Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bivocational Ministry Is More Common Than Most People Realize

Two days ago I wrote a post about the need to rethink our perceptions of bivocational ministry. Yesterday I followed that up with a post on why bivocationalism is actually the normal, though not the only, way to do ministry. Today I want to expand that discussion just a bit more and discuss the reality that bivocational ministry is becoming more common in our culture, whether we like it or not.
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. Though this is becoming more common every year, very few people entering the ministry want to be bivocational. Let’s be honest. It is hard to work two jobs. Add to that the reality that many bivocational pastors are looked down upon by ministers who serve more affluent congregations. Add to that the reality that many denominational meetings are held at times that make it difficult for bivocational pastors to attend. All of that adds up to making bivocational ministry far more challenging that fully-funded ministry. But this is the reality that many people entering the ministry will face, so we might as well start talking about it.

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.

If denominations, seminaries and other religious organizations discussed this issue more often, it might help new ministers better prepare for the realities they will face. If new ministers, as well as those currently serving in bivocational positions, really understood how common their situation is, it might help remove some of the negative feelings about this essential form of ministry. Dennis Bickers reminds the 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 not “part-time” ministers. They are not even the minority of ministers. They are an important and growing segment of American church life.
Those who are considering ministry should dream big, but also accept the reality that they will probably need to work two jobs. That is okay. The apostle Paul did it. The majority of ministers around the nation are doing it now. Just accept this reality as part of the cost of serving the Lord in the 21st century.

The above material is adapted from the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church which was written to help bivocational pastors train their lay people to assist  them in ministry so they do not become burned out. It is highly practical and is being used by nearly 3,000 pastors across North America.

1 comment: