Bivocational pastors in high demand among Georgia's 300 churches with vacant pulpits


GLENWOOD, Ga. — On weekdays, Robert Rogers is a pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions to southeast Georgia residents, but, on Sundays, he is pastor at Stuckey Baptist Church, delivering sermons to many of those same people.

Rogers is one of a much-in-demand band of bivocational pastors who feel a calling to Georgia’s small rural congregations.

Most of the roughly 300 Georgia churches that are without permanent pastors right now are in rural communities that simply don’t have the resources to support full-time clergymen, which makes bivocational pastors especially hot commodities.

“It’s a supply and demand thing,” said Chris Reynolds, lead strategist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s pastor wellness ministry.

Members of Stuckey Baptist Church prayed for a pastor for some two years before they found Rogers in nearby Dublin.

The Mission Board is working to increase the supply of pastors, including appropriating more money for ministerial scholarships at Georgia’s Baptist colleges and Southern Baptist seminaries.

Reynolds said the churches having the most difficulties finding pastors are those at which pastors have to work second jobs to make ends meet because the congregations can’t afford to pay full-time salaries.

To help those churches, the Mission Board initiated what it calls the “Right Start” program. In that program, churches can request Mission Board employees to fill vacant pulpits for up to six weeks.

“Right Start helps churches in the most critical time after a pastor leaves,” Reynolds said.

The Mission Board also trains transitional pastors to serve throughout the search process, which sometimes can take a year or more.

And through what has been dubbed “Calling out the Called,” the Mission Board is helping churches identify potential young pastors and prepare them for careers in ministry.

Georgia Baptist Convention President Josh Saefkow made “Calling out the Called” the theme of an annual meeting in November in hopes of helping churches identify the next generation of ministers who God is calling to share the gospel in the state, nation and world.

At the annual meeting, the Mission Board announced that it had committed an additional $125,000 for each of the state’s three Baptist colleges — Brewton-Parker College, Shorter University and Truett McConnell University — for scholarships for students who have been called to ministry and an additional $150,000 for scholarships  for students preparing for ministry at any of the six Southern Baptist seminaries across the nation.

Lifeway Christian Resources has said bivociational pastors can be many things, from students to sales associates to software engineers, but the one thing they can’t be is lazy, because the role requires them to be willing work long hours to navigate what is essentially two full-time jobs.

Rogers said he believes Georgia’s Baptist colleges could be key to pastors in pulpits by encouraging ministerial students to serve.

“Churches certainly need be patient,” Rogers said. “We have to wait on God to supply, but, at the same time, we have to make people aware of the need.”