Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bivocational Ministry Is Normal

The New Testament demonstrates that bivocational ministry was normal for the church during the New Testament era. Many twenty-first century church attendees do not understand that New Testament churches were often led by bivocational pastors. This misunderstanding of church history has created unrealistic expectations for bivocational pastors in the present. If bivocational pastors are going to lead their churches effectively, they will first have to educate their congregations to understand that it is normal to have pastors who work additional jobs and are unable to be involved personally in every aspect of the churches they serve.

The most well known New Testament example of bivocational ministry is the Apostle Paul. Ron Rice, a bivocational pastor and denominational leader within the Colorado Baptist Convention, points out that "Paul shifted back and forth into the secular workforce at various times in his ministry career." This makes him an excellent example of both fully-funded and bivocational ministry.

Luke records one of Paul's bivocational experiences in Acts 18:1-4: "After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks." This passage indicates that Paul was a tentmaker. This was not just something that Paul did before he went into the ministry, but a vocation he was involved in while he was also in the process of ministry. The word for "tentmaker" (skenopoios) used here actually refers to leather working. When Paul came to minister in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, who practiced the same trade. They apparently entered into some kind of business arrangement and worked together in their trade. Paul worked his trade during the week and then on the Sabbath he would go to the synagogue to persuade people to become followers of Jesus.

Paul's efforts to persuade people to become followers of Jesus in the synagogue were not just casual conversations he was having with individuals after the synagogue gathering. Darrell Bock, an expert on the book of Acts, points out that the word reasoned comes from the Greek word dialegomia, which "refers to either giving a discourse or to debating, depending on the context. Its combination with the next verb suggests debate in the synagogue." Each Sabbath, Paul was having intense debates which were designed to convince people of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. This would have required much thought and preparation. Paul found time for this preparation in addition to working in his trade as a tentmaker. Bivocational pastors must be good stewards of their time in order to prepare sermons and also work at their secular jobs. Bivocational ministry was normal in the New Testament era.

Bivocational ministry was also normal in North America until fairly recently. The term was not used because almost every pastor was bivocational. This was simply how ministers survived in the early days of American life. The transition away from bivocational ministry came as a result of the desire of churches to have a more educated clergy. James Greene explains that "in an attempt to raise the educational level of our ministerial leadership, churches and denominations in this country established a number of colleges and seminaries. Professionalism came with education." Many churches now falsely believe that a professionally trained and fully-funded clergy has always been a significant part of church life from the New Testament era until now. History simply proves that idea to be incorrect. Bivocational pastors need to teach their churches a correct New Testament theology of church leadership and a correct history of church leadership in North American church life. As bivocational pastors help their congregations understand how normal bivocational ministry is, some of the unrealistic stresses the congregation puts on the pastor will ease.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. To learn more about bivocational ministry and how lay people can help bivocational pastors become more effective, purchase the book at Crossbooks.com or at Amazon.com or Barnesandnobles.com.


  1. Goodness you mean for 40 years we were being normal. I can't remember not having at least two jobs sometimes 3 or more. Even going to college, I either worked for the school or someone. As well a be active in the ministry.

  2. Good research. Thanks for putting this out here for us to read.

  3. 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 Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles.com 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.