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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  • Good Points:
    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.

  • Samuel Smith says on

    As a former staff member, numbers one and seven make the most sense, and I largely agree. Pay for ministers is biblical, but Paul also refused to let the Corinthian churches pay him because although something is allowed, it’s not always the way to attain your goal (as he himself said). That said, I believe you may have left out the most significant issue facing pastors of churches. I was kind of that liason between the church and a church-related nonprofit that served the poor which was nominally the church’s concern. You may have addressed this with the “Holy Huddles” comment, but the issue is far deeper than that. Our culture is failing at a rate that us white, middle income people cannot fathom. Lots of kids go hungry in the summer because school is closed and parents leave them at home alone while both work a couple of jobs. As long as we are concerned primarily with “getting people to come to church” and involving them in our programs, we really are centered on building an organization rather than reaching the lost for Christ the way that Jesus did (Matt 25:31-46). And just as high school kids can have a religious experience at church camp that fades in a few weeks, pastors who deal with folks in need on occasion, say, as often as they play golf, can and do forget. People who deal with it every day can’t help but integrate the gospel with the problems they see. So, even though there’s not a lot of money in it there is job security if you show up and don’t steal things. Nonprofit work would be an excellent foundation from which to take a bivocational pastorate.

  • Thank you for your thoughts.
    Our community of faith is in its 5th year of an experiment in being bi-vocational as a whole community. We worship and serve in and as a coffee shop that is open to the community 7 days each week. As the pastor, I oversee both traditional elements of ministry and worship as well as the operation of a full service coffee shop. Our volunteers staff programs and mission typical of congregations and also serve as host and conversation partners in the context of the shop. Together, we share the balance of two callings that offers us the gift of a continuous presence in the community, an opportunity to host people of all ages and experiences in an environment that is truly welcoming.
    This way, not only the pastor is balancing two calls – or thinking about how one informs the other. Because all of us are in this together, the challenges and the blessings are truly shared and we are all learning what it means to follow Jesus in the world.
    For more information and to see video of how it works, visit our website http://www.barebulbcoffee.org

  • Wow, thank you for this timely topic. I too have been struggling with or contemplating the possibility of working outside the church as well. Although it would be with another non profit or ministry, but as a consultant. It is my belief that leaving my current position, as a salaried employee, would allow me the opportunity to have more control over certain aspects of the ministry that I know could use attention. I know that I would be a billion times more productive, if everyone didn’t pull the reigns. If that makes sense? I am just waiting on the opportunity and wisdom of God. I love ministry/ministering, and although by the grace of God my skills are transferable, I really don’t see myself serving in any other capacity. In addition if I am given the opportunity to get outside (where I haven’t been in 7 years), I would have access to those outside the four walls that are suffering silently while we minister to those within only. I am surely on board with every point you made and ready to make that transition. I thank God for creative ideas to support myself and family. Thank you for the article and for listening.

  • I’ve recently made the transition the other direction, from bi-vo to full time.

    When I was Bi-vo, I felt like I wore 3 masks and had to be careful about when to wear each one. My Husband/father mask, My secular job mask, and my ministry mask. Of course, they all overlap, but it was often very difficult to remember when to focus on each. My biggest struggle was thinking about ministry things during hours at my secular job. You have to be very careful to honor God at your secular job by being a good employee for that boss too and utilizing your time there wisely.

  • Great article – I was a bi-vocation pastor of the same church for 23 years and now I am the Senior Pastor (full time) for the last 8 years at a larger church. Looking at both, there are benefits and drawbacks to each one. I believe the answer is found in prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit to where He wants you to serve, regardless of the size of the church.
    My father, who was a pastor, gave me some great advice. He said, “Get a good education because you do not know where the Lord is going to lead you and you might have to work and pastor at the same time.” That is exactly what happened. Pastors need a trade or education to help support themselves, just like Paul was a tentmaker.

  • Aleksandr Miklos says on

    Be sure to consider ALL the ramifications of going part-time, particularly the effect it may have in years to come both financially and personally. Full-time pastors generally are afforded benefit packages not available to part-time staff. This may include health/dental/vision insurance, contributions to retirement, life insurance, travel/mileage reimbursement, conference/training fees, etc. And given the climate of the business world now due to the influence of ACA, taxation, unemployment and furloughs, part-time work likely will not include such benefit packages. Replacing these benefits on a reduced salary may be impossible for pastors and their families. Full-time pastors do not work 40 hrs a week. They work much more than that! Churches need to understand their pastor won’t be available as often as he has been. The amount of work he accomplishes cannot be done in a shorter time frame. Consider too a part-time position hours may not occur at the same time frame as the full-time. The change creates a major adjustment in the family. More often than not, when a pastor goes part-time, even if he secures secular work, his wife must work now to replace money for benefits. The family dynamic shifts. A pastor’s first responsibility is to his family, not the church. Bi-vocational is an entirely different ministry for the entire family.

  • Dr. Rainer,
    This was an insightful and thought provoking article. I currently serve as full-time student pastor in S.E. PA. I count it a privilege and honor. Before coming here I served in the same capacity in the state of VA but my full time job was that of a wastewater operator. I have to be honest – I got just as much accomplished then as I do now as far as study, administration and organizing. However, it seems that my connection and impact with the outside has diminished. So I concur with the gist of what you say.

    We are blessed to have the opportunities afforded to us as full-time pastors, but bi-vocational pastors have something special and unique in being tentmakers.

    D. Austin Clark

  • I have been the full-time pastor of our small, rural church for almost two years. Our congregation has a substantial amount of debt it incurred prior to my tenure. The church has also lost a lot of its membership due to several splits over the past decade. We sometimes struggle to pay operational expenses and make payments on the debt. I feel convicted about this because my salary makes up such a significant part of our annual budget. The people genuinely want a full-time pastor like they have always had, but I honestly don’t think it is necessary. I have job training and experience in another field that might allow me to take on a second job, but I’m concerned that many of them would be hurt and upset if I proposed becoming bi-vocational. I pray that God will help us make this transition if it is His will.

  • While I think you make some valid points, for a lot of ministers the bi-vocational path is incredibly difficult. My husband works full-time at a secular job (50+ hours a week) and is our church’s youth pastor. On paper and by salary he is a “part-time” youth pastor, but I assure you he does a full-time ministry. From weekend outings to fundraisers, to late-night counseling of parents and teens, he is always working. He must work at his secular job to help pay our bills, as his pastoral salary is less that $10,000 a year. However, it is our calling as a couple to minister to teenagers. I work full-time as well.

    The reality for a lot of bi-vocational ministers is that it isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity, and their time with their own families is often what suffers. It’s one thing to be a pastor primarily and take on a “side job” to keep yourself relevant and in touch with the secular world outside of your Twitter feed and Facebook account. It’s an entirely different struggle to work full-time and do ministry full-time, and try to find time for yourself and your family in between.

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