Ray Gilder has some advice for Baptist preachers who are just starting out. Prepare to get a day job.

“Make sure you have a marketable skill,” said Gilder, bivocational ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Gilder was in Orlando this past week to meet with bivocational ministers, preachers with day jobs, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are truck drivers and government workers, contractors and teachers, who also feel called to preach. They often minister in out-of-the-way places, far from the spotlight.

But while Baptist megachurch pastors get the spotlight, says Gilder, bivocational ministers keep the convention running. Without them, many small churches would close, says Gilder, national coordinator for the Southern Baptist’s Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network.

And they are a growing group.

About three-quarters of Southern Baptists churches draw fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning. That means they often can’t afford to pay a preacher a full-time salary. So about half of Southern Baptist churches nationwide, and two-thirds in Tennessee, rely on bivocational ministers.

“We represent the majority of churches,” said Gilder, who also pastors Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville.

The idea of bivocational ministry dates back to the Bible. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman before becoming a preacher. The Apostle Paul, when he wasn’t writing most of the New Testament or starting new churches, made tents for a living.

“He was a pretty good preacher on the side,” Gilder said.

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