By Dennis Garcia
In many Christian circles, bivocational ministry is viewed as serving in the minor leagues. Few seminary graduates are excited about taking a part-time position at a small, rural church or one in the inner city.
A quick search for the word “pastors” in Amazon’s book category reveals more than 30,000 resources. When you search for “bivocational pastors,” however, the list shrinks to 23. Likewise, there are few degree programs or conferences aimed at equipping bivocational pastors.
Despite the focus on full-time ministry, more than 1 in 3 churches (37.8%) in America have bivocational pastors according to the 2015 Faith Communities Today survey. That’s up from 28.6% in 2010.
There are indeed a growing number of pastors who are choosing to work two or more jobs. Here are five benefits to serving in bivocational ministry.
1. Greater Access to the Unchurched.
As a church leader, there’ve been many times when I’ve run out of lost people to pray for. It’s easy to become so surrounded by churched people that we have few to no relationships with people outside our congregation, let alone those far from Jesus.
A bivocational pastor will naturally have relationships with non-Christian coworkers and customers. This access to the unchurched creates more opportunities for the pastor to reach and disciple individuals who wouldn’t typically attend a church service.
2. Model Work as Worship.
American Christians often compartmentalize their faith so that “worship” is conducted on Sunday mornings while “work’ is done the rest of the week.
Scripture doesn’t make such distinctions between “sacred” and “secular” lives. Believers are citizens of God’s Kingdom. As such, everything they do is Kingdom work and an opportunity for worship.
This presents a great opportunity for the bivocational pastor to practice work as a means of worship and to model workplace missions.
3. Encourages Greater Congregational Involvement.
It’s challenging for a bivocational pastor to have a full-time job outside of the church and be a full-time pastor who’s on call 24/7.
When the pastor has a limited amount of time to devote to church ministry, it creates opportunities for the congregation to use their gifts to serve the church and community.
Many church members have the unbiblical idea the pastor is solely responsible for the ministry of the church. “That’s why we pay him the big bucks,” they might think. In a bi-vocational setting, however, the pastor can’t do it all.
This strongly encourages the congregation to get involved and to fill in ministry gaps they’ve often delegated to the pastor.
4. More Money Goes to Missions and Ministry.
The largest expense of most churches is personnel. A common rule of thumb is that in a “healthy” church budget, personnel expenses shouldn’t exceed 50% of the total.
In many average-sized churches that employ a full-time pastor, that number can creep up to 75-80% of the budget. That means fewer funds are going toward ministry and missions.
If that same church decides to employ a bivocational pastor, they have greater margin in the budget to invest in growing the church through evangelism, outreach, and discipleship.
This ultimately allows the church to invest more resources in the mission of the Great Commission.
In his book, “The Great Evangelical Recession,” John S. Dickerson identifies challenges associated with the decline of evangelicalism in America. Among these challenges is a decline in giving.
He writes, “Unless giving trends change significantly, evangelical giving across the board may drop by about 70% during the next twenty-five to thirty years.”
If such declines do occur in giving, we’ll see fewer and fewer churches that can realistically afford full-time staff. A pastor and church who strategically choose a bi-vocational model will be prepared for possible declines in available resources.
Remember, You’re in Good Company
If you’re a bivocational pastor, be encouraged. You’re in good company.
The Apostle Paul, the greatest church planter in history, was bivocational. He worked as a tent-maker and labored so he wouldn’t be a financial burden to the churches he started. His ministry was no less significant or effective.
Serving in a bivocational role is not a mark of shame but a worthy and commendable call. Be intentional to leverage this opportunity for greater Kingdom impact as you faithfully serve the Lord.
Dennis is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.