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Column: The bi-vocational preacher

Posted: October 9, 2018 1:27 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2018 1:25 p.m.

In the months before we married, I sought to show Tink the Southern mountains of my raising. On a colorful autumn afternoon, I was driving him around the curvy backroads and pointing out spots of various interest such as family farms, cemeteries, and birthplaces. I turned off the “blacktop” onto a graveled dirt drive.

“This is a little church that Daddy used to pastor,” I said, motioning ahead to a simple white clapboard structure up on a picturesque hill. There was a sign that welcomed folks and gave the name of the church, its pastor, and meeting times.

Aloud, Tink read the preacher’s name. “Do you know him?” he asked.

I smiled. “Yeah. He’s my plumber. I like him a lot.”

Tink jerked his head around to face me, his eyes wide with surprise. “The preacher’s your plumber?” He wasn’t sure if I was joking.

It came as a surprise to me that it came as a surprise to him. In my beloved mountains, that was quite a normal happening. Men, yielding to the call by the Holy Spirit, often worked for a living six days a week then gave their time to the Lord on Sunday. This goes back two centuries to the time when the Scotch-Irish began settling in the Appalachian foothills. With them from Northern Ireland, they brought their Presbyterian beliefs and practices but the Presbyterians, even back then, extensively schooled and educated their pastors before putting them in a pulpit. Relatively quickly, these polished, scholarly men discovered that they didn’t cotton so much to life in the primitive backwoods and rebelled against being assigned to mountain churches. The Baptists, however, were more than willing to ordain relatively uneducated men for pastors as long as they had “the callin’ of the Lord upon them.”

That’s how the mountain Scotch-Irish turned Baptist. “He made a preacher,” was one of the finest things to be said about a man who “would lay down his life to take up the Cross and the call.”

Daddy was a preacher and a mechanic. I’ve known other men who have pastored churches while serving as a teacher, an undertaker, a farmer, car salesman, or a mailman. Today, a substantial portion of Baptist pastors are bi-vocational and some are even tri-vocational. I explained this all to Tink and his surprise turned to sincere admiration.

“My cabinet maker is a preacher, too,” I offered while Tink shook his head. Until these men are ordained by a presbytery (a grueling ordination where the men are grilled on their knowledge of the Bible and theological beliefs), they are called “lay preachers” meaning they can preach in churches but not lead as a pastor.

When I was growing up, these small churches often shared a pastor. Daddy preached at one church on the second and fourth Sundays of the month and another on the first and third Sundays. The rare fifth Sunday was a time to visit other churches. That was another expression that Tink came to learn, “Oh, it’s the fifth Sunday. Who’s preachin’ today?”

The other day we had reason for our plumber to come. Tink has grown to like and respect him as much as I do so he’s one of the few people that Tink deals with directly. After showing him the problem, Tink came thundering downstairs and found me.

“You know, it’s amazing how God brought me here and put me in the midst of these Godly people,” he said.
“Why? Because he prayed over the spigot before he fixed it?” I think that’s why he’s such a reasonably-priced plumber. The Lord helps him.

“Nooooooo,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Because of how folks around here talk about Jesus so comfortably.” His eyes glistened. “I love it here.”

God love him for his liberal embrace of remarkable people so different from any others he has ever known.

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