Jack was the bivocational pastor of the church I attended in Pennsylvania when that church licensed me to ministry as a step towards my ordination. Dale was the bivocational national leader for bivocational ministries among Baptists. Glenn was the bivocational pastor who led the search committee that nominated me to lead the statewide missions efforts for Baptists in South Carolina.
These are only three of the thousands of bivocational ministers I have encountered during my life, but they certain are three who contributed significantly to my life and ministry. They were leaders whose bivocational ministry was a thing of great beauty.
It is not only pastors who serve bivocationally. Music ministers, worship ministers, campus pastors, senior adult ministers, youth ministers, children ministers, Christian education ministers, recreation minsters, family life ministers, pastoral care ministers, organists/pianists, and church planters are just a few of the other congregational ministry roles served by bivocational ministers. Can you name others?
Full-time ministers are not the norm
I would suggest that over 80 percent of the people who serve in ministry roles do so bivocationally. When the whole spectrum of Christian ministry is considered it is easily true that the majority of the people serving congregations in the role of minister do so bivocationally. Bivocational ministry is the norm. It is a thing of great beauty.
Some bivocational ministers would prefer to serve in their ministry role full-time; some would not. Bivocational ministers are not ministers part of the week. They are always ministers who focus portion of their week on direct ministry engagement.
Some denominational cultures do not make intentional room for bivocational ministers. Some do. When there is less focus is on a professional, degree-holding clergy or a centralized the ordination process, more bivocational minsters serve in the affiliated congregations. Other denominational cultures either state or imply that real clergy are full-time. But, again, this is not the norm. It is the decentralized grassroots ordination movements that are growing and the centralized ordination systems that are not.
The case for bivocational ministry
A great case can be made for bivocational ministry. Here are a few observations. Perhaps you have others.
- Bivocational ministers are often as highly educated as full-time ministers. Their degrees may not always be from a seminary, school of theology, or divinity school, but may provide them with specialized skills and great leadership knowledge.
- The vocational roles of bivocational ministers outside local congregational ministry are often roles of exceptional value and responsibility in the community. I recall a university president who was a bivocational minister. I often encounter exceptional leaders in the marketplace who serve in a bivocational ministry role.
- Many congregations under 135 in average weekly attendance cannot afford the full financial support for a full-time pastor. If they have a full-time pastor they may be depending on the pastor’s spouse to have significant employment to support the pastor’s household. That is fine if the spouse desires to pursue a career. Many of these congregations might be better served by a bivocational pastor.
- Even congregations larger than 135 in attendance might best be served by a bivocational pastor. If the congregational members are generous givers, it is possible three bivocational ministers can be called and employed by the congregation for the price of a full-time pastor’s salary package. They can create multiple staff congregations with a more diverse ministry leadership team with a variety of gifts, skill, and preferences.
- Bivocational ministers who serve in the market place have regular connection with various non-churched people, and are able to help laypersons learn how to connect with non-churched people. Congregations, and even pastors, easily become too insulated from preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched people. They are often looking for ways in which they can connect with people who need the benefits of connection with a Christian congregation.
- When congregations are served by bivocational pastors and other ministers, they must create a cultural where laypersons step up to serve in various ways throughout the congregation. This is a great asset for the spiritual and leadership development of laity. It also keeps the congregation from developing a pastor-dependent culture.
Check out these urban legends
Before leaving this topic, I invite you to check out in your own denomination the following urban legends:
- Congregations served by bivocational pastors are smaller than congregations served by full-time pastors.
- In congregations where the pastor is bivocational, their tenure of service in that congregation is shorter than the tenure of pastors who serve full-time.
I suspect that in some denominations you will be surprised by what you discover.