said, and at preparing future leaders for it. Because bivocational pastoring is “a different game.”

Quit the comparison game
Small church pastor Job Dalomba posed a pointed question in an April blog post: “We have to ask ourselves an honest question: Do we want to see the glory of God shining from larger churches or do we just want their numbers, resources and notoriety to be our numbers, resources and notoriety?”

The SBC Voices post by Dalomba, pastor of a new, small church in Southaven, Mississippi, called for small church pastors to stop comparing themselves to men who lead larger congregations, and to pray for those big churches too.

It’s a strategy the congregation at Emmanuel has utilized this year. A church’s prayer requests are a good measure of its health, Pastor Woodman said. “Throw them up on the wall, and see what your prayer requests do. And when you get done, you begin to think about what does that tell you your view of God is.

“And in essence, you’ll find in most churches that he’s healer, a physician; he’s an employment agency; he’s Triple A. But what’s lacking is that he’s a savior.”

Woodman’s congregation was already praying by name for people who don’t know Christ when he arrived as pastor last year. To that focus, they’ve added regular prayer for sister churches in Macoupin Baptist Association. The prayers are scripted, with a focus on reaching people who don’t know Christ. Woodman is hopeful the strategy will help build a spirit of teamwork between his church and others in the community, he told SBC Life earlier this year.

“When we started praying for our sister churches, that helped us be healthier. If we as pastors and churches would take the same attitude, then we’d stop looking at what others were doing for us, and we’d start doing for others.”

With reporting by Baptist Press and SBC Life. Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at