By Thom S. Rainer
Bivocational ministry is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the church itself. However, we have seen an increase in the number of bivocational pastors and church staff serving throughout the United States today.
I believe bivocational ministry will continue to increase in the years ahead. Some of the increase will be forced upon churches and staff because of the financial realities of small and mid-sized churches. In today’s economic climate, a second job is increasingly necessary for ministers who want to serve in the church and support their families financially.
Another area of increase in bivocational ministry will be among those I call marketplace pastors. We will soon see many attorneys, educators, physicians, business leaders, and other professionals who will choose to continue in their marketplace jobs while serving in a church as well. These marketplace pastors could be paid full time by the church but have mutually agreed with their church not to take full-time compensation. I see this marketplace pastor trend as a healthy movement in American congregations.
Some may wonder why anyone would choose to serve bivocationally. It is challenging enough to balance ministry with family. Adding a second job seems like an overwhelming burden. But for many bivocational ministers, the benefits outweigh the challenges. Here are six reasons bivocational ministry can be beneficial.
1. A secular or marketplace job places pastors in the middle of secular culture on a regular basis.
When I first entered ministry, I served bivocationally, by necessity. While attending seminary and pastoring a church, I worked 30 hours a week at Citizens Fidelity Bank. I had so many great opportunities to share the gospel. Someone in a secular job will be right in the middle of lostness and can minister to people who may never set foot in a church. Many marketplace pastors are choosing to stay in their secular jobs because of the evangelistic opportunities.
2. Serving bivocationally can help church leaders break out of their “holy huddle.”
Many times pastors are so surrounded by Christians they rarely have the opportunity to share the gospel with lost people. Bivocational ministry offers plenty of opportunities to live on mission and meet the spiritual needs of the unchurched. Working in the marketplace also helps church leaders better relate to the people in their congregations.
3. Bivocational ministry allows churches with limited resources to expand staff.
Churches often know they need more staff leadership but can’t afford it. Bivocational leaders are a great option for any church staff position. This approach not only frees up resources but also allows church leaders to develop people within their own congregations to serve on staff. Eventually, it will become common for churches to have more bivocational staff than full-time staff.
4. A bivocational pastor can have greater freedom than a person in a full-time role.
Many pastors and staff are hindered from leading courageously for fear of losing their jobs. Pastors sometimes don’t say or do things that need to be done because their salary is tied to keeping peace in the church. Pastors who are not dependent upon a church financially are able to look at critics more objectively. That sense of freedom will lead to a longer tenure at a church.
5. Bivocational ministers and staff have transferrable skills they can use in their churches and at work.
Abilities such as communications, project management, public speaking, managing conflict, motivating people, and collaboration are beneficial at church and in the workplace. Bivocational ministers also have skills to support themselves if they find themselves no longer employed with their churches.
6. Members of the congregation become more involved in ministry.
Church members understand bivocational pastors have limited time and cannot be expected to do all the ministry of the church. Church members realize they are partners in ministry and are more willing to serve when asked.
Bivocational ministry is a clear and definitive trend in church life. Although there are many challenges, bivocational ministry can be tremendously rewarding.
THOM S. RAINER (@ThomRainer) is president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.