Published November 1, 2012
MCDONOUGH — Although he wouldn’t call it a sacrifice, Tim Dowdy, senior pastor of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church, is making some significant sacrifices to highlight the ministries of Southern Baptists’ bi-vocational pastors. In fact, he is preparing to engage in a grueling endurance race to spotlight these men who he calls “Ironmen.”
Dowdy explained, “For the last eight years I had the privilege of serving on the Board of Trustees for the North American Mission Board. During that time I met many bivocational pastors, seeing first hand the great work and tremendous dedication that goes into serving the local church in this role.
“I noticed that the bi-vocational pastor assumes the responsibility of pastoring a church, working at a full-time job, and also taking care of the needs of his family. In meeting so many of those guys I was so impressed with their devotion and dedication to impacting lives with the Gospel of Jesus and how much time they invest in their ministry.
“At the same time I went to a triathlon with a group of guys from our church and supported them. They swam, rode their bikes and ran; I wondered if I could do that. It would be a great way to keep in shape. I started training and did a little sprint, which took an hour and something, but decided if I was going to do something like this I needed to do something of eternal value. And in my heart I think God began to put something together between bivocational pastors and triathlons.”
Dowdy added, “Bivocational pastors don’t swim, bike, and run, but they pastor a church, work a full-time job, and care for their family. There is a trilogy in both areas that connects.
“Then along the way I learned about the Ironman competition. The Ironman Competition requires a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run for a total of 140.6 miles. When I compared the Ironman Competition to the 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year labor of the bivocational pastor I concluded that they are truly the Ironmen of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
To give visibility to bi-vocational pastors Dowdy plans to be a participant in the Florida Ironman Competition on Nov. 3 in Panama City. Dowdy, 51, will be accompanied by his son, Micah, 24, who will join his dad in the competition.
In preparation for this significant undertaking, Dowdy started training in April of 2011. Currently he trains 15-17 hours a week. He recently rode his bicycle 100 miles in five hours and swam for two miles and ran 17 miles in 2:45. Dowdy hopes to finish all three parts of the competition in 14 hours.
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, has embraced Dowdy’s passion to bless and encourage bivocational pastors by establishing a scholarship fund for those men who want to continue their education. Union University is the partnering school and has provided an online master’s degree program for those who want to enroll. So far 13 pastors have taken advantage of this opportunity.
Ezell commented, “When I first heard what Tim was doing to bring attention to bivocational pastors, I said, ‘Isn’t there an easier way?’ Just thinking about it is exhausting.
“But Tim is doing a great job of casting a spotlight on some of the real heroes of our denomination. The truth is, we won’t have enough pastors and church planters we need in order to reach North America unless many more are willing to become bivocational pastors. Especially in our large cities and rural areas, it is difficult for a church to fully fund a pastor.
“In addition to that, I believe we also have thousands of men in the SBC who already have a full-time vocation, but who would also make great pastors. I’m grateful to Tim for helping us celebrate these men.”
Kathy Alexander, a member of the Eagles Landing church, expressed thanks to Dowdy for his desire to encourage and inspire bivocational pastors. She stated, “My uncle, Lidelle Phillips, raised me. He was called to be a pastor on a battlefield in Germany during WWII. After working his way through seminary it seemed like he was generally called to churches that were on the brink of closing their doors.
“Uncle Dale always worked in the storeroom of the Georgia Baptist Hospital and performed other odd jobs to keep the bills paid. His hard work allowed my aunt Helen to stay at home to take care of me.”
Alexander added, “Many nights the phone would ring during supper after he had worked all day long. He would rush out to the hospital to spend the evening with church members and their families. I never heard him complain. He always had time for me. I was loved and cherished and would not trade anything for the way I was reared.
“Many nights we wrote out VBS material and Sunday School material and he was so happy when I learned how to type. He passed away when I was 37 years old and left a scholarship for other bivocational pastors like him.
“He was our rock, but he taught us who the real Rock is. He passed away of cancer at Southwest Christian Hospice and was still preaching to everyone that go within earshot of him.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is blessed with thousands of bivocational pastors like Kathy Alexander’s uncle. These are the men Tim Dowdy wants to honor with his Ironman Competition.
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