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Pastors in Bivocational Ministry

CTA - Christ to All /Oct. 08, 2019
Pastors in Bivocational Ministry

By Alison Zeller

The concept of bivocational pastors is nothing new—God gave us several biblical examples. However, in today’s world, there is an all-new push-and-pull that’s driving a rise in the number of bivocational pastors. Where did we get this model of ministry? What are the pros and cons of having a two-job pastor? Is this the future of the Church?

From creation to 2019

Even in the earliest times, God gave many of his people a bivocational purpose. Amos was a farmer—he raised sheep and harvested figs. He was a prophet, too. Paul was a tentmaker—supporting himself financially while he was a missionary in Corinth. Even our Savior, Jesus Christ, had a secular job, too. He was a carpenter.

Flash forward to more recent history and we are seeing an increase in the number of bivocational pastors. The trend reaches across all denominations, and there are several factors at play: 

  • Some experts point to decreasing church attendance. Statistics also say that many Christians participate in small groups or home churches instead of more traditional forms of worship. Both of these factors result in decreased financial giving and the inability for churches to pay the salary of a full-time pastor.
  • In church plants, pastors are usually under extreme budgetary constraints, but at the same time, they want to welcome new worshipers without the pressure of giving. Again, these types of churches are simply unable to pay a livable, full-time wage.
  • Many small churches realize that employing a part-time pastor makes more funds available for missions and outreach.

Stress versus benefit

It’s not hard to believe—serving as a bivocational pastor is a challenging job. One source estimates that bivocational pastors work the equivalent of two full-time jobs, about 80 hours per week. For many, there’s an enormous amount of stress that comes with having two jobs. They have little to no time to spend with their families. They feel pressure to put in extra time at their secular job. They feel guilty when they turn away from the needs of worshipers because of the time constraints of their secular jobs. Even though they are working two jobs, many still struggle financially. And, perhaps worst of all, many people consider them “second-class pastors” because they do not serve full-time.

Despite the stress, there are benefits to this calling. As one bivocational pastor puts it, “If you look at bivocationalism solely as a means to pay the bills, you will miss opportunities for God’s Spirit to flow through you. Bivocational ministry provides many opportunities to touch a hurting world.”

Consider the benefits for bivocational pastors: 

  • They are out in the “real world” every day. They are talking to unchurched people on the subway, in their cubicles, and at their favorite lunch spot. The opportunities for personal outreach are essentially limitless.
  • They have a first-hand experience with what worshipers are seeing in today’s American culture and, because of that, they can provide valuable support and insight.
  • Because of their secular jobs, they bring an entirely new set of skills and community contacts to the pastoral office.
  • They are not totally financially reliant on the church, so they are often more courageous in leading change and speaking God’s truth.
  • A part-time pastor can do only so much—laypeople have a great opportunity to become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the church, hospital visits, homebound ministry, and other important tasks.

The future of bivocational ministry

By all accounts, the number of bivocational pastors will continue to rise in the years to come. However, the needs of churches and the opportunities for reaching the lost are increasing, too. This means the potential for burnout is extremely high. Bivocational pastors will have even less time to do more work. To succeed, these pastors must find ways to set boundaries; balance time between family, secular jobs, and ministry; and spend time nurturing their personal faith.

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