You see them at conferences, or on the forums. The person who dreads the question, “So where are you pastoring at?”
Followed immediately by “Oh are you part time or full time?” And this person, without fail, looks down at their shoes, shuffling their feet and says quietly, “Oh, well, it’s still a church plant” or “the church is hoping to bring me on as paid staff really soon.”
And then they mumble sheepishly, apologetically “Right now, I am bi-vocational…you know, to pay the bills, until the church can bring me on.” You can tell that they may have been made to feel “lesser” by other pastors- the “REAL” pastors who are paid to do what they do. And even worse, these bi-vocational pastors may even be beginning to BELIEVE that they and their ministry ARE lesser, in comparison to the paid pastors.
It’s kind of an assumption that the “real” and “effective” pastors will of course be paid, and the “not so good pastors” will have to stay bi-vocational until they are “more successful.”
I felt that I needed to bring up this subject for a few reasons.
First of all, bi-vocational ministry is definitely on the rise. There are entrepreneurial ministers all around us in rural areas as well as the bigger cities, trying to launch brand new churches, and trying to support themselves for awhile (sometimes a long while).
Secondly, I can see that the church as a whole has bought into a way of thinking about ministers, that closely mirrors our American culture, but not always Scripture.
Lastly, instead of being bi-vocational as a negative thing, I actually see some definite positives for those ministers who are out in our nations workforce! What are those positives? Well here are just a few pros to being a bi-vocational minister:
- Relevance. You have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your city, right where God has called you. Pastors are often accused of being “out of touch” with those in the pews they are speaking to. I vividly remember getting up to speak at our church, and my husband heard my message for the first time during first service. He pulled me aside right after the service ended and said, “Honey, do you realize how careless that sounded? You are asking people to be at three different meetings here at the church on 3 DIFFERENT nights of the week! We all have jobs, and kids, and you have to be considerate of that!” My husband, who works as a full time I.T. guy for a large corporation instinctively knew what many people in our congregation were feeling and living each week. 50+ hours a week of work, followed by night classes for another degree, sports and family time. The church’s demands on our overtaxed families was coming off as clueless, uncaring and demanding. I quickly changed what I had to say for the next 3 services (we consolidated meetings into one evening or one after school session. I got a much better response. Sometimes full time pastors ARE clueless, because we forget….we lose touch with our target audience and because that much less effective. You will know that culture inside and out and therefore be able to ‘speak the language’. You have earned a right to be heard.
- Time Management. One of my friends complained, “I never have time to get anything done for my house. I don’t have time to work out.” Then she took a full time job. Now, counter instinctively, she is keeping her house so much neater and she gets to the gym daily. How on earth is that possible? It’s the same amount of time in each day! The truth is that bi-vocational ministry forces you to be a ‘ninja’ at time management. You have to make every second count. You know who you are: the one writing messages on the back of napkins on your lunch break, and reading the latest ministry statistics late at night when everyone else is in bed. You have less time to devote to ‘ministry’- so you give it all you have, no time wasted!
- Passion. You are not getting paid for the ministry you do. You are there purely because…you are CALLED. Just as called as any full time pastor at the largest church in the world. You are called by a God Who hasn’t changed His mind. You work your full time job to pay the bills. You do your ministry out of a passionate love for Jesus and for people- and it shows. You are there because you want to be- above and beyond what you are already doing. This passion fuels your energy and creativity. You HAVE to problem solve and find a way- because no one is waiting with a check book to bail you out! And that send your faith through the roof- because God has made a way again and again and again, when there really shouldn’t have been a way. You are called. Salary or no salary. And God does NOT have a lesser class of ministers. So don’t ever apologize for being ‘bi-vocational’. Trust Who called you and let that passion BURN.
- You are just like Jesus, Paul, and others when you are in bi-vocational ministry. You think Jesus had a high paying salary? No way. Sometimes, He had nowhere to lay His head. He had sponsors who supported His ministry. Paul, of course, did “tent making” and fundraising to support his, and he was an apostle! You are in GREAT company as a non-salaried pastor. Our American CULTURE tells us that the “greatest” are paid more. Jesus says, “Let the greatest among you be servant of all” and “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Let’s stop confusing real Christianity with our American culture of corporate ladder climbing, status grabbing and greed.
- You will likely have more time to spend with pre-Christians. Too many full time pastors have to admit that they do not spend a lot of time with non-Christians, and they are not doing much in the way of personal evangelism. I am pointing at myself here, when I say that ministry within the walls of the church building CAN because all consuming- all your time, all your focus goes there instead of into the community, reaching lost people. Jesus spent His time out with sinners. We can become so self focused that we miss the people who are the whole reason we do what we do.