While serving bivocationally or in small churches can be a challenging and lonely world, Ira Antoine had a message to leave with pastors and wives of these congregations.
“We are tempted to believe we are the only ones in this, but we are not alone,” said Antoine, director of bivocational ministry at Texas Baptists. “Jesus started your church in Donna, or in Tyler or Goliad or wherever you are, just like he started those in the Metroplex, or San Antonio or Rockdale. We all have the same struggles.”
At a dinner held Sunday to open the 2023 Texas Baptists Family Gathering, Antoine and representatives from the Texas Baptist Small Church Minister and Spouse Association shared time with ministers and their spouses who serve in these roles across the state. Association president Dr. Dillard Fisher, pastor at Cross Bearers Church in Copperas Cove for the past 14 years, shared his appreciation for those in attendance.
“I heard early on that bivocational was supposed to mean part-time, but I haven’t figured out how to do that,” Fisher laughed. “So I want to thank you for your hard work, because if you are really committed to it, it’s full-time work.”
Bivocational Ministries at Texas Baptists encourages, equips and serves those in smaller churches or serving bivocationally. Noting that 95% of churches have populations of 250 or less, Antoine reminded pastors of his role to provide support and training for their unique needs and situations, working with associations to serve.
He then shared a brief message of encouragement for ministers, drawing from Mark 4 where Jesus and his disciples are caught in a storm while crossing the sea.
“There is a phrase here that is overlooked: ‘Other boats were with him,’” noted Antoine. “A lot of times we pay attention to the boat that Jesus was in, because that’s the main setting. A lot of times we feel like the other boats, but we are in the same sea. You need to know you are not alone.”
Antoine shared three points found from the story to encourage: We all share similar trials; we have similar temptations; and we all have sure triumph. The trials may look unique to small churches, but in truth, Antoine said, all churches face challenges.
“The folks in Jesus’ boat and the other boats were in the same storm. When the pandemic hit, it wasn’t large churches or small churches dealing with it; everybody was facing the same storm,” he said. “In fact, larger churches couldn’t meet, and they learned how to do things in small groups. But we’ve been doing small groups all of our lives.”
Using the example of the disciples from the passage, Antoine noted there was a natural tendency to do everything in their own power, until they realize they are unable to handle the situation. Finally, they call on Jesus for assistance. The temptation is to feel abandoned and alone, but God is present in those struggles.
Then he pointed out the happy ending, when Jesus calms the storm.
“Jesus was already asleep when they left the shore, and they had to wake him to handle the storm,” Antoine said. “But it didn’t just get still for people in the big boat; it got still for those folks in the other boats too. In his flesh, He couldn’t be on both boats, but He calms the seas for all of us. It doesn’t matter what we’re going through; Christ can take care of that for us.”
To close the dinner, Antoine led the room in prayer for one another at each banquet table. The group then sang the hymn “Jesus Paid it All” before Antoine closed the meeting in prayer.
The message of encouragement was special to Joe Barber of San Antonio, who has pastored St. Luke Baptist Church for 17 years amid a 25-year career as a substance abuse counselor in the city. With a congregation that tops out around 200, Barber said he identified with the message and appreciated the fellowship of both the dinner event and the larger Family Gathering.
“I get to glean encouragement from wise people around the tables. This makes me feel connected and like someone cares. We are really all in the same situation,” Barber said. “The [Family] Gathering in general is a time to gather information I wouldn’t be able to get in my context.”
Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.
The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.
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