ROGERSVILLE – Pastor Winston Burton of the First Baptist Church (FBC) here won’t quit his day job. In fact, this nearly 300-member congregation has chosen to employ only bivocational and part-time staff members – a decision that, according to Burton, has its advantages for ministry.
“Lots of doors have been opened as a result of my being bivocational,” Burton said, sharing how his work in the school system helped him to build relationships within the community. “I’ve had people come to me with educational problems, which allowed me to have opportunities to share with them about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I felt that my call into the ministry was bivocational, and I’ve been a bivocational minister for 47 years,” he said, adding that he couldn’t do it without the support of his wife, Phyllis. Throughout his ministry, he served in teaching and administrative roles within schools, working 60 hours a week at the school and preparing sermons or doing pastoral work for 30 hours.
When Burton arrived at FBC Rogersville 39 years ago, the church only had a few staff members. As the congregation grew, he led the church eventually to employ more than a dozen bivocational and part-time staff members. During this time, he also trained 19 men for bivocational ministry after they surrendered to God’s call to preach the gospel.
Although many churches throughout the United States employ full-time ministers, some experts believe that bivocational ministry may be the way of the future. Already, thousands of bivocational pastors serve throughout the United States, and according to the North American Mission Board they make up as many as 50 percent of the Southern Baptist pastors in states like Alabama and Arkansas.
“The future of ministry is bivocational. We’re on a very rapid trajectory toward that,” said John Mark Yeats, dean of the college at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where students can now train for bivocational ministry through a B.A. in Christian ministry and business. “It’s hard for a church that runs 100 to sustain a liveable pastor’s salary, to take care of a pastor and his family. So necessity has dictated the realities of bivocational ministry.”
But bivocational ministry is not a “necessary evil,” he added. Rather it is an opportunity for more ministry. Bivocational ministers can serve in the workplace, adding another “layer of service to the kingdom.”
God calls all Christians, including bivocational ministers, to bear witness to Him and serve others in love through their work, Yeats said. This insight, in fact, has prompted a “business as missions” emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, which now sends professionals worldwide to proclaim the gospel while serving – for example – in tourism, agriculture, business, disaster relief and medicine. According to Yeats, the workplace is ripe for ministry even in the United States.
“Oftentimes, individuals in our churches simply see their jobs as a means to an end,” Yeats said. “It is something that keeps a roof over my head. It is something that allows me to buy things and to go on vacation. And it is reduced to a level that is not at all helpful. And so what ends up happening is that we see ourselves trapped within careers instead of placed within mission fields. We want individuals to recapture an understanding that it doesn’t matter where God has them, He always has them at a critical place for His kingdom.”
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