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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, ...

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From Issue:Callings, Winter 2013 | Posted: January 16, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 9 comments

Dave Weidlich

March 07, 2013  1:17pm

Very helpful and encouraging article. I am a bi-vocational pastor of a church plant in CA North Bay Area - The Vine Church of Petaluma. I was intrigued by the bi-church model too - church on Sunday and for-profit business Monday through Sat. It's not new. Many churches added preschools to better use the buildings and reach out in new ways. Maybe the church/coffee shop is the next combo idea. I would add a book table or book shop too. Don't overlook the tremendous ministry of churches providing jobs, especially for those who have difficulty finding jobs. We want to be that kind of church. http://www.thevinepetaluma.org

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Chris Kopka

March 02, 2013  11:43am

Chris Kopka responding Chavoux. Caveat: I have not gone to seminary & I am not a church planter. That said, for the "tent maker" who still would appreciate some training & resourcing of some type, the good news is that church bodies, academic institutions and equipping minisries have at least some degree of readiness to support lay pastors, including tent makers. A church body example: Path 1, the church planting arm of the United Methodist church, has formed the "Lay Missionary Planting Network," which includes a training curriuculum for lay planters. (See www.path1.org/lmpn.) An academic example: The Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (www.scupe.com) has created certificate programs as well as the non-accredited Congress on Urban Ministry. (See www.congressonurbanministry.org.) Equipping ministies example: Exponential is a veritable cornucopia of resources, and, on line, much of it is free. (See www.exponential.org.) There are certainly more examples, too!

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Beady Blossom

March 01, 2013  6:34pm

My dad was a Bivocational in 1948. He was willing to sell his business and go full time as a pastor but God doubled his business income and the church was so small it really couldn't support a family full time. He took a salary of $100 per month which enabled the church to support more missionaries. It freed our family from critism which gave us the freedom to also be very involved with the congregation. My dad prepared 3 sermons and 1 Bible study per week, made time to spend with family and run a business with 8 employees. The pastors of today have it much easier since most only preach one sermon per week and have co-workers in charge of other programs.

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March 01, 2013  4:35am

Do you think theological training/seminary is needed for "tentmaking"? Are there any alternatives, especially for church planters/missionaries who are not called to be pastors?

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February 28, 2013  7:08pm

Bi-vo Ministry also provides the minister with the freedom necessary to truly follow God versus being marginalized and placed in a position to have to pander to the people who pay his/her salary. It establishes credibility with others who also "work for a living". Finally, the pastor paying his way also frees the church up to do ministry, to meet needs w/in the body and outside in the community, and it has the potential to facilitate real and life changing/life giving work for the cause of Christ. It takes cash to make the wheels turn. It's too bad that so much of what is given in church is spent enabling pastors to maintain their lifestyles at the expense of the greater mission.

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