Monday, September 15, 2014

Advantages of Being Bivocational

This past weekend I traveled to Michigan to take part in a Christian leadership conference. I was one of several presenters who led workshops for hundreds of leaders from around the state. The workshops I led were for pastors and leaders leaders in bivocational churches. I met some very dedicated servants of God who are determined to help their churches be as effective as possible, despite the challenges that bivocational ministry brings. In one candid moment of honesty two pastors shared with me that they really did NOT want to be bivocational. It was hard. It was challenging. It was exhausting. It was frustrating.

I can certainly understand their frustration. After all, they had invested a significant amount of time taking classes through various Bible schools in order to gain a solid theological education. In any other field, such an investment of time and money in education would result in promotions and raises that would lead to a nice job in the corner office. But for those called to bivocational ministry, the corner office means a folding table in the corner of the family room and successful careers are counted in souls won to Christ one at a time, not in bonuses or raises.

Balancing two jobs and a family is a challenge. Pastoral burn-out among bivocational pastors is notoriously high. Whether we like it or not, bivocational ministry is a reality that is not going away anytime soon. Both the current economic situation in the nation, as well as the giving trends of younger generations, indicate that churches will continue to struggle to fully-fund pastoral positions.

However, just because there are challenges to bivocational ministry does not mean that such situations should be viewed in a negative light. There are actually a number of advantages that bivocational pastors have over their fully-funded counterparts. Before dismissing bivocational ministry, pastors should consider these advantages:

1. Bivocational pastors are not as dependent on the church for their financial support as fully-funded pastors. This relieves them of the stress of what might happen to their families if they were dismissed from the churches they serve. In some situations, bivocational pastors actually have more personal resources than fully-funded pastors because they have two sources of income.

2. 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.

3. 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. Therefore, they frequently feel they relate to the people in their congregations better than fully-funded pastors because they “work” just like the laypeople do. These frequent interactions and the increased sense of relating to laypeople often help bivocational pastors have more realistic sermon illustrations and greater credibility in the pulpit.

4. Bivocational pastors have the ability to serve a larger number of churches because they can serve churches that cannot fully-fund pastors. They also get to 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.

5. 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 fully-funded 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.

6. Bivocational pastors often feel it is easier to teach about financial stewardship and/or to solicit contributions from church members. This is because 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.”

7. 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 most 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.

8. 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, but that their bivocational status makes them feel more comfortable attending only the meetings that they perceive as being more applicable to their situation. If those same pastors had been fully-funded, they would have felt a greater obligation to attend meetings that they did not think would be beneficial anyway.

While bivocational ministry has many challenges, it also has many advantages. Learning what the advantages are can help bivocational pastors, or those considering bivocational ministry, 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 since it is a growing reality in North American church life.

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Terry Dorsett is a church planter in New England and the author of several books, including Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.

11 comments:

  1. Well said. Other possible advantages are the calling out of new leadership is "easier" and the bivocational's family is "not under as much scrutiny."

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    1. Fred, those are great additions to the list.

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  2. MEN! Last January we hosted a Revival and we brought 5 churches together. We have worked hard to keep these churches working together and networking. It isn't easy but I believe it is worth it!

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  3. Good Word Terry. Those were certainly a significant part of the reasons I chose to be Bi-Vocational most of ministry time... One other advantage, since Sarah and I have always worked secular jobs as well as ministry, we have no fear of Preaching the Truth even if a 'key giver' might not like the particular Truth.

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    1. Thanks for your faithful service, and for expanding on this idea for our readers. Keep preaching the truth!

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  4. I like job where I preach once a week. I wouldnt want to preach more or less. A bivo chuch enables me to do that.

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  5. I have been bi-vocational for most of my 35 year ministry. However now at age 58 I am in the position that I have outlived all of my non-ministry vocations. A major issue with how we train ministers is that they often don't have a non-ministry vocation after 4 years of college and 3-4 years of seminary. Rural churches are very much still at a disadvantage in calling ministers. They are too small to pay a truly liveable salary and benefits, but the town is too small to provide any job except a minimum wage job.

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    1. that is so true. I think we need to rethink seminary training to include some classes on say, how to drive a school bus (a great job in rural areas) or how to do mechanic work, etc. What do you think?

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    2. Perhaps a seminary could partner with a vo/tech school and require students to complete a vocational program in order to graduate.

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