Mark Coppenger on Bivocational Ministries

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The most recent former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary returned to the campus to deliver a chapel focusing on bivocational church planting, May 13.

"It's so important to know you are where God wants you to be. For one thing, He snips the apron strings that tie you to what you were doing. You have a shift in focus, you become disaffected -- or you get fired," said Mark Coppenger, advising the students for their future. "Crazy things happen, and then you are free to do something else. Then you are called toward something. It will snap into clarity."

During his message, Coppenger focused on Acts 18 and various facets of being a bivocational church planter.

"God may call you to a big county seat church in Dixie, or He just may call you to be a bivocational church planter. Come on in, the water's fine. It's wonderful, wonderful work," he said. "[The Apostle] Paul knew he was supposed to be in Europe by God's direction" extending the Kingdom into new regions.

Just as Paul had a vocation as a tentmaker, Coppenger said God has used his life experiences to provide a way for him to be a bivocational pastor. Area seminaries and universities began to call with teaching positions, he said.

"It's like manna; wake up in the morning and there's just something on the grass. You eat it and you stick around. It's really a joy. I'm telling you God will make a way."

A bivocational pastor may have to have a shift in focus. Coppenger pointed out that as part of the church planting project they knocked on 25 miles of doors, placed phone calls, offered free literature, cleaned up alleys, organized park concerts, basketball tournaments, a marriage Bible study and various other events and placed an advertisement in a local newspaper -- and only one or two people came to the church. After one speaking engagement, though, people began to come one by one, he said. "Stay with it because God has a reason for you to be there."

A new church start has no mortgage, Coppenger noted. "It's so sweet not to have a mortgage." To illustrate his point, he told of a Northwestern University student who converted from Islam. "Her parents tried to deprogram her all summer long. She stayed with it, and she came back [to school]." Her parents disowned her. The church raised several thousand dollars to help pay her costs for a couple of semesters; otherwise, she might have been deported. "We have no mortgage, the pastor takes care of himself. There's freedom in not having a note -- we can send it to missions, we give to the Cooperative Program, we are just sending out money, having fun."

Just as the church in Acts was situated among Jewish and gentile unbelievers, Coppenger noted similar contacts in the Chicago area. "What a joy it is for Sharon to be working right in the middle of a very Jewish community and have good Jewish friends," he said.

"I'll tell you, as I read the Book of Acts, and as we do church planting in a bivocational setting, in a pioneer area, we take steps toward funding a Muslim convert, going off on a vacation with Jewish friends, I just feel God is saying you are getting warmer, this is it.

"If God calls you to be a seminary president or something, well, do it, okay. But if He calls you to be a church planter, say yes, now. Praise God," Coppenger said.

Coppenger will be named an honorary alumnus of MBTS during the alumni luncheon June 18 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix. Currently, he is pastor of Evanston Baptist Church in Illinois and an adjunct professor at four schools in the Chicago area.


By Pauline J.