By Scott Davis
Bi-vocational ministry has been around as long as Paul the tentmaker. And, it remains a topic for which many people have very strong opinions. Some believe it is a thoroughly bad idea and should only be considered out of absolute necessity. Others remain convinced it is without a doubt the best way to effectively reach their community with the gospel.
So, which is it? Yea or nay?
The reality is that the question of whether to labor as a bi-vocational minister is much more complicated. Boiling the topic down to the simple false dichotomy of yes or no isn’t treating the question as seriously or thoughtfully as it deserves.
Rather, I invite you to consider three lenses through which we should measure the wisdom of bi-vocational ministry. If you’ve ever tried to open a combination lock, you know getting just two numbers correct isn’t enough. Likewise, I submit a successful bi-vocational ministry will need to have (at least) these three aspects properly balanced.
Those three considerations are the pastor, the congregation, and the other vocation.
The Pastor (and his family!):
Let’s be honest. Bi-vocational ministry isn’t for everyone. Some pastors will thrive under a bi-vocational call. Others will burn out.
Church leaders who are not in a bi-vocational context are often able to make their work fit a pretty simple 8-5 schedule. Aside from emergencies that pop up like a late night hospital visit or other unscheduled events, most pastors can maintain pretty regular office hours.
However, those who labor in a bi-vocational ministry are in a much different boat. Are you and your family prepared for the extra hours that you’ll invariably need to put in for study, meetings, and other obligations that pop up?
Bi-vocational pastors with young children at home will find the need to think outside the box when it comes to studying, sermon prep, and meetings.
Make sure your entire family is going into bi-vocational ministry with eyes wide open. Prayerfully consider if you and your family are wired for the sort of challenges bi-vocational ministry will put on your plate.
The Second Vocation:
This is one of the most important considerations when evaluating if bi-vocational ministry is for you. What’s your other vocation?
Some jobs are pretty chill and easily allow you to leave the work behind you when you “clock out.” Examples of this type of work might be stocking shelves at a local store, driving a school bus, and other such jobs.
Other forms of employment have hours and responsibilities that are much more “open-ended.” People with more executive jobs or salary jobs are often called to put in long hours. And, those long hours can sometimes interfere with your ability to carry out your ministerial duties.
- Can you drop what you’re doing to meet a family at the hospital when there’s an emergency?
- Is your employer sympathetic to your situation?
- How about needing to drop everything because you’re preaching at a funeral of a member?
- Does your workplace ever need to call employees in on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night?
- Do you have the freedom to set your hours as long as the work gets done?
Prepare yourself for the possibility that becoming bi-vocational might mean changing your other vocation to a more suitable line of work.
Being a bi-vocational minister not only puts extra stress on you, but it also puts added stress on your elders and deacons. Do they know how their roles and responsibilities will have to change to accommodate your bi-vo status?
My experience in this regard has been very positive. Our elders know that the church is paying me a reduced compensation package. So, they understand that means the church officers will need to step up to the plate to make sure that the work of the church gets done.
In my context, I travel around the state throughout the week. So, it’s not uncommon that my elders and deacons have to pick up the slack for hospital visits or other emergencies.
This need for our church has actually served to make us healthier as a church. It has forced my elders and deacons to realize their duties as shepherds of God’s people extend well beyond Sunday morning.
Whew! We’ve only scratched the surface! There are some additional considerations and disciplines necessary for this type of ministry. However, I hope these three lenses have given a framework to consider if God is calling you into such a work.
Scott Davis is the husband of Leigh Anne, father of five and pastor of Hope Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. An accomplished comedian and magician, he’s performed on the stages of Las Vegas and resorts nationwide.