By Josiah Espinoza | September 22, 2021
“Like Paul, I too have learned how to work with my hands so that I might not be a burden to my young church plant.”
I am the Pastor of a young Southern Baptist church plant, Sovereign Trinity Church. We have not even had our 1 year anniversary as a church and yet there are so many beautiful things I have learned as a bivocational church planter.
The Beauty of Time
I work 40 hours a week at my job, spend about 20-30 hours a week preparing for my church’s Sunday Service (this includes prepping worship slides, prepping worship music, practicing worship songs, prepping the church building, mid-week bibles studies and sermon prepping) and I am taking 3 Seminary courses for my Masters of Divinity program at Gateway Seminary. At the same time I am doing my best to stay connected with our local Baptist association, keeping up with meetings, writing updates to my mentors and supervisors, keeping the California Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board up to date on my progress and still making time for personal fellowship, counseling and church events.
This is not me complaining. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am energized by the constant activity of this busy season. I love serving the Lord and serving God’s people with every ounce of my being. However, the Lord has humbled me in this process because I would not be able to do this on my own. In fact, I don’t do this on my own! I have a beautiful and multi-talented wife that is engaged in every aspect of the church. She is a wonderful administrator, a gifted musician and just has a heart for the Lord. I have a humble and solid leadership team that helps in so many ways and without them I would be drowning. But ultimately, the Lord strengthens, sustains and encourages me. I know this work is not done in vain.
Time becomes such a precious commodity. Learning how to balance home life with a wife and 4 kids, work life, church life and school life becomes an undeniably necessary skill to obtain. Just sitting down and watching Netflix with my wife or Spongebob with my kids is such a treasure. I enjoy the time I have sitting down at dinner with my family. I hold dear the moments where I can sit down and talk about the day with my kids. I love the moments where I can wrestle with my boys. It is so beautiful because I value each minute that is spent with them.
Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Now I am by no means a materially rich man. The profit that I am gaining through my diligent work is the harvesting of souls. Since November 8th 2020, our church has had 5 salvation, 12 baptisms and 17 new church members. We started with 25 people (adults and kids) and last week (9/22/2021) we had about 80 attendees. By the mercies of God, the Lord in his sovereign goodness is blessing the work of the ministry in ways that I could not imagine. That is not to say that I have the key to success, I am simply rejoicing at the very notion that God is blessing the work that I am engaged in. The Psalmist in Psalm 90:12 beautifully states, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The Lord has granted me a heart of wisdom, a heart that has learn to put the necessary things in his hands and the unnecessary aside. I just don’t have time to watch sports, to have a major hobby, to play hours of golf or even to binge Netflix. God has taught me the beauty of time.
The Beauty of Solidarity
If there is one major thing that this COVID pandemic has taught us is that consistent, full-time church pay is not necessarily a reality. I read an article from The Courier, a Southern Baptist web article called “Is Bivocational Minsitry the New Normal?” In this article from 2016 it stated that 50 percent of SBC pastors are bivocational (probably more in 2021). The articles goes on to say that 35,000 of the 46,000 churches in the SBC are in the two categories of small church or bivocational status. Other numbers place the percentage at a much higher rate, somewhere at the 80 percent mark but that it most likely falls between 40-60 percent. Now, some may chalk this up to unfaithful giving, to passionless evangelism or bad ecclesiology, and that may be the case. However, there is a beauty in bivocational ministry that allows for pastors to connect to the Scriptures in a much profound way.
The Apostle Paul was a man deeply acquainted with bivocational ministry. The Scriptures tell us that he was a tent maker by trade (Acts 18:1-28) and whenever Paul entered a city he lived among the people and worked with them. That does not mean that he did not receive financial help from other ministries or that he didn’t ask for financial aid. Paul would have been the first to say to the churches, “Pay your pastor a liveable wage,” but he chose not take that right in every city that he went to. In fact, he set the example of a strong work ethic to be able to show the saints in the city of Thessalonica how they are to live among the people.
Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister who is idle and does not live according to the tradition received from us. For you yourselves know how you should imitate us: We were not idle among you; we did not eat anyone’s food free of charge; instead, we labored and toiled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It is not that we don’t have the right to support, but we did it to make ourselves an example to you so that you would imitate us.~1 Thessalonians 6:1-8
And again Paul says
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right; instead, we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel. For my part I have used none of these rights, nor have I written these things that they may be applied in my case. For it would be better for me to die than for anyone to deprive me of my boast! ~ 1 Corinthians 9:11-15
So, it is not that I cannot choose to take a wage from my church. In fact, during the Summer of 2021, finances were scarce for me and my family. So in June, July and August the church helped with $500 a month each month. Could I have taken more? Probably. Would the church joyfully give it, yes! But, I did not need more than that and I do not plan to take any more from the church for quite some time. Like Paul, I too have learned how to work with my hands so that I might not be a burden to my young church plant. I joyfully give offerings to the Lord just like everyone else. I happily sacrifice time and energy to serve the Lord and his people without pay just like everyone else. I use my weekends for ministry needs instead of hobbies like everyone else. I schedule church events around work schedules just like everyone else. I have learned the secret of having little and having much and being content in those things. I am content being a bivocational pastor because it liberates our small church to do things that most small churches would feel burdened to do.
There is such a beauty knowing that I am one of thousands of SBC and non-SBC pastors that are in bivocational ministry. There is a profound connection with Scripture and understanding of Paul as he set the example of a hard-working bivocational minister. Will the Lord grant a full time position in the future? Possibly. Am I craving it? Not really. I have seen my dad faithfully serve his Spanish speaking church, that he planted in his own backyard for nearly 30 years. Has he ever been a full time pastor? Once, for about 3-6 months, then he went right back to work once he saw he was a burden to the ministry. I only pray to have that kind of faithfulness in my time of serving the Lord.
The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty
Who am I but a slave of the Lord. How dare I even try to begin to systematize the free and sovereign work of God in the harvesting of souls. I am simply a co-worker of God’s mission; an undershepherd of the Great Shepherd. Any success that I have had and any success that I may have in the future is not mine, but the Lords. How can I possibly systematize God’s sovereign grace. I am but a wounded gardener in the field of God, in constant need of sustenance. Your word, O God, is my sustenance and my life. Your Spirit, O Lord, is the water that refreshes my soul. Please continue granting your mercies and please continue granting your servants success in the ripe harvest. Your word says, “This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) May it be O Lord that you grant a great national revival that will glorify your name and magnify your work throughout the world.
Father help me to understand more deeply and profoundly the words of the Apostle Paul as he stated,
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Continue humbling me before your presence. Send your Spirit before me and toil the hardened hearts that they might receive the implanting of your Son’s good news. Grant to me strength and courage as I continue the work of planting and watering. You alone, O Lord, have the power to grant the growth. Only strengthen my prayer, strengthen my walk, stir my affections for you Lord and help me to dwell in your holy word.
Give life to dead bones with your breath O Lord, anoint me to preach your word faithfully. May the unction of your Spirit breathe through the words that are said at the pulpit. Remove the wolves in sheep clothing, shut the mouths of false prophets, rescue your people from the snare of the devil. The times are evil Lord and our days are numbered. May we be found faithful before your sight on the day of your visitation.
I have no ability, no glory, nothing that allows me to ever take away from the glory that rightfully belongs to you Jesus. By your sovereign hand, send the people you would have me care for and send other lost sheep to your other faithful under shepherds. Grant the sinner eyes to see and ears to hear, grant them regeneration by your will Lord, that they might repent and believe unto salvation. Grant cleansing and baptisms like never before. Give us the power to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that you have commanded because your promised that you would be with us, even to the end of the age. Amen.