Any way you slice it, Brian Parsons is a bivocational pastor.
The bivocational pastor of Springville Baptist Church also is the bivocational pastor of McDavid Grove Baptist Church, both located in Henry County, Tennessee.
Parsons is believed to be the only bivocational pastor of two Tennessee Baptist churches at the same time, said Roger Britton, bivocational ministry specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
The unique arrangement has gone on since June of 2022, said Parsons, who has been bivocational pastor at Springville Baptist since 2016.
McDavid Grove Baptist Church, located about three miles away, had been without a pastor for about a year after their pastor, Ray Whitlow, died of COVID-19. Larry Simmons, retired executive pastor of First Baptist Church, Paris, had been serving as interim pastor of McDavid Grove.
Simmons knew Parsons because they are in the same association, and he knew that the two churches are very similar. Simmons contacted Parsons to see if he would be willing to serve as pastor of both churches with the understanding that there would “have to be give and take” by both churches. “The doors opened and Brian was willing to walk through them,” he said.
He observed that neither church is large enough to support a full-time pastor. “Brian is fulfilling a need.”
‘Pastor pipeline dwindling’
Jim Twilbeck, director of missions for Western District Baptist Association, noted that finding ministers is sometimes difficult, especially for smaller churches. “The pastor pipeline is dwindling,” he said. See related story on dwindling pastor pipeline in Tennessee.
In the case of Parsons, he noted the arrangement is “a modern take on the circuit-riding preacher.”
Noting that both congregations are small, Twilbeck said that by sharing a pastor they are able to support a pastor and his family. “I thought it was a good idea for Brian to take both churches,” he said.
The DOM noted he is supportive of the concept of a bivocational pastor serving two churches.
“As time passes, we will probably need more bivocational pastors willing to take on two churches,” he said.
Parsons said he accepted the challenge of serving two churches because “I felt God was calling me to do this.”
He acknowledged that both churches, located about three miles apart, are very similar in size and age of membership (average age about 70) and approach. Both have very similar church facilities.
Parsons praised the leadership of both churches for doing what it took to make the dual pastorship work. McDavid Grove Baptist moved its worship and Sunday School times.
He preaches at McDavid Grove first, then he goes to Springville to preach while McDavid Grove has its Sunday School classes.
Each church has its own deacons and operates as a single church. The only difference is they share the same pastor. And he understands that he can’t “pastor both churches the same way. You have to lead them according to their needs.”
When it comes to sermons, he uses the same Scripture at both churches but the message will be slightly different, Parsons said.
“It is not always the same message delivered the same way,” he said. “There are subtle differences.”
‘All about serving the Lord’
Parsons admitted that some members of Springville originally were hesitant to make the move because they feared he would be pulled in too many directions at once.
“When they realized I would give up my secular job, they understood I would have time to do more for both churches. Instead of being less available, I would be more available,” he said.
“The Lord’s handiwork was visible throughout the process,” he affirmed.
So far, his experience with the two congregations has been positive. “I am all about serving the Lord and doing what He wants. I don’t want to see any church close its doors.”