Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bivocational Ministry Is Normal

Yesterday I wrote about the need to rethink our perceptions about bivocational ministry. The main point of that article was that bivocational pastors are not second-class pastors. In this post I would like to develop that idea further. I believe that not only are bivocational pastors not second-class, they represent the “normal” way in which God intended pastors to serve. I understand that some of my fully-funded peers will struggle with this concept. Therefore, let me explain why I believe this.

The New Testament demonstrates that bivocational ministry was normal for the church during the New Testament era. Though many twenty-first century church attendees in North America do not understand that New Testament churches were often led by bivocational pastors, this does not change the reality of history. The most well-known New Testament example of bivocational ministry is the Apostle Paul. 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 “ 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 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. Denominations across the nation established a number of colleges and seminaries. As the clergy became more educated, they also began to see themselves as “professionals” who could not be expected to work a second job. 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.

This does not mean that it is “wrong” to be a fully-funded pastor. It simply means that a fully-funded clergy is actually the exception instead of the norm. We must help church members learn a correct New Testament theology of church leadership and a correct history of church leadership in North American church life. As churches rediscover these truths, they will be able to return to a normal way of functioning. Once churches are functioning normally again, there will be a lot less stress on the church than what often exists in small churches that are trying to be something God never intended them to be.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. Published by CrossBooks, the material is full of practical advice to both pastors and the small churches they serve. Many fully-funded pastors are using the ideas to empower the laity as well.


  1. I think that when young people feel Gods call on their lives for ministry they hear the call to surrender for full time service and then the perceptions that full time means that we are to be on the field full time, but we Bivocationals are on the field full time as well there have been many times during my work days that I have had the privelege to minister to fellow workers and our phones don't quit ringing jusr because we are at the other job our wives usually answer the phone and relay to us what the need is and with the age of cell phones you are never off the job just may not be able to check on the folks till after work so I dont see us as second class at all.

  2. YES!!! All pastors are "full-time" but only some are fully-funded by their minisry position. The rest get part of their funding from some other source. We must help young people responding to the call to "full-time" service realize this.

  3. Having been bivo I understand the relfex to avoid it. Working two jobs is difficult and there is no such thing as a part time job as a pastor. You may only recieve a small salarty that requires you to work another job but the work is still full time in scope. And far to many churches that are that small do not get involved in the workings of the church to ease the load of the pastor. Given all of this a bivo church can be hard on a pastor with a young family. Working two jobs and doing all that needs done in the church will automatically take a pastor away from his family too much. More focus needs to be given to the need for members of small churches to step up to the plate and not task bivo pastors so much.

  4. Mark,
    If the church does NOT step up and do some of the tasks, then bivocational pastors are most surely going to burn out. Sadly, most churches do not realize this and pastors much teach the church how to actually function like a normal church. But it can be done. That is what the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church is all about. Teaching the laity to do what they should have been doing all along anyway.

  5. In my case, bi-vocational means having 2 jobs, not 1/2 time ministry, 1/2 time at a secular job.

  6. David A. RussellMarch 7, 2012 at 5:52 AM

    Everybody is full time ministry, even with something called a "job". In Christ, there is no separation of the secular from the Sacred, or there shouldn't be!

  7. Todd and David,
    Absolutely. I totally agree. I think we need to shout it from the moutain tops so that every else understands this too!