Some of my happiest memories as a child was riding down the dirt road in rural Robertson County, Tennessee, with mom and dad on our way to Rock Springs Baptist Church every Sunday morning and night. The church was at the dead end, literally. If you did not stop in the parking lot you would run smack into the cemetery – where several members of the Hinkle clan are buried.
On a good Sunday, attendance might reach 75. Despite its size, it was a vibrant church, where everyone knew and loved everybody. We were a missions-minded church, who supported the Cooperative Program and had a desire to share the Gospel. So my roots – and my love – run deep when it comes to rural, small Southern Baptist churches.
Rock Springs is typical of most churches in Missouri. In fact, 75 percent of the 1,984 churches affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) average fewer than 70 in Sunday morning worship attendance. Nearly all have bivocational pastors. At any given time approximately 180-200 of these churches will be without a pastor.
At a time when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is devoting nearly all of its Cooperative Program resources to evangelistic church planting efforts in North America and abroad, I fear too many of our small rural churches are suffering. The Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network, a fellowship of SBC bivocational and small church pastors, estimates there are about 37,000 smaller-church pastors, most of whom are bivocational. Congregations of less than 200 members account for 33,522 churches within the SBC. About 75 percent of the 44,000 churches affiliated with the SBC run less than 100 in attendance in Sunday School.
Let us commit ourselves to regularly pray for our small, rural churches and our bivocational pastors. To them, I would say never apologize for being what you are. Be what God has called you to be. Be the best you can for Him. Stay focused on bringing honor and glory to God.
As for our bivocational pastors, remember that the Apostle Paul was a bivocational preacher. He made tents for a living and was a pretty good preacher in his own right as I recall.
Though some may feel ignored, The North American Mission Board (NAMB) nor the MBC are not overlooking our small churches. Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president for mobilization recently characterized small churches and bivocational pastors as a Great Commission powerhouse. “The only way we’re going to reach North America and the world is if we have a bivocational pastor movement,” he said at the SBC’s annual meeting in Phoenix in June.
This newspaper loves our small churches and our bivocational pastors. We would not exist without them because they comprise the majority of our readers. But we love them most because of what they do for the cause of Christ. I know the MBC loves our small churches and bivocational pastors. The MBC would not exist without them. God loves our small churches and bivocational pastors. Without them their communities would not hear the Gospel and how Jesus loves them.
Don Hinkle / Editor