One of the most vital yet understudied streams of church ministers is the bivocational pastor. This is that pastor who, either out of necessity or intentionality, works as both the pastor of a local church and in the secular marketplace.
Already, more than one-third of all American pastors are bivocational, and this number will probably grow.
Bivocational ministry offers a great opportunity for evangelism. Bivocational pastors are uniquely positioned to live out their pastoral calling as the lead missionary to their local community. As a well-equipped and gifted emissary of the gospel, these ministers can lead their congregations by demonstrating the power of evangelism to build the local church.
In a mission field that is moving in an increasingly secular direction, bivocational pastors are on the frontlines of gospel witness.
In focusing on how bivocational pastoring can facilitate effective evangelism, I will first argue that full-time ministry can potentially hamper cultural engagement. In light of these challenges, I will outline the role of bivocational pastors in leading the church into a season of fruitful evangelism.
The Challenge of Pastoral Evangelism
Evangelism is the work of testifying to the world of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ with the aim of converting those who aren’t trusting in Christ to repentance. This, of course, demands that we actually engage those individuals and communities we are trying to reach with the good news.
For most people, the proximity that we find in a work environment is an important outlet for evangelism.
Ironically, despite their call to lead in evangelism, church pastors are limited in this respect. Even as full-time pastors may desire to reach those who don’t know Jesus, their proximity to unbelievers in the workplace limits their opportunity. Employed by a church and tasked full time with ministry building and leadership, pastors can become trapped in the ‘holy bubble.’
This unfortunately results in their ministry being consumed with encouragement, teaching, leadership, etc., while evangelism is largely ignored.
Good pastors find ways to escape this bubble, putting themselves in situations where they consistently intersect with those who need Jesus.
Since many pastors rarely engage the marketplace, most non-Christians have limited interaction with them and unfortunately develop unhelpful caricatures of the church and Christianity. Even as there remains a certain level of respect for the pastorate, these misconceived ways of seeing pastors can promote suspicion of these people and thereby skepticism of their message.
For instance, the popular depiction of pastors as saint-like and holier-than-thou creates an image of pastors as entirely unrelatable. Removed from temptation and the everyday issues with which most people grapple, pastors are imagined as somehow better than others (or at least hypocrites).
Unable to see pastors who cry, pray, and live out their faith on a consistent and intimate level, the perception of the person behind the pulpit is frequently at odds with reality.
Conversely, the perception of non-Christians by pastors can become equally distorted when they fail to substantively and consistently engage in evangelism. Pastors unfamiliar with their unsaved neighbors easily develop an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This, in turn, invariably bleeds into their preaching and leading, further isolating the church from effective evangelism and community outreach.
The result of this mistrust is that an already difficult biblical mandate to the church becomes that much harder.
Added to these challenges of proximity and perception is the fact that some pastors simply choose to embrace the pastoral dimensions of their role and ignore their imperative to share the gospel with those around them.
Whether this is because they are more at home with Leviticus than in Levis at the block party, or an underlying fear of rejection, pastors can intentionally and unintentionally place distance between themselves and people.
On one level, this makes sense. Quality pastoring involves significant time and energy that is unseen. While the stereotype of the pastor as only working Sundays and Wednesdays persists, the fact is that pastors spend considerable time on counseling, sermon preparation, and leading.
However, the result of spending so much time on in-house needs is that pastors can often feel disconnected from their non-Christian neighbors. The one called specifically to preach the word to the world ends up preaching to the choir.
The Importance of Bivocational Ministry
Entering the secular workforce can be one way pastors can address these challenges and share the gospel. Through outside employment, pastors are catapulted into foreign contexts where their proximity to non-Christians is no longer avoidable.
Through consistently clocking in and out with people outside of your regular worship service, pastors have a chance to share Christ outside of their regular circle.
At the same time, through engaging your workplace openly as a bivocational pastor, you can work to counteract the flawed perceptions which divide the church from the world. As relationships are built and your co-workers can witness the authenticity of a pastor who lives out the gospel, the workplace will become a fertile field for evangelism.
Through offering prayer and spiritual guidance to those hurting and confused, bivocational pastors develop rapport that will, Lord willing, produce fruit of conversion, corporate honesty, and participation in church fellowship. Far from perfect, bivocational pastors can shift the perception to vessels of Christ’s love in their daily actions.
Equally important is the potential of bivocational pastoring to shift your own perception of those who do not know Jesus. Whether co-workers, clients, or customers, intersecting with people in casual situations where conversations both superficial and meaningful can occur is critical to understanding those that are far from God.
Through engaging co-workers on family, entertainment, politics, and culture, pastors can trade in their own tired stereotypes for a more robust and nuanced understanding of people outside their church. No longer present solely to solve their co-workers crises before quickly moving on, pastors can better understand and dedicate the necessary time to be true missionaries in their secular vocation.
The Dual Callings of the Bivocational Pastor
Unsurprisingly, a bivocational pastor must begin by understanding how the split vocation inherently carries a dual calling. The first is how the bivocational ministry shapes how the bivocational leader pastors and leads the congregation.
Uniquely positioned to live out their preaching to share the gospel in the real world, pastors must understand their secular vocation as a mandate to model to their congregation the relevancy of their teaching.
Are the evangelistic challenges realistic? The pastor has lived these challenges out. Are they easily implemented? The pastor outlines how to put theory into action. Do they produce the desired results? The pastor can point to specific examples of failure and success.
A pastor with a strong gospel mission presence in the marketplace will translate into a stronger evangelistic drive in the church, because not only will the pastor be primed to communicate the mission, but the spirit of evangelism is contagious. When working adults in the congregation see their pastor sacrificing for the sake of kingdom-minded evangelism, they will follow. A bivocational pastor who lives the gospel gains credibility in the community and in the church.
The second calling upon bivocational pastors is specifically to those who don’t know Jesus in their workplace.
In this respect, there are two types of people that one may encounter: those who have never encountered the Christian faith and those whose faith has suffered shipwreck in the church. If the pastor approaches the secular vocation with the right spirit, understanding this sacrifice to be a calling from God as opportunity to proclaim the gospel, the can win and revive both types.
In a prevailing culture that now does not know Genesis from Romans, pastors need to start from the beginning and proclaim the full redemptive work of God in Christ. Far from repetitive, going through this old story for unfamiliar ears is a great way to keep the pastoral heart soft.
In dealing with those who have suffered hurt by a situation in the church, the bivocational pastor can be a crucial step in healing and revival. Few wounds are as deep and enduring as those inflicted by the church. However, through engaging those hurt on their terms rather than forcing them into the church, pastors can minister to this pain and reestablish trust with Christ’s church.
In reaching both of these groups that are each lost in their own way, a local pastor can become a ‘community pastor.’
A Weighty Calling
This dual calling is not for the faint of heart.
The sacrifice of two jobs requires even more scrutiny to balance. The likelihood of success in the mission field or church and struggle in the other can be problematic and demands that bivocational pastors keep their eyes on God’s call to both. Pastors must avoid the temptation of leaning into the more fruitful at the expense of the other.
Rather, pastors should leverage God’s blessing in one in service to the other. The opportunity for evangelism in the bivocational realm is great because the end result is that the church’s lead missionary is working the same fields as the co-laborers.
Remember, having an outside job is not a way to get people to come to church, but it might help some to come to our Jesus. And the time spent in the field can help bring clarity to the mission, enhancing our ability to communicate it better from the pulpit.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.