of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob have been discussing Bivocational Ministry.
Three years of ministry at a local Baptist Association taught me much about what ministry looks like daily. When I began, I started getting to know our pastors. We have young pastors, more “seasoned” pastors, pastors with families, and pastors without. We have pastors with 30 years of experience and some with two years of experience. Only a quarter of our pastors are full-time, vocational, whereas the rest are bi-vocational.
As common as it is nowadays to meet pastors in full-time, vocational positions, it was rare 100 years ago. Usually, pastors have been marketplace workers, having a ministry on the side while they worked. Due to a lack of finances and people, working a part-time or full-time job on the side of ministry has been the standard practice. Of course, there is no such thing as part-time ministry.
Bivocational or Covocational ministers can sometimes feel overlooked and underappreciated, knowing that full-time ministers are doing similar work for better pay. There will always be a need for bivocational ministers, and some studies have suggested that bivocational is a renewed, everyday occurrence for a pastor trying to make ends meet and help their church succeed.
But before we use this blog to write about some realities of bivocational ministry, let us first consider the definitions of these words since there is no one-size-fits-all position for pastoral ministry.
According to NAMB:
Vocational: Vocational ministry is a full-time position solely focusing on ministry, generally including salary and benefits.
Bivocational: Bivocational ministry is when a pastor has other employment that helps supplement the salary a church provides.
Covocational: Covocational ministry involves intentionally working in a secular setting to provide oneself the opportunity to minister in that setting. A Covocational pastor is committed to the workplace as a missionary endeavor. While all work is a ministry in some sense, a pastor may do this intentionally for more evangelistic opportunities.
In Acts 20:33-35, the apostle Paul communicated why he worked with his hands to help support the work of ministry. He said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
This serves as an excellent summary of what bivocational ministry is.
Last year, I attended a leadership retreat highlighting Karl Vaters as a keynote speaker. Vaters has written resources about small churches – one of his books being The Grasshopper Myth. Naturally, many of his writings include the topic of bivocational ministry. Writing for Christianity Today, Vaters says, “If I could only teach one vocational principle to young pastors-to-be, it would probably be this: Learn how to pay the bills outside your pastoral salary. You’ll probably need it.”
Some think bivocational ministry is a stepping stone to vocational ministry or that bivocational pastors are “half-pastors.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is usual for pastors to work bivocationally. It is even more common for a church to provide supplemental income, while a full-time job offers the primary income for a pastor and his family.
Some recent studies show that bivocational ministry is on an upward trend, and it is becoming a more common practice, especially in churches that cannot afford a full-time salary. Bivocational ministry is not a “less-than” ministry but requires double the sacrifice. Bivocational pastors should be honored for their service, just like any other pastor should.
Just like any other ministry, there are blessings and hardships. The blessings result from hard work, a sacrifice of time, and the unique opportunity to work in the marketplace while serving a church. Bivocational pastors get to see the blessing of working alongside their church members, interacting with their community, and seeing ministry opportunities all around them.
If there is one thing that full-time vocational pastors don’t get to see very much, it’s a regular interaction with lostness all around them. Pastors working in the marketplace can minister to people who will never interact with them. Further, bivocational pastors can set an example for their church members on what it looks like to live on a mission daily in their community.
Perhaps another blessing hidden in disguise is the relief of a financial burden laid upon the churches where they serve. While some churches are doing everything they can to make ends meet to support a full-time salary for a pastor, bivocational pastors can relieve that burden by working jobs for their primary income that helps supplement what a church can provide.
Still, this type of ministry is challenging. Most hardships center around a lack of time. If you factor in a part-time or full-time job, this puts a strain on time in many different areas, whether that be a strain for time with your family, your rest, or even time for sermon preparation.
In an article on churchleaders.com, Dr. James Scott discusses some of these hardships. He speaks about how bivocational ministry often causes emotional duress and spiritual depression. While the same could be said about vocational ministry, it is more likely in a vocational setting due to increased stress or a lack of time.
Leaders must decide whether or not the blessings outweigh the hardships. Whether or not you are in this ministry, know that you are not alone; you are doing great work, and resources and help are available.
No matter where you are or what kind of ministry you do, there is always joy in our calling. Consider these verses from Paul in Philippians 1:3-6: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
For more information about bi-vocational ministry, check out these resources:
Helping Small Churches Thrive – https://karlvaters.com/
Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network – https://www.bscln.net/
The Grasshopper Myth – https://www.amazon.com/Grasshopper-Myth-Churches-Thinking-Divides/dp/0988443902
Small Church Essentials – https://www.amazon.com/Small-Church-Essentials-audiobook/dp/B07DKFLCQY/ref=sr_1_1?crid=M604BT2T8SM5&keywords=small+church+essentials&qid=1707750533&s=books&sprefix=small+church+essentials%2Cstripbooks%2C154&sr=1-1