Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts by Geoff Holsclaw

images-2In keeping with the format of reclaimingthemission.com, here’s a second post for the week from Geoff Holsclaw, a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community, and co-author with me on the book Prodigal Christianity. Read about him here. P.S. the picture on this post is NOT Geoff Holsclaw.

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Ok, yes, it might sound extreme.  But let’s be sober-minded.  As Todd Hiestand noted a while back, in his great post, “10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-vocational Ministry”, being a missional bi-vocational pastor is hard, it takes commitment, it takes faith.  But in this post-Christian context (or at least outside of the ever shrinking Christendom pockets in North America), the option to be a bi-vocational is not an option at all, it is a necessity. I want to frame the discussion here with this image of guerrilla warfare exactly because I don’t want bi-vocational ministry to sound merely like a life-style choice, good for some, but not for others, or some kind of fashion accessory for missional pastors.

But I want to clear up one thing.  I’m not taking about guerrilla warfare against the more established church, or mega-churches or anything like that (although I think they can perpetuate bad pastoral habits/addictions).  But to think that narrowly is just not helpful.  I’m thinking that our battle is within a post-Christian, post-modern, consumer-therapeutic-individualistic culture.  Indeed, this is spiritual warfare battled on the terrain of our neighborhoods and families, our calendars and wallet.

So, to start this off, here are five thoughts.

Bi-vocational ministry is necessary:

1) not because missional churches are poor, but because they are rich. Some of the literature on bi-vocational ministry point to it being an option when churches are little, too poor for a full-time pastor.  In this scenario church finances are the determining factor.  Well, it know many missional churches that are small, and probably too poor for a full-time salary plus health insurance.  But many missional churches I know of are rich in resources, resources that are flowing outward into the neighborhoods and communities.  They are rich in leadership and talents that would go untapped if they was only one person (usually a man) who did everything and got paid for it.  My own community (Life on the Vine) is actually big enough to support a full-time pastor, but we choose not to do that because we believe it would make us poorer as a community.  This is, then, to use what the culture sees as a weakness (money, resources) as a strength, and therefore is a necessary attribute of missional/spiritual guerrilla warfare.

2) not because missional churches have little work, but too much work. Sometimes you hear the complain from a bi-vocational pastor that there is so much work and too little time (oh, wait that was me!).  But we all know what the truth is.  There is always too much work.  No matter what.  But instead of allowing ourselves to believe (which doesn’t really happen), or worse, allowing our congregations to believe (which almost always happens) that one or several “full-time” people can basically cover the work of the kingdom, missional churches know that there is always way too much work for one (or even some).  Instead of some full-time people, all must be engaged in the mission of God’s kingdom.  Bi-vocationalism is an automatic safe-guard against thinking the work is manageable when really it is totally unmanageable outside of all entering the fields to bring in the harvest.  Therefore, missional churches use another perceived weakness (lack of impact or results by a visible few) as a strength because the mustard seed is growing.

3) not because we battle outside, but within ourselves. This one gets tricky, but follows from #2.  Too often people, organizations, nations, and yes, churches, come to think that the battle is outside, that all those in must conform to a certain image or idea, and then move outward and attack (this happens even for laudable causes).  Many churches have implicitly or explicitly adopted this organization/operational structure, and even for those churches that haven’t it is a constant temptation perpetuated by full-time ministry.  But we must always remember that the battle is within our churches, and within ever leader (a power addiction).  Ministerial bi-vocationalism is a spiritual discipline to ward off this temptation toward consolidation, and not just spiritual discipline, but relational, financial, and temporal discipline befitting those on the front lines of the missional battle. In this sense you don’t fight fire with fire.  We must creatively resist these power dynamics.

4) because the culture is already fighting a guerrilla style war against us. Advertising, opinion polls, new television shows, iPhone apps, American Apparel, and on and on it goes.  The culture is an ever evolving parasite on others beliefs and practices, always seeking to make a dollar off you.  So it is necessary for missional churches to be just as nimble and creative.  In this way it is necessary to fight fire with fire, guerrilla warfare again guerrilla warfare through creatively resisting and yet appropriating alternative economic streams and structures.

5) not because the missional church is against formal leadership, but because we seek to form leadership. I will not as much time on this because de-centralized leadership has been a common enough theme, especially in regard to actual guerrilla warfare, cell groups, and house churches.

So, those are five reasons off the top of my head that missional bi-vocational ministry is not a cute lifestyle decision, or something that we try for a little while but then abandon, or a missional accessory that so like an others don’t.   But I truly believe that if the kingdom is to fruitfully gain ground in this post-Christian context that we must adopted strategies for the long run.  Anything less will perpetuate the stagnation of the Americn church.

(P.S. I know I could endlessly qualify this and mention those in established church who are legitimate in following God’s call through full-time ministry positions [I know you and love you]…but sometimes a conversation is best started in the black and white before entering the gray).

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5 comments on “Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts by Geoff Holsclaw
  1. AmyS says:

    This is something I’m thinking about a lot these days. I’m a pastor in a “full time” position (3/4 time, but it’s my only gig). While several of your critiques of the full-time model don’t resonate in my context, when I look at my colleagues who are bi-vocational, I wonder at the relative luxury of my own situation and whether or not it’s good for the church.

  2. Excellent article and right on point. In some of my books on bivocational ministry I often address the advantage many bivocational ministers have in serving churches that understand they cannot, and are not supposed to, do all the ministry that needs to be done in the church. The church I served as a bivocational minister for 20 years was small, but we were rich in resources as we had people who were willing to use their gifts to minister to others. But, this can also happen in a much larger church. I was aware of a church that ran about 600 people on Sunday mornings that was served by a bivocational pastor and several staff who were also all bivocational by choice. The leadership of that church believed that it was a sin for paid staff to be doing the ministry God had given others in the church to do. Their focus was on leading and resourcing the congregation as it did ministry. That had to be an exciting place to serve and attend.

  3. I get the kind of community and leadership you are going after. I think of it in terms of Yoder’s “the fullness of Christ” and “the rule of Paul” in Body Politics. I just wonder if bi-vocational vs. full-time paid pastors is the right discussion? It implies that being bi-vocational solves the problem and having full-time paid pastors causes it. That’s a bit naive, eh? Being bi-vocation is not an automatic hedge against the negative leadership traits and practices you rightly push back against. Nor is full-time ministry a death-nell for each member of the body contributing to the whole. The character of the leader is whats crucial. A bi-vocational pastor can still be addicted to power and control, feel like they need to do everything and create passive consumers in the congregation. I like where you are headed, I just wonder if formation is a bigger issue than salary?

  4. Andy Stager says:

    Great thoughts. This is something I’ve long wrestled with. I think there’s also another angle to this: If you can start a business and generate passive income, you’ve shown great skills for the social entrepreneurship that is church planting and missional pioneering. Having 2 vocations with no 9-5 rigid schedules is a lot better than having a 9-5 *and* a massive night-and-weekend gig.

  5. Stephen Gonzalez says:

    Very refreshing to read this. I’ve committed myself in the early stages of planting the gospel in my neighborhood for the sake of cultivating gospel communitites on mission to being bio-vocational & always keep a job.

    #2 was very helpful for me. Realizng there will always be more work & it’s not something we can just fit into our schedules. Really pushes me to find my identity in Jesus & realize God is great so I don’t have to be in control.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts by Geoff Holsclaw"
  1. [...] church shaped by liturgy for God’s mission is one that will probably include a plurality of bi-vocational leaders, a desire to organize “politically” for a peaceful presence, and a pushback against [...]

  2. [...] had tweeted yesterday an article about bivocational ministry by David Fitch. There’s a point at the end that he brings up about decentralizing leadership, which he [...]

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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