By Chuck Lawless
“I didn’t come to seminary to be a bivocational minister, to have to get another kind of job,” my student told me. I may not have agreed with my student, but I did understand his thinking. Back then (almost 15 years ago), we weren’t talking much about bivocational ministries.
Now, that conversation has shifted. Pastors are beginning to embrace as their primary calling the role of bivocational minister. Some even intend to remain bivocational regardless of the size of their church as it grows. If the Lord were to call me into a bivocational church role, here is why I would gladly follow His leading.
- Bivocational ministers serve the church without being dependent on them for income. I affirm full-time pastors; in fact, I served full-time for 14 years. Further, I do not want even to hint that being dependent on a congregation for salary somehow leads to compromise. Nevertheless, I do suspect there is some freedom in leading a congregation that does not pay the bulk of your salary.
- Bivocational ministers are often more connected to non-believers. No full-time pastor I know wants to be disconnected from people who need to hear the gospel, but that separation happens. Unless they intentionally fight against it, full-time pastors can be cocooned in the church world. Bivocational leaders can be equally cocooned, of course, but their work outside the church at least provides a roadblock to that process.
- Bivocational ministers lead churches that often have a higher percentage of funds available for ministry and missions. In most churches with full-time staff, the largest percentage of their budget goes toward personnel. Funds for doing ministry are often lacking. The church that has fewer personnel commitments, though, can free dollars to reach their neighbors and the nations.
- Bivocational ministers make starting more churches possible. To reach North America, we need more churches – healthy, outwardly focused churches. Young churches, however, usually don’t have the funding to support a full-time pastor. A bivocational church planter can provide leadership without straining the church’s budget.
- Bivocational ministry models good missiology. Getting the gospel to the world will require efforts far beyond full-time missionaries. Businessmen and women will need to carry the message as they travel the world. Others will start businesses around the world, and they will use that work as a platform for Great Commission work. Bivocational pastors can model that same general approach in North America.
- Bivocational ministers must learn how to train workers and delegate ministry. Burnout is always a danger for the bivocational minister unless he learns to share the load. His role should push him toward a 1 Corinthians 12 ministry, recognizing that God puts everyone in the church as He wishes to play a particular role in that body. The bivocational minister realizes he cannot do ministry alone – a lesson I wish I had learned years ago as a full-time minister.
- Bivocational leadership affirms vocation as ministry. Pastors speak the language (“Every member is a minister”), but we don’t always help our members understand this truth. We still too often promote a clergy/laity divide that lacks biblical warrant. The bivocational minister, however, brings these worlds together. His workplace is his mission field.
- Bivocational ministers likely better understand the struggles of laypersons. Bivocational pastors know what it’s like to work in the secular world for eight hours, run home to have dinner, and then spend the evening at church. They understand the pull of a world that daily beckons church members to live like that world. They know the struggle of trying to be a tentmaker and an evangelist at the same time.
- Bivocational ministers can now get theological training without leaving their place of ministry. Via online education, bivocational ministers can now earn fully accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees while keeping their lives planted among the people they seek to reach. That approach is educationally solid and practically relevant. Some denominations, in fact, are providing funds for their bivocational pastors to get this training.
- Bivocational opportunities invite us to challenge all our church members to consider God’s calling. Following God’s calling does not always mean leaving home and occupation. It might mean staying where you are and doing what you do as a base for ministry. Indeed, it may mean recognizing that God has given you your job so that you might lead His church.
What other thoughts would you add? What might we learn from bivocational ministers?
Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.