Community Baptist Church in Maylene, Alabama, is served by a full complement of six bivocational leaders to minister to the four hundred people who gather for worship each Sunday, to the larger community of about seven thousand located twenty miles south of downtown Birmingham, and to each of the bivocational leaders’ workplaces.
In addition to Pastor Bo Brown, who works for the Social Security Administration, the worship leader, minister to families, education minister, student minister, and senior adult/children’s minister all serve bivocationally at what is locally known as CBC Maylene.
“Bivocational ministry is a calling on one’s life,” Brown said. “It’s not a condition based on the size of your congregation, serving in that capacity only until your church gets bigger. Instead it is a unique independent calling, allowing for God to use ministers without creating a massive financial draw on the church. It allows the investment in the ministries of the church to be larger.
“Our staff at CBC work as a team, working in step with our congregation to impact not just the church, but also the community that surrounds us and beyond,” Brown continued. “It is a Christ-centered module, modeling the Church of Acts in everyone serving one another. It is the quintessential picture of the church being the church, both ministers and congregation.”
Located just north of the center of the state, CBC Maylene’s congregation mirrors its community, with a growing church that is gaining in its ethnic diversity, with multiple nationalities among the historically Anglo congregation.
When Brown became pastor in 2005—it was his first pastorate, after seventeen years in youth ministry—about forty people participated in Sunday morning worship. Within five years there were 350.
Education Minister Matt Monk, who also works as a medical auditor for a local hospital, gave several reasons for the growth of the church.
“Bro. Bo [Brown] has a great ability to develop personal relationships with people,” Monk said. “He has a great ability to cast a vision to help people see what God is doing in the community. We also have a great core of people who have a vision for the church to grow.”
As a medical auditor, Monk translates medical records for billing and for research. As education minister at the church, Monk develops and promotes Sunday school and discipleship classes. He’s also involved in the outreach committee and on the nominating team.
“From a spiritual perspective, we’re able to relate to people who work, as they balance ministry with vocation,” said Monk, a lay minister at CBC Maylene since 2008 and on staff since 2010. “Without lay ministers we can’t do ministry as a staff, and the more they and we see how each other has to balance ministry and secular employment, the more understanding we all have, and the more we are willing and interested in working together.”
According to one survey, as many as one-half of Southern Baptist pastors serve full time but are not fully funded by the congregations they serve. They serve bivocationally, dependent for their family’s financial fitness on secular employment and/or wife’s employment.
Bivocational pastors weave hospital visits, funerals, weddings, members’ crises, and community opportunities with their secular employment, family, and study time.
“For me it is about trusting others and trusting the God who called you, if I am to do all God asks me to do,” Brown said. “God has blessed me with an outstanding staff and incredible leaders. Because of their commitment, my pastoral duties are a blessing.
“I have learned from my mentors that having great people around you, an administrative plan in place, and an uncompromising call is essential to serve as a bivocational pastor,” Brown continued.
Greg Ragland serves bivocationally as a sixth-grade science teacher/bus driver, and is in his first year as minister to families at CBC Maylene. Previously he was the church’s youth minister for thirteen years.
“I’ve been bivocational since 2001,” Ragland said. “I get to work out in the real world and relate to people. We can’t share Christ with them at school, but we can be an every-day example.
“Parents see how you work with their kids, and see your light shine, and to me that’s a positive,” he said.
“I love the fact that our pastor is bivocational,” Ragland continued. “He works so hard at his job, and does such an awesome job as pastor. He holds you accountable for what he’s asked, and for your job. The thing I love about Bo the most is his [evangelistic] boldness.”
Brown is has led the church in FAITH evangelism through the Sunday School, Continued Witness Training (CWT), and the MasterLife discipleship program. When he’s not teaching, he’s often a student in the discipleship classes that take place Sunday evening in lieu of a full worship service.
“[Members] know we work other full-time jobs,” Ragland said. “It makes them respect us and love us even more.”
In addition to their ministerial assignment, secular employment, and family, bivocational leaders are not immune from the real world “stuff” that others go through.
“All our ministers have several situations,” said the minister to families. “Bo has four children, three in college. Matt has seven kids. I have three adopted kids from China, all with medical needs. My son has had forty surgeries.”
In recent days Brown, in addition to everything else, has dealt with doctors over his father’s as-yet-undiagnosed sickness, and has gone to New York to build a relationship with a church planter there.
It might be easy for CBC Maylene’s bivocational leaders to sit back and take a breath. After all, the church has grown seven times larger than it was when Brown was called as pastor in 2005; it has four additional staff members; by deliberate design the church reflects the community’s diversity; and is heavily involved in local missions and ministries. The church reaches out globally with the same resolve it does locally, contributing 10 percent of its undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program.
“This is a small way of trying to give back,” Brown said. “We are a blessed congregation, blessed more than we deserve, and this allows us to give to something bigger than ourselves.
“In our church, we work together, sharing in the mission of Christ both in the local congregation, being bivocational, and in the greater cause of the Gospel,” Brown said. “We accomplish a great deal because of that philosophy, regarding both the Cooperative Program and with a bivocational staff and involved members.
“We support the Cooperative Program because it’s efficient, effective, and we as Southern Baptists can accomplish more because we work together through CP,” Brown continued. “For us at CBC Maylene, it’s our way of participating globally in the Great Commission.”
“Bo says we’ve got to keep working,” Ragland said. “God’s been blessing us so much, but don’t ever get comfortable because there always is so much more that we can be doing.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and is a member of First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Utah.