Bivocational pastors do 'double duty' to impact world for Christ
Losch is a painting contractor -- owner/operator -- starting his business 32 years ago after seeing an opportunity while laboring as a carpenter in rural Pennsylvania.
"I started building houses to make a living," said Losch. "I did that until I figured out I could make a better living with a bucket of paint than a stack of 2X4s."
While some working men eschew Facebook, Losch checks it regularly. He isn't worried about his status -- he's checking on his flock.
Losch is one of the many bivocational pastors serving congregations across the Southern Baptist and Canadian National Baptist conventions. According to data reported in the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors and associate pastors report being bivocational. Even more bivocational ministers serve as student pastors, worship leaders and in other roles. Losch joins men like adjunct professor Martinez "Tez" Andrews and engineer Carlos Soca who work more than 40-hour weeks at their day jobs, give spiritual leadership to their churches and remain engaged in the lives of their families.
A new phrase -- Iron Men of the SBC -- coined by Tim Dowdy describes these men. The thought came to the senior pastor after attending a triathlon. He serves as pastor of Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga.
"A couple of days later I was in a meeting at NAMB discussing bivocational pastors," said Dowdy, immediate past chairman of the North American Mission Board's trustees. "Then it hit me. I thought, 'Most of them don't swim, bike and run, but they are the Iron Men of the SBC.' They hold down full-time jobs, pastor churches and take care of their families."
To raise awareness for the need to help bivocational pastors, Dowdy will participate in his first full triathlon November 3 in Panama City, Fla.
"There are 345 million people in North America, and conservatively 70 to 80 percent still need to come to faith in Christ," said Dowdy. "We need bivocational pastors leading churches. In some urban and rural settings, there may never be a base that can support a full-time pastor."
Losch, Andrews and Soca may be in the minority in the SBC, but it is a large one. Only 63 percent of Southern Baptist congregations are led by full-time pastors, according to Southern Baptist Directory Services.
"We believe the only way for us to have a true church planting movement is to garnish the efforts of bivocational pastors and to train our young people that they, too, can be bivocational," said NAMB president Kevin Ezell.
Ezell recently announced a partnership between Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and NAMB to offer a 33-hour, online master's degree in theology. NAMB will support the effort with Iron Men of the SBC scholarships. NAMB honored bivocational pastors with a luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans and featured a bivocational pastor in its report to the convention.
A typical day in the life of the average bivocational pastor is anything but typical.
"Sermon preparation is probably the toughest. I've been told how I'm supposed to do it and then there is reality. When you work all day, come home and then are up until 1 a.m. counseling someone with serious issues, and you have to be up the next morning for work, sometimes sermon preparation takes a hit. I'll admit it. I've written one or two on my way walking to the pulpit."
Finding family time is daunting, too. Tez Andrews, father of four sons, ages 13-2, was hit recently with the sudden need to find a new worship location for his church plant, Connect Church in Decatur, Ga.
"I was, of course, concerned about the move," said Andrews. "As I was preparing my sermon, God made it clear to me I should focus on my sons, not where the church would meet."
He sensed the Lord prodding him, "Don't worry about the location. Be with your boys. You let me take care of where the church will meet."
Andrews spends 40-50 hours per week in lesson preparation and classroom lectures at Carver College and Belhaven University, both in Atlanta.
Although the calling can be challenging, bivocational pastors have support in the form of The Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN).
"The BSCLN is the champion of the validity, importance and resourcefulness of the bivocational and smaller membership church pastors," said Ray Gilder, BSCLN national coordinator. "Bivocational pastors are vital to planting churches across North America. They are double-duty ministers, willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference for Christ in their communities."
Engineer and pastor Carlos Soca appreciates the members at Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., where he leads the multi-ethnic congregation's Hispanic ministry. Travel is tough enough leaving his wife and three children behind, so having confidence in men who can step in at services is important.
"I lead the Spanish Fellowships on Sunday and Wednesday evenings," said Soca. "The balance of a professional career, a growing family, and the demands of leading in a congregation are challenging. What do you put your energy and your time into?
"Recently I was told I was needed the next week in Mexico for a presentation. There is no way to make services when you're out of the country. Thankfully we've developed men who can lead."
Recognizing those challenges, NAMB supports pastors with people like George Garner, who leads Bivocational and Rural Missional Strategies on NAMB's behalf.
"Kingdom explosion and spiritual awakening will come when the vast army of bivocational and lay leaders are released to be Kingdom agents ... in the marketplace of our continent," said Garner.
At 54, Losch has planted four churches, including his current pastorate, Mountain View Community Church in Richfield, Penn. He and his wife raised four children.
Losch's habit of keeping up with Facebook allowed him to lead an old friend to faith in Christ. It also helped a family make a major change.
"We had a boy come to our VBS," said Losch. "Three years later he sent a friend request. I asked him if he was going to church. When he said no, I invited him. His entire family showed up. Three weeks later his dad came to say the entire family were giving their lives to Christ.
"My advice for anyone considering bivocational pastoring would be to do it," Losch said. "Make sure you are good at both preaching and working. It is hard work and you need to be good at what you do."
"It can be challenging and tough," said Soca. "But at the same time I have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit. That's been a big lesson, a big growth area for me. You cannot do this in your own strength. You have to rely on God."
Joe Conway is a writer for the North American Mission Board.