Pastors who work a second job in addition to their service to the church are often referred to as bivocational pastors because they have two vocations; the church and something else. Though few pastors would choose to be bivocational in a perfect world, the majority of pastors will spend at least a portion of their career in a bivocational situation. Therefore, all pastors should learn about bivocationalism so they can be prepared for it when they enter that phase of their ministry.
I serve as the Director of an organization of 37 churches that work together to start new churches and hold strategic evangelistic activities in Vermont and a portion of New Hampshire. Thirty of those churches lack the funds to fully support their pastor financially. This means that the vast majority of the pastors I work with are bivocational. In discussing the reality of how bivocational ministry impacts them, there were definitely many real life challenges they face regularly. If they were fully-funded, they could avoid many of those real life challenges.
However, the bivocational pastors I work with also shared some of the advantages they have over their fully-funded counterparts. Few people think about the advantages of bivocational ministry, so I thought I would list them below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues.
Advantages bivocational pastors have over their fully-funded counterparts:
1. Bivocational pastors are not as dependent on the church for their financial support as fully-funded pastors. This relieves them of some of the stress of what might happen to their families if they were dismissed from the churches they serve.
2. Bivocational pastors often have increased personal resources because they have two sources of income instead of only one source like fully-funded pastors.
3. Bivocational pastors frequently feel they relate to the men in their congregations better than fully-funded pastors because they “work” just like the laymen do.
4. Bivocational pastors seldom live in a “pious bubble” that only church people inhabit. Their secular employment requires them to interact with and understand better the needs of non-Christians.
5. Bivocational pastors often find more opportunities to witness to the lost than fully-funded pastors because they spend more time with non-Christians through their secular employment.
6. Bivocational pastors often have more realistic sermon illustrations as a result of their increased interaction with the same temptations and difficulties that others in the church face routinely. These more realistic sermon illustrations give bivocational pastors greater credibility in the pulpit.
7. Bivocational pastors have the potential to have more friends and a greater number of relationships than fully-funded pastors because their social network is larger. Note: Not all bivocational pastors feel this way. Not quite half of the bivocational pastors I work with felt bivocational ministry was a determent to their social network.
8. Bivocational pastors gain a sense of appreciation for sacrifice.
9. Bivocational pastors have the ability to serve a larger number of churches because they can serve churches that cannot fully-fund pastors.
10. Bivocational pastors experience the joy of allowing churches to fund other needed ministries instead of so much of the churches’ funding going to support their own salaries.
11. Bivocational pastors feel they are better able to encourage the churches they serve to create a culture of the laity using their gifts and the laity devoting more time for ministry since there were no full-time pastors “paid” to do “everything” for congregations. Most bivocational pastors feel this creates healthy churches over the long term, though it sometimes creates more stress in the short term.
12. Bivocational pastors often feel it is easier to teach about financial stewardship and/or to solicit contributions from church members. Bivocational pastors say so little of the churches’ funds are spent on the pastors’ salaries that the pastors asking for money is not perceived as being “self-serving.”
13. Bivocational pastors frequently express that they feel more dependent on the Holy Spirit in their sermon preparation and less dependent on their formal theological training or on their elocution or research skills. This greater sense of dependence on the Spirit is perceived as a positive thing by bivocational pastors. It is interesting to note that the bivocational pastors who expressed this the most strongly had often previously served larger churches in which they had been fully-funded.
14. Bivocational pastors sometimes say that being bivocational gives them valid excuses not to attend denominational meetings that they perceived as irrelevant, uninteresting, and/or promoting things that are not helpful to their own ministry. This does not mean they never attend meetings, only that their bivocational status makes them feel more comfortable attending only the meetings that they perceive as being more applicable to their situation.
15. Bivocational pastors often express a sense a personal satisfaction that their combined income from the two jobs they work allows them to give more generously to the church. Many pastors indicated that at times their donations to their churches were greater than the salaries they received from the churches.
16. Bivocational pastors understand more fully what the church members are giving up when the members devote extra time to attend meetings at church, especially on Saturdays. Bivocational pastors tend to do their best to keep such meetings as short and as worthwhile as possible.
While bivocational ministry has many challenges, it also has many advantages. Learning what the advantages are can help bivocational pastors feel better about their ministry. When bivocational pastors feel more confident about their roles, they tend to be more effective in their ministries. Churches and denominational leaders need to look for ways to help bivocational pastors celebrate the advantages of bivocational ministries.
Dr. Terry Dorsett is a bivocational pastor and church planting missionary in Vermont. He is the author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks and available at CrossBooks, Amazon and 25,000 other online retailers.