Bivocational Pastors Losing Income During Coronavirus

EL PASO, Texas (BP) — Bivocational missionary Jesus Galarza financially supplements his ministry in El Paso and northern Mexico by coaching volleyball, but he can neither minister nor coach during the COVID-19 pandemic that has stymied livelihoods across the U.S.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas will continue to pay Galarza as a contract employee through the end of the year and will include him in an economic relief program for bivocational ministers. To further compensate for his loss of income as a volleyball coach, Galarza will rely on savings and the economic supplement the U.S. government is sending taxpayers through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“I hope to be rehired [as a coach] in October,” Galarza said. “I trust completely in the Lord by that date everything is coming to a normality.”

Galarza is among many Southern Baptist bivocational ministers and pastors facing challenges in making financial ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. He doesn’t pastor a church, but statistics gathered from state conventions indicate that between 22,000 and 35,000 Southern Baptist churches are led by bivocational ministers, according to the Bivocational & Small Church Leadership Network.

“We’ve discovered many of our pastors have been laid off from that second position,” said Joe Wright, the network’s executive director. “The churches have by and large stayed strong and have continued to employ their pastors. But many of those pastors have lost their second stream of income.

“And so those churches need to be aware that that places a bivocational pastor in a precarious position, if the church is not able to step into that void and continue to operate, then that pastor truly will be totally unemployed.”

Jerad File, pastor of Redeemer Baptist Church in Panama, Ill., hasn’t worked in his job as a substitute teacher since March 13, but expects a couple of checks to trickle in for substitute work completed before schools were shut down to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

In Wilkesboro, N.C., Booneville Baptist Church children’s and youth pastor Dana Blankley is being paid his full salary as a middle school English and social studies teacher, teaching his students from home on Zoom during the pandemic. His church salary is also continuing, with increased financial gifts to the church generating a 20 percent budget surplus the first two weeks of April, according to Blankley, through online and mailed giving.

Dusty Marshall, pastor of New Life Baptist Fellowship in Alamogordo, N.M., has lost much of his income as CEO of Smiling Foamworks, a small business selling foam swords, shields and other equipment used in live-action role-playing community games across the U.S. and Canada. While sales are largely online, the events that generated a large portion of his sales have been canceled through July, and potential customers are no longer able to play the games in which his equipment is used.

Donald McKinnon, lead pastor of Legacy Church in Sutton, Mass., can neither work as a substitute school teacher nor collect unemployment for the lost income, he told BP, because his work as a substitute “is considered a gig job. I am not eligible for unemployment so it has been very, very stressful for me and my wife.”

Wright said many state conventions are working to provide supplemental income for bivocational pastors during the pandemic. Pastors at least 65 years old can apply for Mission:Dignity funds through GuideStone Financial Resources. The program, originally established to help retired pastors and their widows, has been expanded during COVID-19 to help those still in active ministry.

At least 51 percent of the more than 47,000 Southern Baptist churches have Sunday School attendance of fewer than 50, based on Annual Church Profile numbers, Wright has said. A full 83 percent of churches average 125 or fewer.

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Source: Baptist Press