Eight Reasons Why Some Full-time Pastors and Staff Should Go Bivocational

Some of you reading this post may need to get a new job. At least you may need to get an additional job.

Without a doubt, many churches will always need full-time vocational pastors and church staff. I am not suggesting all of you, even the majority of you, should go bivocational. But I do believe more of you should consider this path. Allow me to offer eight reasons why:

  1. A secular or marketplace job will put you in the middle of culture on a regular basis. Opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers will be greater. Opportunities to minister to people who would not set foot in a church will be greater as well.
  2. Full-time pastors and church staff often get missionally stale in their “holy huddles.” Perhaps the best way to break out of that Christian-only huddle is to be employed in a secular position.
  3. Smaller churches are increasingly unable to afford full-time pastors or staff. I have written on this site a few times about the flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. As resources depart from the smaller churches, so do their ability to pay a pastor or staff person full-time. But these churches still need pastors.
  4. The digital world is offering more opportunities for flexible secular jobs than ever. I recently spoke to an IT professional who is also a pastor of a church. He spends about 25 hours a week in his IT job. He has declined good full-time opportunities in secular jobs because he wants to stay a tentmaker. I spoke to another staff person of a church who is an entrepreneur in the digital world. Those kinds of opportunities are growing every day.
  5. More churches are moving toward multiple teaching/preaching pastors. What was once common in large churches is now becoming increasingly common in medium and small churches. Many of these teaching pastors are in churches that cannot afford a second full-time pastor.
  6. More churches would like to expand staff, but don’t have the resources to do so. This issue is similar to #5 above, but here it refers to bivocational positions other than a lead pastor or teaching pastor. By the way, this approach allows church leaders to “raise up” people within their own churches—people they know and trust.
  7. A bivocational pastor or church staff can have greater freedom than a person in a full-time role. One of the “secrets” of church life is that many pastors and church staff are hindered from leading because their jobs would be in jeopardy. That is an unpleasant but clear and present reality. If a pastor or staff person has a job with other income, he or she may feel the freedom to move forward without succumbing to such pressure.
  8. A bivocational pastor or staff person has transferrable skills. A number of full-time church leaders have never worked outside of vocational ministry. They don’t understand the business and secular world. Bivocational ministers have secular skills they can use in their churches. They also have skills to support themselves if they find themselves no longer employed with their churches.

Bivocational ministry is a clear and definitive trend in church life. Some of the reasons for its growth are not that healthy. But many are. It is a great opportunity to make a greater difference in this culture in which we live. It is really a great opportunity to be a missionary on the field.

What do you of think of this issue? What are you seeing in your church and others?

Posted on January 19, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Innigo Montoya says on

    This is a new comment to a very old post.
    I have really enjoyed Thom Rainer’s work over the years, but I find his comments lack understanding in the real world on this topic.

    In reality workers need health insurance, vacation, retirement, etc., which only comes with FT work. The high expectations in churches for their workers (high impact people) also requires single mindedness. Bi-vocational work does not allow this.

    Additionally, part time work is often exploited in the church. I am a PT Assoc. Pastor in a large affluent church in an exempt position (we will put aside the illegality of this in my state). How does this work? It works well for the church, but not for me. The church wants the prime working hours which makes being bi-vocational very difficult. If I work more than I am “supposed to” one week, then I am supposed to work less the next week. I am also expected to respond to texts and emails after hours. Essentially the church wants FT coverage for PT wages. I get no benefits- health, dental, life insurance, no vacation, or retirement. I took a vacation with my family in June and didn’t get paid for that week. The church reminds staff of the expectations for them to tithe, but never mentions God’s command to rest.

    Rather than having multiple PT positions the church should combine roles and make the person FT. If the church is going to preach equity, and justice, they would do well not to exploit their own for the benefit of the FT staff. A frequent refrain in churches today is generosity. By this they mean the congregation needs to give more of their time, talent, and treasure. But how can they expect their congregation to be “generous” when they are tight fisted with their staff?

    Bi-vocational can work if the entire pastoral staff is bi-vocational (FT in the marketplace), and expectations for the “product” they want to present is measured accordingly.

  • David L Martin says on

    Do you tell a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a factory worker, etc to go get a part time job? i don’t get it. If a pastor is doing their job they are in the community. So i have been bi-vocational and it caused hardship on my family and my own life. i had maybe one day a month off and worked far too many hours. i’m sorry but i disagree with this article and i really don’t appreciate how we downplay the roll of pastor like this. plus it sets a precedent that we can overwork the pastor, pay him less and make him do more. i’ve been a pastor for 31 years so i’m not stating this without any experience. i appreciate your ministry but disagree with your article.

  • I’ve been bi-vocational for a little more than a year as the senior pastor at a small church. I’m blessed to have skills I can use. I’m a retired Army Signal Officer, so I have experience managing information technology. At retirement, I also took the steps to become certified (PMP, CISSP) to be more viable.
    As a result, I have a very good job as a contractor for the DOD working in information technology infrastructure and cyber security.
    I cannot complain, but there is quite a challenge between the two jobs. Both are mentally demanding. I teach/preach verse-by-verse expositorily 3 times a week. Between doing this, being a husband and father, maintaining my job and credentials, in addition to extra-curricular church activities (evangelism, hospital visits, special meetings, youtube channel, etc…) I’m frequently exacerbated and exhausted.
    I’ve found that being bi-vocational, I can relate to people in secular jobs a lot better than some other pastors. I have more skills at project management, and understanding the differences between things like causality and correlation in practical matters that are only theoretical to my full time counterparts. I find that I have more attention to detail. After years of planning and executing intelligence preparation of the battlefield while keeping Soldiers alive and accomplishing the mission, in accordance with all given constraints and restraints, I find a lot of parallels in ministry, and in Biblical interpretation. I perceive nuances in scripture that others do not tend to notice.
    Occasionally, I attend conferences with other ministers, or luncheons, etc… and hearing they way they talk about things makes me wonder if they are in touch with reality at all. It’s like ministry is some make-believe world to some full-time types that have no grasp of reality outside their cloistered ministerial environment.
    I sense a higher level of moral authority to exhort my congregation to participate in outreach events, etc. since I’ve got to balance the same things they do: secular work, church, family, personal time. So I’m not asking something of them that I’m not also able to model.
    I do look forward to one day being able to transition to full time ministry. However, I think the involvement in real life outside ministry is invaluable experience that more churches could use.

  • Hi Thom, I am discouraged. My wife has MS (she is limited in what she can do for work) and I am a Bi-Vocational Pastor of a very small church (used to be bigger and I was full time – but we had a major split). With increasing costs of life and growing kids, I find myself more and more looking for ways to support my family and not seeing any hope in things getting better at our church (it has been 5 years since the split and I have not been able to grow it back to the level it once was). So I constantly think about starting my own business and putting less time into the church so I can support my family. If I work more, then the church suffers. For me, Acts 6 sums it all up. The Apostles were failing in their ministry of the Word and Prayer because they were serving tables. Each time I try to raise up “deacons” or servants, their lives turn upside down (kids on drugs, major health problems, …..). Any advice?

  • Caleb Mayfield says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    Do you have any books you would recommend on being a bivocational pastor? This blog gives some great reasons to go bivocational, but I know some of us considering doing this would benefit from some practical tips on being an effective Pastor while also maintaining responsibilities at our jobs. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a good majority of Pastors here have to be bivocational.

    Maybe you have a blog or podcast about it that I don’t know about dealing with this. 🙂

    Thanks so much for your resources!

  • I have been in children’s ministries for over 20 years and I find it frustrating being a Bi-Vocational children’s pastor. I am paid a part time salary from my church which equals 1/4 of my total salary. I have to work 50-60 hours a week at a full time job and then I put in 25-35 hours a week for ministry. I work 75-95 hours a week and I am tired all the time. Most weeks, I do not get a day off to rest. I don’t know if I can keep working such long hours and still keep doing ministry. I know that the ministry side of my life suffers because I am forced to put in so many hours to take care of my family expenses. I also know that I could do so much more if I was given the opportunity to focus on my real calling….Children’s ministry. I don’t know how long I can keep this up anymore.

  • Thanks for providing several practical views on bivocational ministry! Currently I’m writing my senior project about being bivocational pastor. And this thing helps a lot!

  • I’m a bivo senior pastor. For the past two years I have been tentmaking as a repo man. Doing repo work has very flexible hours (I make my own) excellent pay, and I meet people who are usually at rock bottom and are ripe harvest. The Lord has given opportunity to pray with and minister to various people who would probably not show up at church. The church I serve has quadrupled in the past two years and almost all the new church growth is attributed to my repo job!

1 5 6 7