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!