Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Is Bivocational Ministry Growing Across North America?

When a pastor is referred to as “bivocational,” it means that he works a second job in addition to his service to the church. Most often he earns more from his second job than he does from the church. Having two jobs puts a lot of pressure on bivocational pastors. Because of that pressure, most pastors would prefer to not be bivocational.

When churches have a bivocational pastor, that pastor is often less assessable to them because of the time the pastor must spend working at the second job. Since many churches like their pastor to be on call at a moment’s notice for emergencies, most churches prefer not to have a bivocational pastor.

Regardless of the preferences of both pastors and churches, bivocational ministry is a growing practice across North America. Patricia Chang, a research professor at Boston College, has studied many different denominations and written extensively about clergy issues. In an article in the Pulpit and Pew journal of Duke University, Chang concludes that “the majority of congregations in the United States is small, with fewer than 100 regular members, and cannot typically afford their own pastor.” Chang is but one voice in a growing chorus of voices to accept that bivocationalism is not only present in the North American church situation, but is growing more and more common. Chang’s research shows that “the current religious landscape is skewed towards a very large number of small congregations and a small number of large congregations.”

But why is this trend toward bivocational ministry growing? There are a number of reasons, but the three that are the most obvious are: the lack of stewardship training, the rise of the cost of living in North America, and the current economic situation.

A number of studies have demonstrated that older generations were more generous in their giving to churches than young generations. Part of this is that older generations generally carried as little debt as possible, while younger generations tend to want everything now and are willing to take on debt to get it. Once they have all the payments that come with debt, they have less money to donate to church than their parents or grandparents might have had. Churches must also take part of the blame because many churches are less comfortable teaching stewardship issues than in the past. Since churches have failed to teach on this subject, then even church members who are committed to their church may not be as generous as they would be if they had been taught better. As older generations have either exhausted their resources in retirement, or passed away, the younger generations that have replaced them have given less money to the church. Therefore, churches that may be relatively the same size as they have always been may have fewer resources than in the past. This often results in the pastor’s salary and/or benefits being reduced. When it is reduced to less than realistic levels, the pastor will have to seek additional income and/or benefits from other sources, which usually means finding a second job.

While younger generations tend to give less than their older counterparts, another factor impacting churches is that life has simply gotten more expensive. In the past, small churches often had a parsonage for the pastor to live in. Many people in the church were farmers and they kept the pastor supplied with vegetables from their gardens and meat from their livestock. The pastor only needed a small amount of cash to live. Health care costs were reasonable and the pastor would manage without health insurance if he had too. Therefore small churches could often afford a pastor even though they did not have a lot of cash flow. Fewer churches now have parsonages, so pastors must either rent or purchase a home of their own. This adds a significant amount to what the pastor requires financially. Even in rural areas, fewer people in America are farmers, and therefore fewer bags of garden vegetables or sides of beef show up on the pastor’s doorstep from church members. Health care costs are no longer cheap and trying to raise a family without health insurance is not a viable option. All of these factors add up to the pastor needing a much higher salary than what ministers may have needed in the past. If a church is unable to fully fund a pastor’s financial needs, then the pastor will have no choice but to seek additional employment that will make up the difference between what the pastor needs and what the church is able to provide.

Finally, the current economic situation has put a lot of people out of work and caused many retired people to lose income due to investment losses. Therefore, even people who are faithful and committed to the church and who love their pastor dearly, simply make less money, and therefore can give less money. Many churches have seen a significant drop in giving, especially in areas of the country most affected by the current economic situation. This has caused many churches that were already struggling to maintain a full salary and benefit package for their pastor to be unable to keep it up. Many pastors have been forced by the current economic situation to seek a second job. Though many churches anticipate that when the economic situation begins to turn around, they may be able to fully fund their pastor again, there is no way to know how long that may be. And with the other two factors mentioned above putting additional pressure on small churches, many small churches will never be able to go back to a fully funded pastoral position.

For these reasons, bivocationalism is a growing reality in America. Though some churches may have the goal of outgrowing their need for a bivocational pastor, most churches are going to have to accept this as their new reality. Pastors who find themselves serving such churches are going to have to think differently about how they do their ministry so they do not burn out trying to serve the church as well as work a second job. One of the best things pastors can do is develop a leadership team in the church so that they do not have to do the entire ministry alone. Pastors who are unwilling to invest the time in developing a leadership team will find themselves under increasing levels of stress, which they may be unable to endure. Therefore, the development of a leadership team in a small church is essential for the long term health of both the pastor and the church.

This is a new day in North American church life, but it does not have to be a negative day. There are a number of resources available to help pastors in small churches develop the laity to assist them in the ministry of the church. Consider these resources:

Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church

Dealing with Pastoral Burn Out in Bivocational Ministry

Bivocational Ministry is NOT Negative

Bivocational Ministry is Normal

Bivocational Ministry is Becoming More Common

Bivocational Pastors Burn Out if they Do not Delegate

Importance of Bivocational Pastors Sharing Leadership in the Church

The Bivocational Life

Healthy Bivocational Churches are led by Teams

Lay People in Bivocational Churches Will Help if Trained

The Local Church is the Best Place for Training Lay People to Help Bivocational Pastors in Ministry

Formal Theological Education is Helpful But Not Required in Bivocational Ministry

Real Life Challenges of Bivocational Ministry

Real Life Advantages of Bivocational Ministry

How Important are Lay Preachers in Bivocational Churches?

Helping Bivocational Pastors Avoid Burn Out

Helping Pastors in Small Churches Learn to Delegate


  1. Now that's good stuff and thanks for all the links!!

  2. Having served in bivocational ministry, I completely agree with Dr. Dorsett's views. It is impossible to fuction as a bivocational pastor without the help of fellow servants. It takes time to develop these leadership teams, and it takes a humbling of self as well. I've known some pastors who, for pride's sake, would not give up any responsibilities to members of the congregation because they feared the loss of control or diminished praise. I've put Dr. Dorsett's book to practice and I can tell you that it works--if you'll be patient with your people. It takes time for the congregation to come around as well. Terry--thanks for the insights.

  3. Very good and insightful thoughts concerning bi-vocational ministry. I have pretty much lost my second income from substituting at our local High School because they have a budget shortfall this year. Therefore, they haven't used subs as much this year. So, not only is the need for bi-vocational ministry becoming greater, but the job market for them is reducing rapidly. I know of folks that have been looking for work for months now and most places are not hiring because of the economic down turn. This puts even more strain on the Pastor and his family. It is time for churches to teach again on financial stewardship and the commands from the Lord in Scripture to take care of their Pastor. I Cor. 9:14 and so forth speak to this issue. Praise the Lord that He is sovereignly in charge.

  4. Thanks, a very thoughtful article and much food for thought. After reading it, I began to wonder about a possible related problem churches may have in hiring a bi-vocational minister. I imagine that some churches can't find someone due to the pastor not being able to find a second job, especially in this economy. Has any research been done on this?

  5. Where can I get your book?

  6. You can buy my book, "Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church" at this link:

  7. JI like this.

  8. This is a good article. I also enjoyed some of the links. I have been bivocational two times. One went better than the other. Having a positive experience has a lot to do with the church members.

  9. can I repost this on my site?

  10. Yes, but I prefer that you leave my name attached to it.