Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bivocational Ministry Is Becoming More Common

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get to mentor and encourage young people who are just starting out in ministry or interested in going into the ministry. I enjoy hearing about their dreams for the future. I love it when they discover some new spiritual truth and yearn to share it with anyone who will listen. Though I do my best to fan the flame of their enthusiasm, sometimes I also have to temper their excitement with a dose of realism.

One of the areas that I often have to dash some of their hopes about is how much money they will make in ministry. Though some ministers serving larger churches do quite well financially, a growing number of pastors have to work a second job in order to provide for their families. This is often referred to as bivocational ministry. Very few people entering the ministry want to become bivocational. It is hard to work two jobs. Bivocational pastors are often looked down upon by ministers who serve larger more affluent congregations. But this is the reality that many young people entering the ministry will face.

Regardless of how pastors and/or church attendees may feel about bivocational ministry, it is a growing practice in North American church life. Patricia Chang is a research professor at Boston College and has studied many denominations and written extensively about clergy issues. Chang has done extensive research on how bivocational ministry is impacting American denominations of all sizes and theological persuasions. In a major study published in the Pulpit and Pew journal of Duke University, Chang concludes that "the majority of congregations in the United States are small, with fewer than 100 regular members, and cannot typically afford their own pastor." This results in a growing need for more bivocational pastors every year.

Patricia Chang's findings demonstrate that "the current religious landscape is skewed towards a very large number of small congregations and a small number of large congregations." Most of those small congregations are unable to fully-fund their pastors, resulting in those churches seeking bivocational pastors to guide them.

By understanding how common their situation is, bivocational pastors do not need to have negative feelings about their status. Bivocational ministry is a growing reality of ministry in North American Protestant church life. Dennis Bickers reminds bivocational pastors that he works with to "never let the misconceptions others may have about your ministry cause you to question your call and your value to the work of the kingdom of God." Bivocational pastors are not second-class ministers. They are an important and growing segment of American church life.

If you are a young person considering ministry, dream big, but also accept the reality that you will probably need to work two jobs. It's okay. Most of your peers will be doing it too. Just accept it as part of the cost of serving the Lord in the 21st century. Just make sure you take time for your family. Train the church to assist you in your ministry so you do not get burned out. There are a number of great resources to help you do that, such as Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. Mostly, trust the Holy Spirit to empower you. You can do this!


  1. Mike Watts, Columbiana, MSAugust 27, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    There are some ministers of some Baptist faiths in our area, such as Missionary Baptist , pastor two or even three different churches at one time. One church may have morning service start at 8 a.m., another at 10a.m etc. Depends on the travel time between churches. The minister preaches usually the same sermon at both churches. Then the two or three small churches that they serve make up their salary and individually as if he were their pastor only. Back in the early 1900's my grandfather pastored several churches as a Southern Baptist preacher. Usually he traveled with horse and buggy and it took hours between churches in travel time. So he would have a service every other Sunday at a church and rotate the Sundays to where he preached every Sunday some where. It is sad to say that our churches across America are growing smaller and smaller with people not being concerned anymore about not being there. Even in our church at Improve, 15 years ago we usually has 220 in Sunday School each Sunday morning. Now we average about 130 every Sunday. I believe people in general don't fear God anymore. He is a Great and Mighty God. Full of love, but He is a God of Wrath and a God to Fear also. I believe over the years we have forgotten to pass that on to the new generation.

    Didn't mean to get long winded on you, as we say in the South. I appreciate your work for our Lord. Know you are in our prayers.

    Hope you have a great week.


  2. Why don't denominations value bivocational pastors? Only big church pastors are appointed to key positions and invited to speak at big meetings.

  3. You have a great gift of putting words to ideas that so many of us share.

  4. good article terry, it seems as though the Lord could use this circumstance to teach us that the ministry is more important than the money recieved, seeing as time is more limited, we should be focused more on the time we spend for the ministry, making it count, God will provide all we need, he is so faithful!

  5. Looking for practical ways to put some of the principles in this blog post into action? Purchase my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The first part of the book explains why bivocational ministry is biblical, normal and missional. The second part of the book explains how to mobilize the laity to do high level ministry in a team setting with the pastor so that the church can be effective in reaching its community for Christ.
    The book is published by Crossbooks and you can buy the book directly from them at:

    The book is also available on, Barnes and and a many other online bookstores.
    If you live in Central Vermont, you can purchase a copy at the Faith Community Church in Barre, VT.