Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rethinking bi-vocational ministry

20 years ago the prevailing thought was that if you were a bi-vocational pastor, you were just not good enough to be a full-time pastor. Most every pastor's goal was to be full time.  After all, the job of a pastor, no matter the size of church, required more than 40 hours a week. For many the pastorate was viewed as a vocation, where one could make a better than average salary doing what you loved to do.
You went to seminary, got your degree and credentials and sent your résumé to potential churches.  Not much different from any other job.  You started out in a small church or a lower staff position to gain a little experience, then moved to a bigger, better church, with better pay and a better position.  You explain to your congregation with each move that God has called you to a new location. If you were fortunate enough and good enough you could eventually be called to a large church with a high paying salary.  Pastors changed churches (especially in the Baptist world) like college teams change coaches, working their way up the clergy latter.   

Today, the landscape of the clergy has radically changed.  More churches are struggling financially and full-time staff positions are becoming increasingly harder to find. Those going into the ministry today know that the big salaries of the past is not a reality anymore. And the perception of the bi-vocational pastor has also changed as the view of the pastorate has evolved into more of a calling than strictly a job. Those going into ministry have a purer motivation, sensing a calling much like a missionary would.  The church planters that I work with certainly don't start a church with the idea of ever becoming wealthy.  All of them struggle making ends meet, many sacrificing for their family, most having to raise their own support or be bi-vocational.
Many of our Missional Association church planting pastors are bi-vocational and there are some advantages to being bi-vocational.
1) A bigger percentage of the budget for missions and ministry
A few actually have chosen this course over a full-time pastor as a strategy to allow more of the church's budget to go to missions and ministry.

2) More members involved in ministry  
Having pastors who are bi-vocational also removes the stigma of the professional pastor who is paid to do the work of the ministry while the members come to be ministered to.  A bi-vocational pastor has to delegate, train and trust his members to do the ministry.  The pastor actually has to spend most of his time equipping the saints for ministry instead of doing it himself.  This is actually a good thing as members take on more of the ministry and feel a real ownership and fulfillment by using their gifts to grow God's kingdom. 

3) Pastors interact more with the secular world
Having another job working outside the church gets the pastor out of his office and among the secular world.  They will have more of an opportunity to share the gospel with non believers and they'll have a better understanding of what the members experience in the working world.   

The downside is that pastors seldom give away the ministry.  They often continue to work their 40 hours as a pastor and add their part time job on top of that.  Their families suffer and their health takes a tremendous toll.  A pastor transitioning into bi-vocation told me that since he was not full-time at the church, he feels out of the loop, like I'm losing control.  Maybe that's a good thing also.  A need to control is often the reason a church does not grow.

So if you are bi-vocatioal please don't consider yourself inferior in any way.  You may actually be in a better position to do what God has called you to do and your church may be healthier because you are bi-vocational.

For more on this, read David Wheeler's excellent article on the change in ministry from full-time to bi-vocational pastors.   David Wheeler's article

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