If I could only teach one vocational principle to young pastors-to-be, it would probably be this.
Learn how to pay the bills outside of your pastoral salary. You’ll probably need it.
Whether you want to be a church planter or pastor an existing church, it’s likely you’ll spend at least some of your pastoral ministry being bivocational.
Bivocational ministers (pastors who work outside the church to provide most or all of their household income) may be the most under-appreciated and overlooked leaders in the church.
Here are 9 realities and trends I have picked up from my research, observations, and conversations with dozens of bivocational pastors.
1. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Rare
A large percentage of pastors are bivocational. Always have been.
If you’ve spent your ministry as a staff pastor, or if you live and minister where there are plenty of large churches around, it’s easy to think that full-time, multi-staff churches are normal, even typical.
Even in places where large, full-time, multi-staff churches are normal now, their numbers will be decreasing in the coming years.
2. Bivocational Ministry Is Becoming More Common
Bivocational ministry is how a large and growing number of the world’s churches are pastored. Even in the United States, their number is increasing at a rapid rate as the size of existing churches continues to decline and new church plants pop up.
According to the 2015 Faith Communities Today survey, fewer than two-thirds (62.2 percent) of U.S. churches have a full-time pastor. That’s down from 71.4 percent in 2010. (Click here for more info from Facts & Trends.)
3. A Bivocational Pastor Is Not Half A Pastor
At a recent church-planters conference, Hugh Halter pointed out that, when 1 Timothy tells us “elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor,” it’s not because pastors are more important than others.
Bivocational ministry was so universal for leaders in the early church, according to Halter, that the believers were encouraged to give an extra blessing to those who were making such extraordinary sacrifices for the church body.
Double the sacrifice, double the honor.
4. Bivocationality Is Not A Problem That Needs Fixing
The Apostle Paul was a bivocational pastor. In fact, some people still refer to bivocational pastors as tentmakers because it was Paul’s profession.
Obviously, Paul’s ministry didn’t need fixing. There’s nothing “less than” about a bivocational ministry.
5. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Always Temporary
Many, maybe most of the bivocational pastors I have talked with are not bivocational by choice, but out of necessity. And they’re usually hoping that bivocationality will be a very temporary situation.
But being bivocational often ends up being the normal state of ministry for many pastors.
6. Bivocational Ministry Is Real Ministry
Too many pastors, church leaders and congregation members belittle the role of the bivocational pastor, treating it as something a new minister does until “real” ministry comes along.
But bivocational ministry is more than a pit-stop along the way to "real" pastoral ministry. It’s as real as pastoring gets.
7. Bivocational Ministry Is A Better Choice For Many Churches And Pastors
Some pastors are bivocational by choice. Some of the reasons I’ve heard include:
- It allows for more money to go to hands-on ministry
- It keeps pastors in touch with the unchurched and their real-world needs
- It frees us from being trapped in the “ministry bubble”
- It requires us to fulfill our biblical calling to train others to do the work of ministry
- It makes the priesthood of all believers more of a reality for many people, not just a theological belief
Some pastors are so committed to the idea of bivocationality, that they stay bivocational even after the church has grown large enough to pay them a full-time salary.
8. Bivocational Ministry Can Bring Theological, Financial And Emotional Freedom
When you’re not reliant on a congregation or denomination for your income, there’s greater freedom to preach, teach and live the way you believe God is calling you, rather than pull your punches or toe the company line.
Having another way to earn an income also allows you to stay or leave a ministry without having to worry about the financial implications of it.
9. Bivocational Pastoring Is Becoming The New Normal
When all of these factors combine, it becomes easy to see why bivocational ministry is on the rise.
While bivocationality has been a matter of survival for churches in small towns and rural areas for generations, it’s becoming the new normal in large population centers too. As expenses rise and giving patterns change, more city churches are discovering the necessity – even the advantages – of bivocational ministry.
It’s Time To Sing The Unsung Heroes
Bivocational ministry has always been with us. And it always will. In fact, some of the greatest heroes of the faith, like the Apostle Paul, were and are bivocational pastors.
We’ll never know most of their names. But we can learn a lot from their sacrificial examples.
They deserve our support, our prayer and our fellowship.
If you’re a bivocational minister, I thank you for all you do. In the very near future, you may not be coming to our conferences to learn about pastoring, we may be coming to you.
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