Church planting today is not what it used to be. In the past, church planters were the ones who couldn’t get a "real ministry position” at a church, so they started their own. Although, there were those entrepreneurial few who defied all odds and purposefully started churches on their own, by and large being a church planter wasn’t what it is today.
Today, being a church planter is the thing to do. Church planting is getting the attention of the masses. In fact, many church planting conferences are now larger than typical pastoral conferences. This is surprising since decades ago there was no such thing as a church planting conference.
If this is how church planting is today, what will church planting look like in the future? The first trend, collaboration, can be expressed by “together we can accomplish more than we can ever do alone.” This is the cry of this next generation, and that’s why Kingdom Collaboration is the first trend.
Today, I wanted to introduce to you the next trend which is the rise and shift of bivocational ministry.
Trend #2: Bivocational Ministry
In the past, if a church planter was bivocational, oftentimes that meant that they lacked financial support. A standard section in any church planting proposal would include the church’s plan for financial self-sustainability, which included paying the church planter and maybe another staff member a salary with benefits. Many denominations would even support the church planter’s salary for at least three years while also providing seed money for their ministry. As a result, bivocational ministry was more of a last resort, than a first option. Interestingly, we are seeing a wholesale mindset change on the idea of bivocational ministry.
A Missiological Strategy
In the future of church planting we will see church planters embracing bivocational ministry as a missiological strategy, rather than just as an alternative way to fund themselves. When John Nevius (1829-1893) arrived in China as a missionary, he observed the impact that paying pastors and evangelists had on the growth of the Chinese church. Not only did it lead to Chinese dependency on Western money, but it also slowed the expansion of the church since it created a two class system of believers: the holier and the less-holy; the paid and the non-paid; the pastor/evangelist and the lay person.
As a result, Nevius developed a dramatically different method for missions that he implemented when moving to Korea. A few of his principles were related to the importance of bivocational ministry, where unpaid believers would be able to pastor and lead their own church. Many scholars believe that the Nevius method was one of the critical factors to Christianity exploding in Korea.
Perhaps that's why we don’t see outbreaks around the world of church planting movements that are led by full-time, paid vocational clergy. Is this merely a coincidence or something that the church needs to take note of? In the future, church planters won’t see bivocationalism as a penalty, but they will see it as an opportunity. They will see bivocationalism as a missiological strategy.
First Option, Not Last Resort
In the future, we will see both both full-time paid vocational church planters, as well as bivocational church planters. However, the difference is that many bivocational church planters in the future will have chosen that path as their first option, rather than as their last resort.
We will see youth pastors, associate pastors, and other staff members choose the path of bivocational church planting as a missiological method to reach their neighborhood for Christ. For many church planters in the future, choosing bivocational ministry will not be a matter of being out of money, but it will be a matter of being on a specific mission. Thom Rainer calls this model "marketplace pastoring."
Reversed Tier Funding
Lastly, in the future, there will be church planters who will initially plant their church fully bivocationally, but then slowly transition to taking a salary as the church grows. I talk about this in Planting Missional Churches as an alternative way to approach church plant funding.
The point of this model is to start the church as a missionary, with a regular job in the marketplace. As the church begins to gain momentum and grow the church planter will begin taking a salary, since more time is required to develop leaders. It’s a proof-of-concept way of approaching funding. Or, in start-up business speak, it’s a minimum-viable-product (MVP) way of approaching church planting.
Instead of looking down on pastors for being bivocational, we should lift them up as our heroes. Join me next time, as I share the last trend for the future of church planting - Residencies and Theological Education.