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.
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141 Comments

  • A BIG challenge here is not the ministers needing to get on board with this idea, but the churches. I know a number of churches that can hardly pay a full time salary (pastors who work with no benefits, and scrape by on less than teacher salaries) but still expect a 40 hour work week from their pastor. It’s an ego thing for some churches to employ a “full-time” minister.

  • I believe your first point is critical for all pastors. We need to develop friendships within our communities outside of the church… Not only for the bivocational pastor, but even us who are full time. Thanks for the insights and research you share.

  • I wonder if anyone has any good thoughts on a list of jobs that are part time and are compatible with pastoring. Not everyone can be an IT tech.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That’s a great thought, Gavin. We’ve already mentioned teaching. Perhaps we can hear some other ideas in the comments.

  • Numbers 1 & 2 are so true. Most of my adult life has been immersed in full-time ministry. But I do remember the few years I was in “secular work” and miss the power of being more connected to people outside of the church and the obvious deep hurt and need that they live with. It is a constant challenge to put myself outside of the Christian “bubble” where the needs are great. Inside the bubble, it is easy to be complacent instead of heart-broken for a world in need.

    #7 is also very true. “The secret” is debilitating to vocational ministers and often results in a lot of dishonesty – or at least, lack of transparency and vulnerability – that hurts both the minister and the church.

    Insightful post. Thanks!

  • Thank you for this post. I am a bi-vo pastor in northern NH/VT where it is the only option. There are few Bible teaching churches in this region, and those that are – are quite small. Our Church is now tipping the scales at 75-80 every Sunday. These points here are all quite valid. I think the best aspect of my situation is #7. I know a few fellow workers in the southern states who feel they do not lead, but follow those who hold the most political sway. But in my situation, I still have those who have political sway, but their different crusades have little to no overall impact on my ability to feed my family. Therefore, I am able to confront, correct, and persuade with much more freedom.

    Michael asked a few questions;
    1. Work life balance – First I force myself to work out. My secular job is a desk job so I have to keep some type of physical activity or I would burnout with stress. You don’t stress about ministry why you have 150lbs of free weight above you in a bench press. Secondly, you need to take a Sabbath’s rest. We can disagree about what this all means, but you need to take a rest 1 day in 7. For me it is a day I don’t go near my computer and I don’t do anything “ministry” related. I spend more time with the kids, I mow the lawn, and I go hiking and so on.
    2. Education – My situation is unique. I was called to ministry mid-career. So I am transitioning into ministry vs. into a secular job. However, there are several good programs out there that are virtual, designed for those in ministry. Liberty University online and Union University has an Ironman program through the SBC for bi-vocational pastors to get a Master’s degree.
    3. Thinking – Not sure here. In my area it is rare to find a full time pastor.

  • This is something my Pastor-husband and I are currently praying through. We realize that his salary is more than 1/4 of the total budget for the church. It is scary at times… We do have some opportunities that will allow him to work and have more flexibility than the church currently allows. Wouldn’t it be really neat if he could use his gifts of leadership and preaching for FREE?? A topic we have recently discussed is the fact that we all have a calling, not just the Pastor. It’s just that in our church society we edify his calling higher than the other gifts. A thought-provoking question is: “Why should the Pastor be paid for using his gifts when no one else is paid for using their gifts?” I would love to know your thoughts…

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good thoughts. Perhaps I can do a post in the near future.

    • Because it’s Biblical, simple as that.

      “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

    • When I was a pastor in Missouri, I jokingly made some comment one night about how the church was “paying me” to be their pastor. A man quickly corrected me. He said, “We don’t pay you to be our pastor; we support you so you CAN be our pastor.” There’s a huge difference. If a church is unwilling to offer a pastor financial support, then he will necessarily have less time to devote to his ministry.

  • I love these insights. As a state convention missionary in a pioneer state, the majority of pastors I serve are tentmaker. Contractually, I am not allowed to take on secular employ, but I am blessed with a generous, mission minded supervisor who encourages our staff to volunteer where possible. I volunteer as an art teacher/program coordinator for a local school that can’t afford a salaried position. It’s an incredible ministry opportunity among many teachers and staff that do not share my faith conviction.

  • Mr. Rainer,
    Thanks for starting the week off with this article.
    Personally, I believe Christians in business stand at the forefront of world mission.
    Here’s why I do what I do; I love hearing what God is doing through Christians in business. I invite you to read more at: http://www.ikthoos.org/blog/startwithwhythenpivot.
    Thanks again for all you do. Keep going.

    Respectfully,
    George Fuller
    Founder | Ikthoos.org

  • Great article. Thanks for writing on this approach.

    Our son was called into ministry his freshman year of college. He’s been working at Starbucks while going to college (and soon seminary). He says he’s not sure he ever wants to give up that job due to the people he meets daily and the interactions he has that he wouldn’t if he were full time in a ministry position. As Christians (and pastors families) sometimes we are only around other Christians and their circles. Being out in the community in a secular role would definitely help us reach more people.

  • As a bi-vo in a small church (85), most of these hit home. It becomes important that you (1) build a team so ministry isn’t lost and (2) help the people understand that the pastor can’t be there for every hang-nail.
    My secular job is teaching public school in the area of the church. It is taxing to do both, but I also believe that each makes me sharper at the other.

  • H. B. "Sunny" Mooney, III says on

    Great insights. Nothing wrong with being a tentmaker!

  • Dr. Rainer,

    I appreciate you writing this post as it is something that I have been thinking and praying about lately. I am currently a full-time pastor but recognize that this may not be as viable in the coming years as things continue to change. In thinking through this I do have a few questions that I have been wrestling through:

    1. How does a bivocational pastor handle work-life balance? I have encountered a number of bivocational pastors who greatly struggle with this feeling like they never have a break (even more so than full-time pastors).

    2. If one’s education is primarily ministry related, how does someone make this transition? Would it be wise to work towards further education in another field to prepare for this possibility? How do you gauge potential ROI in this scenario?

    3. I have heard pastors, knowingly or unknowingly, quip that they were called to “full-time vocational ministry” as if there is another call to bivocational ministry. Do you see this difference and are seminaries/churches helping students think through and prepare for this possibility?

    Thanks again for your work and serving the church faithfully!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Great questions and insights, Michael. The work-life balance is a topic that I have discussed on this blog a few times. You have given me a good reminder to do so again specifically for bivocational pastors. I encourage all full-time ministers to have at least minimal preparation to enter the “secular” workplace. For example, I have a friend who serves as pastor of a church with a worship attendance of 300. He took some extra courses so he could teach in the public schools. He is now a substitute teacher about one day a week. He loves the opportunity it gives him to connect with people in the community.

      • I’m a bi-vocational pastor/church-planter who also is a foster parent and serves as a volunteer chaplain/firefighter for a local volunteer fire department. My “other job” is as a Sr. Technical Project Manager for a large health insurance organization which allows me to work remotely from my church office, my home, or the fire station. In addition to a foster daughter, my wife and I have two biological sons in the early teen / pre-teen years. I would be MORE than happy and willing to speak with anyone regarding “how do you do this?” and help advise/coach/mentor people looking to dig deeper in the community while still preaching Jesus. Please let me know how I can help.

      • Derek Howell says on

        I would love to speak to you about this. Please email me.

      • Justin Duncan says on

        I would love to talk with you about balance. Please email me.

      • Hello
        I would really like to talk to you further about this.

      • Charles busada says on

        I am very interested in this topic I am a professional but my church prefers me to return to a full-time Pastor. I recognize Harkins so what I would like to CR biblical reasons why a bi-vocational Ministry would be biblically supported, and some examples from church history would be nice also. I’m sure there are many resources out there would there be any that you would recommend.

      • Charles busada says on

        Sorry I should proofread better. I meant to say that I your arguments. They are practical in nature I would like to see biblical arguments.

      • Paul the apostle was bi-vocational, making tents with Priscilla and Aquila who were of that craft also.
        Read: Acts 18.03 ‘And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.’
        Other connecting passages are in his epistle to the Thessalonians. You could check them up.
        thank you.

      • I too am a tentmaker. I’m the Senior Pastor to a church of about 120, and I’m a full-time IT Manager in a secular job. I’ve been doing bi-vocational pastoring for 12 years now, and find it incredibly rewarding as only God can provide the energy and balance to my marriage and family first, then my calling and my secular responsibilities.

        The first thing I’d recommend to help with balance is to create a firm understanding of the calling you are fulfilling and condition your congregation in their expectations. For myself, I view my role in three parts:
        1. To equip by teaching and preaching the unadulterated word of God and mentoring / discipling;
        2. To encourage through the word and relationships, praying for others and holding them up in exhortations, edification, etc.
        3. To empower by sharing the spiritual authority God has granted me. For example, I develop teams to help carry the burden, like the teaching team that I mentor so I don’t have to speak every Sunday, and a greeting team to welcome people into the church so I’m free to prepare for the service. There are now numerous teams , each with a leader that I oversee and ensure they have what they need to grow and be successful, but each also carry a burden for a particular area to lighten my own load.

        I’d be happy to help anyway I can if this is a transition someone is considering to trying to do.

        Blessings!

    • Hi Michael,

      I am a bi-vocational pastor and I agree that work life balance is huge challenge. It is something I do better at times than at other times. It forces our church to focus on a few things. This means we have to say no to some “good” ideas. I also have to pay attention to the work life balance of our staff. We did not have a New Years Eve service because we wanted to give our staff (all volunteers or receive only a small stipend) the time off. I admit I wish I could Pastor full time but for now that is not an option.

    • As a bi-vocational pastor, I fully understand the concerns. First, pray without ceasing. You must rely on God to handle everything that comes your way in a day, especially if your “other” job is also high-stress. Set a schedule, and stick to it. Study and sermon prep time must be firmly entrenched in your schedule. Also, do not neglect your family. Carve time into the schedule for them. It benefits you as well as them. And although it sounds counter-intuitive to a busy person, exercise and get plenty of rest. These will keep your body healthy for the challenges you will face and help with focus. It is a lot, but remember that we expect our members to work, care for their families, and serve at Church. Setting an example in this area cannot hurt!

    • I opted to get my degree after seven years as a firefighter/EMT. I ended up working on an Advanced Life Support Unit while earning my Bachelor of Religious Education degree at a christian university.

      The degree qualified me for a position of Captain of an emergency response team at a nuclear plant, then Safety/Risk Manager for a mental health agency, state college and then a municipal utilities company.

      The degree opened the door and then I earned my other certificates and licenses on the way. One should never stop learning.

      While working 40 – 60 hours a week I spent at least 20 hours a week as most good church members do serving as teacher in bible groups, choir, outreach, and community service.

      My soul-winning endeavors is a 24/7 ministry. I led seventeen people to Christ while working at the college.

      I’ve never had a paid position by a church. The pastors and staff at most churches that I’ve attended are as active in the weekly ministries as the members. However, I seen some that work at the church during the week, attend church, preach etc. but don’t go out or participate in certain projects that they planned and implemented.

      At first, I was grieved to know that one of my bible teachers in college had a paper route to supplement his income. Then I realized, I’ve held two or three jobs to help raise my four boys.

      The year and half I spent training with a faith-based mission board (no salary an no income) taught me that when God calls, He provides.

      We are the salt of the earth, but salt isn’t any good if it’s kept in a box.

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