5 Tips on Keeping Bi-Vocational Ministry from Imploding

imagesBi-vocational ministry has a bad name.

This bad name was bequeathed upon it by Christendom. Because within this Christianized world, where every body is a Christian, the pastor is looked upon as a professional carrying out all of the numerous tasks of the church to offer services to Christians to sustain them in their Christian life. This model of ministry (I call it the Superman/woman model) is ordered for efficiency. It is a top down chain of command that gets things done. One person basically does all the gifts of the body, including preaching once a week, pastoral care, visiting the sick, running the business end of things, managing conflict resolution, and engaging the community with new and innovative ways to get people to come into church. Frankly this job is impossible even under the best of circumstances. But as a bi-vocational pastor? It will kill you. Yet the “Superman” pastor is an image of leadership seared deep in the consciousness of the Christendom Christians. These are the expectations of people who have been part of the established church. My pastor does a.,b. and c. and my job as parishioner is to go to church, receive some of this good pastoral care, donate some volunteer hours and then give a tithe. Rarely can bi-vocational pastors live up to this model of church.

So here’s 5 tips for avoiding Bi-Vocational Ministry from imploding.

  1. Teach your small community different expectations for the pastor. When they ask questions, seek goods and services, according to the old model, redirect.
  2. NEVER (and I mean NEVER!) enter bi-vocational ministry alone. Bi-vocational ministry is meant to be a shared leadership with 2 to 4 other pastors, all bi-vocational, who know their giftings and complement one another.
  3. Do not look at ministry as a job. You may get some compensation as bi-vocational pastor to relieve having to work over time etc., but ministry is a life style into which all people participate. You just happen to be a leader at your church.
  4. Keep your existing secular job within boundaries, recognizing there will be seasons, when you will have to work more. But by faith, keep your job limited to 40-50 hours a week, and as you grow with it, begin to pare back, to 35 hours, as the church can supplement your wages and your value as a skilled employee increases and becomes more valuable and flexible in your employment. For most bi-vocational pastors this takes 3–5 years.
  5. Stay flexible. Navigate your job. Look for ways for God to provide more flexibility. And as the church grows, look for ways to change and manage your secular job. This may mean you become full time at the church at some time in the life of this mission. But you will be forever changed in the way you lead ministry and see understand ministry because you started out bi-vocational.

And a few last things. Despite everything I said above, bi-vocational ministry is not for everybody. There is a place for the professional clergy in shepherding the large masses of Christians still left in the West into Mission.. Bi-vocational ministry is the vocation of a missionary. It takes a kind of imagination to see ministry beyond the boundaries of traditionally received ministry and the 4 walls of the church.  In N. America, there is a great need for both missionaries and professional clergy that can lead churches into the mission fields of post Christendom.

Also, bi-vocational ministry is not always permanent. Many pastor/missionaries I know start out bi-vocational and 15 years into it, they are full time paid from their churches out of necessity. I was bi-vocational for almost 15 years. Bi-vocational ministry is a journey not a permanent static ‘position.’ Blessings to all on this journey.

Posted in Church Planting, Incarnational, Missional Leadership
15 comments on “5 Tips on Keeping Bi-Vocational Ministry from Imploding
  1. Seth says:

    Dave,
    It seems to me that the posture/model of ministry inherent(?) in the bi-vocationalism you describe here is also possible in full-time ministry positions. I do not see the inevitable vortex of full-time-ness that you do. This is hope for us who are (stuck) in full-time ministry positions.

    It’s possible when we learn to enter our full-time positions with the same non-superhuman posture you describe. I suggest that it’s actually possible to enter full-time ministry with bi-vocational dispositions.

    Us full-timers have to learn to treat all the “stuff” that comes with full time ministry AS our part-time job. We have to learn to distinguish the expression of our vocational identity from what we get paid to do as professional minister. Yes, there is overlap, but learning to distinguish these two things frees us to be fully present in our vocational identity, get the “stuff” done that we need to in the church, and then not freak out when our church jobs fail to fulfill our vocational desires.

    So am I out of my mind here?

    • David Fitch says:

      I have one word for you Seth: Genius !!! But I don’t think it’s as easy as maybe some might think reading your comment. Once you get caught into the vortex, it does things to you :)

      • Seth says:

        Right – not easy. It feels like death some days. And the process involves my willingness to die to a lot of things – a lot of my ego – that would otherwise go unchecked in full-time ministry.

      • Seth says:

        And the vortex is very real. Just not inevitable. We must be constantly vigilant to avoid it – by entering ever-more fully into a place of surrender and trust in regard to our work.

  2. Juliet says:

    Do you think it’s possible to do bi-vocational ministry and yet also offer a counter-cultural vision of a non-frenzied, overfilled, hectically busy life that is filled with sabbath and rest? The “rat race” is very real in the culture around us…from preschool, parents are raising their kids into this kind of life, where more work equals more success equals more supposed fulfillment. If a bivocational minister works 40-50 hours/week, ministers 15-20 hours a week in the church/neighborhood, tries to spend at least 2 hours a day with their spouse/children, how do we also speak prophetically against the frenzied pace of our surrounding culture when our lives are potentially just as frenzied? Not challenging you…just earnestly seeking some wisdom on this.

    • Ryan Jantzi says:

      Yes! It is possible. I am a bi-vocational pastor and many (but not all) days I feel like I can do this while having a reasonably restful rhythm to life.

      However, I do have a pretty good split between the two jobs… 20 hours/week dedicated to church leadership and 25 hours/week devoted to my ‘secular’ job. But, it has taken me almost three years of shifting through four jobs to find part-time work in a rural area that pays well, uses my skills well and allows me the flexibility I need. I have been a cabinet maker, construction labourer, FedEx courier and am now a literacy practitioner. All the while leading in a 6 year old church plant of approximately 40 folks.

  3. Dan Jr. says:

    David,
    I know not all contexts are the same but there are two missiological questions we’ve had to ask: First – “Does full-time ministry fly in hyper suspicious, Post-Christian contexts?” and Second – “Is it financially appropriate in poorer urban neighborhoods?”

    When we discuss “full-time ministry” from the vantage point of a missionary, we’re challenged to creatively renegotiate infrastructural dependencies.

  4. joe manafo says:

    David,

    I think the second last line of your post deserves to be teased out a little further (“Bi-vocational ministry is a journey not a permanent static ‘position.’”) especially since some of us see bi-vocationalilty either as a ‘life sentence’ or as a more ‘legitimate’ way of doing pastoral work.

    • David Fitch says:

      Joe, to tease that out a bit …
      I believe that even when a ‘bi-vocational’ missionary pastor becomes a full time ‘employee of the local church, still at his/her heart she always remains bi-vocational, never seeing the salary as permanent w/ benefits but rather carrying out the ministry as if he/she could get fired at any moment. I sometimes tend to romanticize the revolutionary’s attitude/ subversive bent that lies at the core of bi-vocational. But, having said that, there will be times, when such a pastor will need to and should take a full time salary at the request of the church body in order to more fully use his/her gifts for the flourishing of the Kingdom.

  5. Kristel says:

    Now that my husband is bi-vocational, I enjoy living with him more! He was always so stressed when working full time in a church setting because everyone was expecting him to be someone he is not (personality wise) and his perspective became so narrow. I have observed gifts come to the surface in the last couple years as we work as missionaries in our town. We actually have more time to spend with those in our neighbourhood and we are able to help others financially with a greater income. This posture in ministry has also given me a place of partnership rather than the “wife of the pastor”. It works well for us.

  6. Scott says:

    I see an idolatrous view in this bi-vocationalism attitude. I have no problem with individuals deciding to be bi-vocational. However, when the community claiming to be Christian, demand that an individual who is called to ministry be bi-vocational, that community is not only rebelling against God’s call on said individual’s life, that community is committing idolatry and are likely to be number among the accursed.

    In addition to declaring that the workman is worthy of his hire, Jesus gave clear and unmistakable consequences for failing to provide the livelihood of those who are doing the Father’s will.

    I have read an article that declared Jesus to be bi-vocational because He was a carpenter. That however is untrue. Once Jesus came out of the desert from the 40 days of temptation, He was a preacher and that alone. That is not to say He did not hammer a nail from time to time, it is to say that His primary vocation was being about the Father’s business.

    Paul is also cited as an example of bi-vocationalism because of his tent making. Yet, in the same passage where Paul declares that he did not exercise his right to receive a salary, Paul himself argues against bi-vocationalism saying: “He who preaches the gospel is to make a living of the gospel, the Lord ordained it so.” When read in context, it is evident that people were demanding that he be bi-vocational.

    While Paul made tents as to not hinder the church, the attitude that demands a Pastor, evangelist or missionary be bi-vocational, is in fact hindering the church today. In addition to hindering the church, it this attitude that “we can’t afford it” is destroy America.

    Certainly, there is a continued economic crisis going on. I myself nearly died not being able to find permanent full time work. And while I was attempting to pursue the call to preach, I was met not with encouraging members of the Christian community, but enemies intent on my destruction.

    It’s been 7 years since I entered the hospital and underwent corrective heart surgery. Despite these years of recovery, I still do not have the physical energy or mental resolve to enter the workforce and endure the unreasonable expectations of an employer let alone make another attempt at ministry amongst a pack of ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing. These are those that expect me to minister according to what is on their heart and according to their expectation, and at the same time, demanding I not do what God has asked of me.

    Take care.
    Scott

  7. Brian says:

    I have been reading a very helpful book entitled: Reimagining Church – Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. The book talks about the first century congregations where there was shared leadership and each member used his or her gifts for the benefit of the body. There was no distinction between clergy and laity in the individual congregations. It is a very insightful read that makes a case for a new definition of church and roles. The author is Frank Viola and it was published in 2007.

    • Scott says:

      “There was no distinction between clergy and laity in the individual congregations.”

      I find that claim highly dubious.

      The Apostles especially Peter and Paul, were distinguished from the laity. As was other
      members of the clergy such as James the brother of Jesus. This is shown in the Book of Acts.

      There was a distinction because Jesus Himself made
      the distinctions while He was yet on earth.

      This idea that the clergy is not distinguished from
      the laity is only a rouge by Satan to eliminate the
      visionaries in the Church and thereby gain an upper
      hand over the church.

      As it is written,
      Hosea:4:6: My people are destroyed for lack of
      knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge,
      I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no
      priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law
      of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

      Eph:4:11: And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors
      and teachers;
      12: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work
      of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of
      Christ:
      13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and
      of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect
      man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness
      of Christ:
      14: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed
      to and fro, and carried about with every wind of
      doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning
      craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
      15: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up
      into him in all things, which is the head, even
      Christ:

      Christ set up the offices of the church not man.
      To throw off His ordinances is rebellion against
      Christ and the kingdom of God.

      There is a distinction because the Holy Spirit makes
      a distinction. To deny that there is a distinction
      is to call God a liar who has declared that there are
      distinctions.

      These attempts to over throw the long standing
      structure of the church is conducted by those
      who seek to bring a curse on the nations.

      1Cor:9:14: Even so hath the Lord ordained that they
      which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

      Matthew 25:
      41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left
      hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting
      fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
      42: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat:
      I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
      43: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked,
      and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye
      visited me not.
      44: Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord,
      when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger,
      or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister
      unto thee?
      45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say
      unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the
      least of these, ye did it not to me.
      46: And these shall go away into everlasting
      punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

      Christ expects that those whom He calls into full
      time ministry are properly cared for financially.
      Not left to fend for themselves or be required to
      work a job that interferes with the work that He
      Himself has called them to.

      This is rebellion against the headship of Christ
      in the church. I suggest you remove yourself from
      anyone who teaches such things and do not fall for
      their heretical balsphemies.

      By claiming that there are no distinctions between
      clergy and laity, is to declare God a liar who has
      made such distinctions, and declared that such
      distinctions exist, since the time of Abraham.

      Gen:20:6: And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I
      know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy
      heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against
      me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
      7: Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he
      is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou
      shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou
      that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are
      thine.

      This is God making and declaring that there is a
      distinction between Abraham a prophet, and the
      laity. In this case, the laity is a king. But there
      is most definitely a distinction.

      The claim that there is a lack of distinction comes
      from a position of pride. Not one of humility. If
      there is no distinction, then the laity can ignore
      those who are called to preach the truth of God’s
      word. After all, [who does he think he is, he's not
      any more special than I am].

      Don’t fall for the lie.
      Stay clear of these false prophets that teach
      disobedience to God’s ordinance.

      Take care.

      • Brian says:

        Thank-you for your clarification. I apologize if my comment was misunderstood. I did not intend to present something that could be perceived as a satanic idea.

        My point was that there was no professional clergy in the individual house church congregations of the first century. There were home owner hosts and there were elders who were a spiritual authority, a father figure, who fully participated with the members in decision-making.

        To clarify: the book does not eliminate leadership, mentorship, the role of elders or deny the critical role played by the apostles.

        The author simply refers us back to the well-described biblical model employed in first 300 years of Christianity where the church is comprised of people meeting in homes with all participating in the meetings and decision-making at the house church level with everyone coming to agreement.

        I brought it up because this thread was dealing with bi-vocational ministry and it seemed to me that the early church model offered the solution of everyone participating in ministry according to the leadership of Jesus Christ, the working of the Holy Spirit and each person’s individual gifts.

        I hope this helps.

        • Scott says:

          Even suggesting that there were no professional clergy is contrary to scripture. Paul tells us:

          1Cor:9:14: Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

          A professional of anything is one who makes a living doing that particular things. Some will claim that a professional is one who is college trained, that however is not the case.

          When one is making a living in a particular field, that person is a professional in that field.

          While Paul confessed that he abstained from doing so, he clearly instructed us to insure that the preachers are paid so that they may focus on preaching the gospel rather than having their attention divided.

          Jms:1:8: A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

          Jms:4:8: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

          It is not possible to lead a church or other ministry properly while also being obligated to work for an employer.

          Mt:6:24: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

          It is a very basic principle that Christ Himself taught us. Having to work a job is serving mammon, for the purpose of any job is to earn a living.

          If the employer requires overtime, or demands weekend work, that extra time given to the employer takes away from the time that the preacher has for God and the study of the word.

          Acts:6:2: Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

          The principle that those called to preach should dedicate themselves to the study of the word was laid down quite early in the church. This principle does not apply to the Apostles alone, but as Paul stated, to all who are called to preach the Gospel. There is a distinction between those called to full time ministry, and those that are not.

          If we violate the doctrines of the Apostles, we are in rebellion against God’s kingdom. In addition, Jesus gave us strict warnings about not providing for those who obey God to preach the gospel:

          Mt:25:40: And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

          Mt:25:45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

          Contrary to popular interpretation, the least of these are not children as in non adults.

          Mt:12:48: But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
          49: And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
          50: For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

          Thus, Christ Himself expects us to pay the preacher. To do otherwise is rebellion against the commandment of Christ. In addition, it brings a curse on the Nation.

          Mt:25:41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
          42: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
          43: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
          44: Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
          45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
          46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

          All the while people are clamoring and trying to eliminate the paid preacher, they are bringing a curse on America. Some may think they are well intentioned. Me, I think it quite the opposite. When we violate God’s laws for man’s laws, we bring the wrath of God down upon ourselves and upon our nation.

          This is not a time to figure out how to eliminate the paid preacher, it is a time to repent for having been so ungrateful to the God who has given so much to redeem us. And rather than be grateful, people respond by renouncing those whom He has called to preach His Word.

          That is quite a sad state of affairs.

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