Bruce Corley was an outstanding New Testament professor. After sitting in his class for two semesters, two things stand out to me these 30 years later. First, when asked about a particular passage of Scripture, one that we were not studying at the time, he answered the question after first quoting the text in Greek, parsing the key verb, and dealing with other significant grammar issues. He is very smart.
The second thing that I remember is Dr. Corley making this statement: “Two-thirds of you will be bi-vocational in your ministry.” I must confess that my immediate thought was “Not me!” But I soon learned that Dr. Corley was correct, both practically and strategically, he was correct. And for several years the term “bi-vocational” described my ministry.
In the Northwest Baptist Convention we have 450+ churches, about 80 of which average more than 100 in worship attendance. More than twice as many average less than 50 in worship. If that surprises you, you should also know that our percentages are not very different from other states, including the Bible –belt states of the South. Without question half of all Baptist churches average less than 75 in worship, and in some states half would average less than 60 or 65. That means that many pastors and associate pastors are bi-vocational. Some that are not bi-vocational would be if it were not for a spouse providing additional income.
This reality means that Dr. Corley was correct for practical reasons. Most churches are small and need a pastor that has additional income. But Dr. Corley was also correct for strategic reasons. For many different reasons, most churches never average 100 people in weekly attendance, even in their peak years of attendance. This was true in A.D. 1815, 1915, and 2015. Therefore, if we are going to reach more people, we must have more churches, not simply seek to grow our existing churches.
Every church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ. And every church should not only desire to reach more people, but should actually work to do it. That said, never in the history of our country has the typical church had 100 people in weekly attendance. It has always been true that the denominations and networks of churches that have won the day have done so because they had more churches, most of which were led by bi-vocational pastors. This has always been true. Thus, strategically, we must have more bi-vocational pastors if we are going to reach more people.
“Whoever has the most churches wins” is a statement that I’ve been making for many years. What I mean by that is that whoever has the most churches will reach the most people. That means that whoever has the most churches will make the most disciples, send the most missionaries, develop the most prayer warriors, and make the greatest impact on culture.
In Washington and Oregon, “the people” voted to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana smoking. Other states have same-sex marriage because of the decision of a federal judge. But “the people” of Washington and Oregon voted to legalize it. Why did they do it? Because we don’t have enough churches making more and more disciples. It’s not that our churches aren’t big enough. The reason Arkansas hasn’t voted to legalize same-sex marriage isn’t because they have bigger churches. It’s because they have far more churches, most of whom have bi-vocational pastors. This is true of Missouri and Texas and Oklahoma and Mississippi and Georgia. The churches in those states are not better than the churches of the Northwest, and most of them are not bigger, there are just many more of them.
In the Northwest, we need more churches. And the way we get more churches is to call-out more pastors, many of whom will be bi-vocational. Bi-vocational pastors are heroes. They work full-time (a pastor always has his flock in his head and heart). They get paid part-time. But most of them survive, and even thrive, by the grace of God.
Is God calling you into ministry leadership? Is He calling someone in your church? If He is, it doesn’t mean you have to quit your day job. He might want you to pastor that small church that’s struggling to find God’s man. He might want you to start a church while you continue to teach school, or police your city, or run your business. I can promise you this, we need many such men. God is calling many such men.