In 1996, the first retreat for bivocational ministers and wives was held at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, Tennessee, drawing about 20 couples.
Twenty-seven years later the Bivocational Ministers and Wives Retreat, now held annually in Pigeon Forge, drew a record attendance of more than 300, including 146 couples.
Registration included more first-time participants than ever before, noted Roger Britton, bivocational ministry specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. The 2023 retreat stood out as one of the “best” on record, he added.
“We had several pastors and wives considering resignation, separation and even divorce, but God provided what was needed to revive marriages, encourage couples and strengthen relationships for each pastor and wife to return to the church field refreshed and excited about their God-called ministries.”
Britton said several bivocational pastors and their wives had the opportunity to share Jesus with a woman working at Music Road Resort and she accepted Jesus as her Savior on Friday night in the lobby of the hotel.
Britton cited two factors for the increased attendance. When the event was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, smaller banquets were held all across the state, allowing more to learn about the retreat.
In addition, Britton said, he met with many directors of missions/associational missions strategists and sought their assistance in promoting the retreat among their pastors, some 60% of whom serve bivocationally.
“We are trying to reach the ones who have not been here before,” he explained. “If we can get them here, we know it will help and encourage them.”
Many who attend once return for future retreats because of the fellowship and connections they make, Britton said, adding he and his wife, Kathy, attended their first retreat 25 years ago.
“I enjoyed it when I was a bivocational pastor,” said Clay Gilbreath, director of missions for Big Hatchie Baptist Association in Covington.
“I encourage all bivocational pastors to take advantage of this great opportunity offered by the [TBMB].”
Facing common problems
Lloyd Stiller, AMS for Bledsoe Baptist Association, attending for the first time, said, “I want to get plugged into what they are facing so I can effectively step alongside them,” noting about two-thirds of the pastors in his association are bivocational.
Randy Nichols, pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church Fayetteville and a member of the Tennessee Bivocational Ministry Leadership Council, is a strong advocate of the retreats.
“We want people to leave the retreat like David, with a sling in hand, slinging the rock — representing the Army of God with a zeal for evangelism.”
Derek Wright, pastor of Unity Baptist Church Ashland City, attends to meet other pastors, he said.
“As bivocational pastors, it is important to network.”
Ron Mathis, pastor of First Baptist Church Lafayette, and his wife, Charlotte, have attended for about six years.
“We get recharged. I find that the problems we face are universal. That’s encouraging,” Mathis said.
Joy Hunter, whose husband, Jeff, is pastor of Marble City Baptist Church Knoxville, said they love the retreat because “we are on the same ground. Everyone has a church and a job and are trying to find balance.”
She also noted the retreat provides an opportunity to meet new friends and realize that “we are not alone. It soothes the soul.”
Nationally known author and speaker Charles Lowery encouraged the couples with humor and Scripture during a banquet on the first day, reminding the pastors that most of their stress and frustration come from trying to straighten out someone else.
“In the ministry, you can care for people but you can’t cure people. That’s God’s problem,” Lowery said.