Bivocational pastor finding balance between wholehearted service, empowering congregation

Joshua Wilken with his wife Emily.

Equipping the saints

Talk of a men’s Bible study had been happening for months at Trinity Baptist Church, but nothing ever seemed to materialize. 

Joshua Wilken, the church’s bivocational pastor, had his hands full and knew it wouldn’t be wise to take on another responsibility. He was already teaching the adult Sunday school class, preaching the Sunday morning worship service, co-leading a couple’s Bible study with his wife, Emily, one Sunday per month, and taking his deacons through a curriculum to help them grow in their service to the church.

All of that in addition to balancing his full-time job as a business development manager who travels on a regular basis with being a husband and father of two children involved in sports.

Whew. Needless to say …

“Being bivocational, you’ve got to be pretty strategic and intentional about what you do because your time is extremely limited,” Wilken said. “You’ve got to guard your time because, if you don’t, you’ll lose all the time you have for your family.”

While any type of ministry service can be taxing, pastoring bivocationally can have its own unique stressors. Yet it also comes with benefits that can bless a pastor’s heart—such as the moment when one of Trinity’s deacons and another man in the church told Wilken they wanted to personally launch that men’s Bible study. 

“That’s been one of the biggest blessings we’ve seen at Trinity—others stepping up and growing and taking charge in areas of ministry that maybe a [full-time] pastor would normally do,” Wilken said. “It’s just cool.”

Joshua Wilken (second from left), bivocational pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Royse City, balances life in service to the church, his family and a full-time job. Photos submitted.

“Being bivocational, you’ve got to be pretty strategic and intentional about what you do because your time is extremely limited.”

‘I didn’t think I was ever going to pastor again’

It was a winding road that led Wilken and his family to Trinity. The Illinois native who said he couldn’t speak for longer than a minute in high school speech class began to sense a call to ministry during his teenage years. He preached his first sermon at age 16 but admitted he spent several years “running from the Lord” as he pursued his childhood dream of becoming a law enforcement officer. 

Wilken moved to Texas in 2005 and began pursuing that dream in 2006, shortly after marrying Emily—whom he had met when her church came to Illinois for a mission trip several years earlier. By 2007, he realized serving as a peace officer wasn’t going to satisfy the call God had put on his heart. Less than a month after leaving law enforcement, he enrolled at Criswell College and began pastoring in East Texas. 

Many joys and full-time service to several churches followed, but a difficult ministry season ultimately led Wilken to move his family to Royse City and then step away from the pastorate altogether. “At that point in my life,” Wilken said,
“I didn’t think I was ever going to pastor again.”

With vocational ministry in his rearview, Wilken began working in operations for a faith-based company. About five years in, he shifted to the company’s business development department, focusing on existing client relationships.

Just across the tree line from the Wilkens’ home sat Trinity Baptist Church. “It’s basically out my back door,” Wilken said. “I had seen it for several years and thought, ‘Man, that church has so much potential,’ not ever dreaming or knowing that God would put us there.”

As the story goes, Wilken was asked to fill the pulpit one Sunday during the summer of 2018, when Trinity’s pastor couldn’t be there. Wilken was asked to fill the pulpit once more that fall. By the end of the year, the church’s pastor left and Wilken agreed to help deliver the weekly sermon until Trinity could call its next pastor. 

That next pastor’s name, he was sure, was not going to be Joshua Wilken. 

“I was in a position to be able to help churches [without serving on staff], and that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

Wilken served as the church’s interim pastor from January to June of 2019—and despite his initial insistence that he had no intent on serving the church in an official capacity—something began to change within him.

He began to fall in love.

“It was the people,” he said. “They had a hunger for the Lord, a hunger for the Word of God, and they genuinely wanted to reach people for Christ. In a small church like that … you don’t always see that. Everybody was united and everybody was in agreement, and just the love that they had—that’s why we’re here.”

During the interim period, Wilken informed church leadership that he and his family were beginning to have a change of heart. Even so, he said he asked that the church continue with its pastor search process. Only this time, he was willing to add his resume to the stack. In June 2019, Trinity dropped the interim title and called Wilken to be its next pastor.

Trinity Baptist Church in Royse City is connecting with families throughout their community and are well-positioned for future growth as professionals look for ways to escape the fast-lane lifestyle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“Being bivocational, you’ve got to be pretty strategic and intentional about what you do because your time is extremely limited.”

A culture of growth

Trinity is well-positioned for growth. As professionals look for ways to escape the fast-lane lifestyle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, an increasing number are calling points east along Interstate 30 home. Royse City—neighbor to another swelling I-30 community, Rockwall—has doubled in population twice in recent years and is expected to grow more than 30% before 2024, according to its community development corporation. It has more than 15,000 homes in development.

The church, likewise, is experiencing promising growth. Wilken said there were a couple dozen people attending Trinity when he answered the call to pastor there. Now, the church’s lone adult Sunday school class itself attracts about 30 people weekly.

It’s settings like that where Wilken said he thrives, spending time with and ministering to people. Even so, he said one of the biggest challenges of serving bivocationally is the limited amount of time he has to do those types of things. Because of that, he said he leans on his deacons (chairman Mario Retta, Dave Frierson, and Russ Mills) to help carry out the work of ministry, as well as relying on his ministry assistant, Lisa Retta. 

“God is raising up people from within the church,” Wilken said. “I think that’s partly because I’m bivocational, and party because we’re specifically and strategically praying for that.”

Alex Gonzales, an associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention who focuses on bivocational ministry, said bivocational pastors make up the majority of pastors serving in Texas. When a congregation takes ownership in the ministry of the church, he said, it has far-reaching effects.

“The demand on these pastors and their families is difficult to put into words,” Gonzales said. “When members step up to fulfill ministry tasks … not only is this biblical, but also beneficial for everyone involved.”

bivo pastors 

Bivocational pastors make up the majority of pastors across Texas and the demand on them and their families is difficult. The SBTC works to network with bivocational pastors across the state.

Digital Editor
Jayson Larson
Southern Baptist Texan
Most Read

What does a special-needs family experience when they visit your church?

Editor’s note: The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has designated July 14 as Disability Ministry Sunday. We walked up to the registration area for the children’s classes one Sunday at the church we were visiting in …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.