Published January 5, 2006
Every morning, Donnie Berry is given a wake-up call when George, his gray and white cat, taps him on the head.
“He came into my yard as a kitten and I just took him in,” says Berry. “When he wakes me up, that’s my reminder to pray to the Lord for opportunities to help people that day.”
Those opportunities come at the Department of Family and Children Services in Lincolnton, where Berry is the Economic Support Services supervisor. It’s there where the pastor of Mallorysville Baptist Church in Wilkes County daily encounters people looking for answers, assistance or a place to be taken in.
On call all the time
Though his official title as pastor says “part-time,” Berry is quick to point out that there is practically no end to a bivocational minister’s day.
“It’s like being on call all the time,” says Berry. “I get people at work wondering what the Bible says about this topic or that one.”
According to Kevin Wilson, database administrator and consultant with Information Services of the Georgia Baptist Convention, 36% of Georgia Baptist pastors – 1,140 total – are listed as bivocational, part-time or volunteer.
“That number could be higher,” admits Wilson. “That’s just based on what churches have reported to us.”
The role, not to mention importance, of the bivocational pastor is growing. Their congregations tend to be small and aging. Limited financial resources dictate the need for a minister capable of generating the lion’s share of his income. The churches themselves are inclined to be located in small towns or unincorporated rural communities, rather than cities, requiring travel expenses for the pastor.
Having a model of bivocational ministry to go by – when not doing missionary work, the apostle Paul made tents – can be a help for these ministers.
“The man who has had the greatest impact on my life as a Christian and mentor was my father, who was a bivocational pastor,” says Seaborn Dell, pastor of Greenwood Baptist Church in Lincoln County. “When he passed away a few years ago, the words he used to define his ministry were carved on his gravestone: ‘I work to live, but I live to preach.’”
Dell, who is a manager at Atwell Pecan Company, Inc. in Wrens, says serving part-time “can be a full-time proposition.”
“I’ve served in churches in a bivocational capacity where we had a full slate of services on Sunday and Wednesday night, deacon meetings, visitation and ministry to members in as many as five different hospitals in five different cities.
“I believe that when God calls a man, and that man is faithful to respond to that call, God will provide the time, talents and resources necessary to fulfill that call.”
That call often includes on-the-job witnessing. Knowing that standing on a chair in the break room preaching the Word might be frowned upon, ministers allow opportunities to present themselves.
“Among my employees, personal issues come up where they want to ask me for advice,” says Arthur Gunn, senior vice president for Exchange Bank in Milledgeville and pastor of Island Creek Baptist Church in neighboring Hancock County.
In accounting for the progress of 76 employees spread among five branches, most of Gunn’s time is spent making sure everything is going smoothly. Often, concerns or worries from home are brought in by workers who might want to seek out pastoral counsel. Those relationships are built over time to include other opportunities for ministry.
“I’ve performed weddings and funerals for employees’ parents as well as spouses,” says Gunn. “People find out you’re a pastor and want to sit down and talk with you.”
“There have been instances where I’ve addressed everything from financial problems to theological questions,” asserts Keith Vaughn, pastor of Darien Baptist Church in Linton and business manager at Glasrite, a fabricator of equipment insulation located in Milledgeville. “There have been occasions at my job where I was able to lead someone to Christ.”
Being placed in the “real world” has its advantages for the bivocational pastor. Charges of being locked in an ivory tower or having an incapability of empathizing with harried church members trying to juggle all aspects of life are unfounded.
“[My job] has made me sensitive to the hardships people go through which churchgoers might not be aware of,” says Berry, who can find himself dealing with spousal abuse, children orphaned by parents strung out on meth or family members dealing with the death of a child. “Each day is a little different.”
“When people find out you’re a pastor they want to sit down and talk with you,” adds Gunn, who also sees a mutual benefit in his church and secular vocations.
“There are life experiences you can take from work and share them in the church. You can also share with employees things from church.”
“At my job, I get to interact with people everyday who might not be in church,” says Mike Jones, parts department manager for Dorman Dodge in Sandersville and pastor of nearby Jackson Baptist Church. “I try to make people more comfortable and at ease. Dealing with them on a more personal, one-on-one basis is vital to my ministry in the work place and in church.
“I get a better feel for relating with the needs of others who may be in or outside the church, and that makes sharing the Gospel easier. I also receive great sermon illustrations in my line of work.”
“In bivocational work, you get to experience a little broader sector of people,” says James Bowen, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church in Greene County and shipping manager, division 2, for Essex Manufacturing outside of Washington. “It gives me some perspective on what is going on in the world.”
The man called “Rev” by his employees says he never planned on giving up his secular job after his call to preach.
“It gives me some perspective on what is going on in the world,” testifies Bowen. “Each day is a little different. You really get to minister with your employees. You find yourself in the role of counselor and pastor at work.”
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