In the mid 20th century, most seminary discussions about the apostle Paul's tent-making were likely theoretical. Yes, there were part-time pastors—but most of them would never have gone to seminary.
How times have changed! Today, seminarians from even well-known schools are starting to talk openly about the "stark realities" of bivocationalism. Some of the conversation around bivocationalism is driven by the weak job market. Seminary students aren't exactly bombarded with well-paying jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, some see bivocationalism as a ministry plus, a way to keep one foot planted in the secular world.
Recent research from The Barna Group reveals that over 50 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) and younger Gen X-ers believe some form of entrepreneurship will be part of their career path. I'm guessing young seminarians are no exception.
Because I help start faith-based businesses, I have regular conversations with many young pastors. I have come to see bivocationalism as a gift. My relationships with members of the next generation of bivocational pastors have shown me that even their tent-making efforts are part of their calling.
According to data from the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors report being bivocational. But what are the most common "second jobs" for these pastors? How many bivocational pastors start businesses versus hold a "job"? Are bivocational pastors thriving or just surviving? We know little about this phenomenon. Yet we can start to answer some of these questions by seeing how two younger pastors in Minneapolis, Tim Schuster and Scott Woller, have embraced an entrepreneurial version of bivocationalism.
Moving in Circles
Tim Schuster graduated from Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2012. During his time there, he worked part-time as a youth pastor. He also planted a church. What started out as the "Midtown Church Project" became a fast-growing community that recently decided to drop the word "Project." Why? Because they started seeing themselves as a bona fide church, just a few months after Tim's graduation.
Midtown is an unconventional kind of church. According to Tim, "When people say 'plant a church,' what they actually mean is 'start a worship service.' Our contemporary notion of church is a group of people, facing in the same direction, where a stage becomes an altar. Then we look at programs, ministry, and service projects as 'extra credit.'"
Midtown wanted something different. Within 10 minutes of the start of a Midtown "service," chairs (and attendees) move from facing forward and are arranged into circles of 5 to 10 people in order to facilitate conversation.
Midtown Church is, in essence, a series of conversational circles. Brandon Schulz, a social media entrepreneur, describes Midtown as "the closest church to embodying how social media works, except it's live, in person." The relational emphasis doesn't mean skimping on theology. Midtown is unapologetically orthodox in its teaching and Tim talks boldly about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and work.
What you won't see, though, is a sermon or traditional service structure. Tim sees the primary role of the pastor as a facilitator. This stems from the Midtown founders' shared fascination with self-organizing models. Tim even researched Tupperware parties and "Open Space" business conferences as part of the design for Midtown.