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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  • Being a fulltime pastor I am sure is tough but what is considered fulltime? Secular fulltime work is 8 hours days with 40 hours a week. To be honest, I believe it is sickening for a pastor to rely on congregations” tithes and offerings to make a living. Did Jesus preached, pastored, ministered fulltime? I’m sure he did but he did not depend on the people he taught to. Taking on a part time work will not hurt. I know some people are very needy and need to call and speak with staffs all the time. They should be taught to use the same power from the same Lord as the pastors have and pray for guidance to their issues. Pastors should get a job because I do not think they should consider doing work in a church work. Far as large churches…take turn being on the phone or at the site…get a tax paying job. No I am not a pastor and were going to be but changed my mind. I rather be a missionary. I also believe people lost track what it is really about. Money is always the issue.

  • The last post covered much of what I would say at length, and I concur with much of what has been said on both sides. I have been bi-vocational for over 8 years, until I clearly recognized that God was calling me and my wife to resign from that position.
    My number one reason for seeking full-time ministry is because it is what He created me to do. My gift and calling is to teach and preach the Gospel, and it is my whole-hearted desire to carry it out.
    My number two reason is because I saw my father invest nearly 40 years of his life in service for the Lord and have no trade or skill that allowed him to transfer into secular work. I, at 17 years old, knew I did not want to be in that position, and decided then that I would find a trade that could sustain me so that I would not have to depend on the zephyr winds of ministry. I now consider that mindset to be out of line with a whole hearted commitment to serving the Lord, and will cast my all upon His grace and mercy to sustain me through whatever comes.
    My number three, four, and five reasons are my divided attention is not healthy for me, my family or my flock.
    My sixth reason for leaving bi-vocational ministry to seek a full-time pastorate is that the barriers to being a public witness are higher as a corporate employee,than as a full-time minister of the Gospel.
    My seventh reason is due to the unrealistic expectations that churches have of what can be accomplished by the pastor without the church’s “all hands on deck” attitude.
    Your suggestions are not without warrant, but filling the ranks with bi-vocational ministers isn’t necessarily a solution to the problems you identify. Equipping our churches with right attitudes and actions should be our first step as we try to align ourselves with God’s Word, and it starts with the current leadership in each of the local bodies. And prayer at the start, prayer at the end and prayer everywhere in between will keep the Church Triumphant afloat and upright!

  • Jan Slabbert says on

    I have done both and would like to make the following comments.
    Firstly and foremostly, a decision such as this needs to be done prayerfully and not purely pragmatically. Surely one can take into account situations, life-stage, economics etc. But in the final analysis a decision of this magnitude that will have a profound impact upon oneself and the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you. So my perspective to elders/pastors would be to seek the Lord in this matter and not to respond purely to practicalities, statistics, trends in culture and church, socio-economics or worldviews. We were called and appointed by the Holy Spirit and pragmatism should not prevail over the leading and instruction of the Holy Spirit.
    Secondly, I am of the opinion that there is a general misconception that the work of an elder is isolated and removed from culture and the realities of the “market place” (in my humble opinion an extremely unhelpful term that has established a new clergy laity barrier). I have found that whilst I was employed at a company other than the church, I was exposed to a small amount of people, for long periods of time, from a fairly narrow demographic band of our community. Also I was employed and paid to do a job for most of that time I spent with them. I did not use work hours to read my Bible or chat and share the gospel with my colleagues. This I did in my breaks, which constituted a very small percentage of my working day. When I was employed only by the church, I had the privilege to move very freely and widely across the different strata and demographic diversity of our community. I learnt much more about our community’s diverse cultures and subcultures, than when I spent hours on end at my other job. So, I do not agree that you can only engage your culture and understand it if you work in the market place”. I think pastors/elders do not get caught in holy huddles and church office stuff, because of the church, but rather because of their own view of pastoral ministry and worldview. When employed full-time by the church, I had the opportunity to fulfill the shepherdly responsibilities, to engage with my community’s business people, schools, universities and municipal and governmental decision-makers. I could get involved in serving the destitute, homeless and poor in our community, and build meaningful relationships and partnerships with other ministers and officials in our community. These partnerships and relationships were primarily used to strategize how to equip, empower and mobilise the church (saints) for ministry to serve our town and its people. I had time to spend with my wife (who is also involved in community projects to help in the upliftment of our community ) and children, since a fair amount of equipping and discipleship of the people in our congregation who have full-time employment, was done in the evening when they had time available. I could rest sufficiently. I could attend conferences and courses to equip myself better as to serve our church and community more effectively. I had time to prepare to equip and disciple people; I do not want to show up half-prepared and ill-equipped. That would be dishonouring to those that sacrifice their precious time to be disciple and equipped.
    Thirdly, there is a measure to which you focus on a single vocation. Most people do not have the ability to mentally, physically and emotionally switch from one vocation to another.
    Fourthly, to pursue bi-vocation to with the motivation to ensure freedom in you leadership, ie. to do and lead as you want to without succumbing to pressures from congregants who hold you “financial” well-being in their hands, is a sad indictment to how you have taught your congregation and your fear to lead with conviction. Part of leadership is to sometime make unpopular decisions in the face of opposition and threat of emotional and financial abandonment by the very people you love and serve. Here your ability to lead under the leading of the Holy Spirit, your trust and conviction of what you have heard from the Lord is tested. There is a healthy interdependence that needs to exist, where we need on another to function in the area of our giftedness and calling. To deny that is to lack understanding the nature of shepherding and family.
    Fifthly, I believe that if we teach and apply (obey) sound biblical tithing, offering, alms and apostolic giving, there should be enough finances. If every household in a congregation tithes, you should be able to employ a full-time elder for every 10 households in your church. If every household give 10% of their monthly income (tithe), that elder will then earn the average of the income of that congregation. If he works in a poor community, he will earn the average of that poor community, and if he works in a richer community, he will earn the average of their income. The Bible teaches generosity and more than this, but this is the bare minimum. What is happening in the offeratory finances is not an issue of economics, it is an issue of trust and faith in God. 10% today is the same as 10% 100 years ago. Salaries have not dropped or disappeared, and many families have dual incomes. People don’t eat less, spend less, consume less, make less debt, buy fewer cars. Spending is on the up, giving is declining. That is the way of the consumer. If our churches cater for the entertainment and wants of the consumer, we will struggle to make disciples.
    Sixthly, if the church would cease its empire building where resources only flow only into its own vision and projects, and adopt an apostolic model where apostles are entrusted with outrageous generosity, even and especially like the Macedonians out of extreme poverty, bigger churches can fund / salary smaller struggling churches in the area of human and material resource without demanding membership.
    I want to make one or two disclaimers.
    I have worked in jobs and sectors where I have enjoyed my non-church jobs immensely. I have admittedly sometimes enjoyed their simplicity compared to shepherding.
    I do not stand in judgement of those who are doing bi-vocation, or are thinking about it. I admire your tenacity and commitment to your call and function.
    I do not lead a mega-church with a big salary.
    My perspectives are simply a response to the reasons why people should consider bi-vocation. With all humility and respect to Dr Rainer, I cannot agree with most of them. The question begs, if these reasons hold true, who should consider it, and should we by default consider bi-vocation, or stay in our post and assignments where we have been appointed until God instructs otherwise.
    I don’t think we need less full-time elders; I think we need more!

  • With respect to the concept of a pastor serving also as a teacher, that’s what the position is actually supposed to be. When the Bible lists church appointments in Ephesians 4:11, my understanding of the phrase “pastors and teachers” is “pastor/teacher”, or one office serving both purposes. Can you provide some insight into this? Thanks so much!

  • Mike Bradford says on

    This is a very good article. I recently received the latest State Convention Newspaper here, the Texan. I have been keeping an eye on the Pastoral positions being advertised in the paper and have noticed a large increase in the number of bi-vo positions. I know there are other reasons that could be driving this but I strongly suspect that many churches are going this direction because of financial pressures exerted by shrinking congregations.

  • Dr. Jeffrey C. Ady says on

    I agree with A.J.’s comments and identify with his situation. I’ve been an associate pastor for many years at the same micro church. We can’t even pay a dime to our senior pastor!

    My full-time job is as a faculty member [tenured] at a large state university. One can imagine the struggles I face between the liberal, Godless culture of that university and the culture of my family in Christ. But I think that bivocational pastors of all types can identify with this.

    This ostensibly removes certain kinds of conflicts of interest, but it really does a number on motivation. Love for the Lord and His people tends to reconcile the equation.

  • In Richard Baxter’s “The Reformed Pastor,” it speaks of ministers to not work another employment but to focus on the flock full time. Even if they were living poorly to still keep full attention on the flock. He stated that 1 Corinthians 9:14 teaches that we are to make a living from preaching the Gospel, not just a pay check. Is it possible that instead of more Bi-vocational pastors, we need more pastors who are willing to live in the same poverty level as our Lord and serve full time? Also, it seems to me that the majority of people who are encouraging more pastors to become bivocational are serving full time in the ministry.

    • Erik R. Silen says on

      I agree with Chris. I graduated in Civil Engineering (m.s.), worked at good jobs for 3 years. Got an ATP licence (Airline Transport Pilot), and had plenty of job opportunities. But shortly thereafter became a Christian and soon after that felt (knew) the Lord’s call, together w my wife (an R.N.). to join missions in Africa. No support promise. That is 48 years ago. We have never had to have a “tentmaking job”. God has faithfully provided, in lean times as well as times of plenty. Jesus says, commands, that “those who preach the Gospel, shall live from the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9: 1-14), also Mat. 10:10, Luke 10:7, Paul says in 2 Cor. 1: 15,16 and 1 Cor. 9: 6-14, indicating and underlining what Jesus says.

      “Tentmaking” used as an argument misuses that term. In no way did Paul make what we know as tents today, that required heavy and hard to move equipment. The “tents” that he occasionally made were women’s head-and shoulder coverings, like a shawl.

      There is a grave danger in today’s ministry discussions, that has to do with “reasoning and logic”. We as born again ministers need to fall back on the biblical patterns, trust the One Who called us, and act upon what His Spirit tells us, based on His Word.

  • Chris DeLuna says on

    Has anyone ever looked into the theological education of bi-vocational ministers versus “full-time” ministers? It’s hard to imagine someone spending thousands of dollars in college and seminary only to then go into bi-vocational ministry wherein they may hold a “tent making” vocation that has nothing to do with their theological degree. The norm seems to be that graduates will seek opportunities wherein a large church makes a degree a requirement for the pastorate. Those with theological degrees will not seek out small churches that cannot pay the pastor.

  • As a pastor in a rural community of California, I appreciate the article. However, we do need to address the difficulties for some of us being bi-vocational. I would love to see a round table discussion on these issues with representatives from my demographic area.

    Fortunately, my wife restarted her career when our youngest started kindergarten. This gives me some flexibility as a bi-vocational pastor, but even Dave Ramsey points out that relying on a dual income is a bad idea.

    I am exploring all options for bi-vocational pastors. I believe I am called to my area and demographic. As such, I will be here for life.

    Here’s some things to consider.

    1. In my area, there are very few self employment opportunities or regular employment opportunities for bi-vocational pastors. Getting into IT is difficult because hundreds of others already work in it here. Hundreds of others continue to apply making it a low paying skill set here.

    You can easily become a substitute teacher, but the pay is per day. You have flexibility on which days you serve as a substitute teacher and summers are free, but if you are not available 5 days a week, other subs get the calls. Oh, yeah, the pay is between $90 and $120 a day. I’ve met Ag laborers that make more money.

    You can get a teaching credential, but getting the job is difficult. I will have my credential hopefully by January 2016, but I am told that public schools may not hire a bi-vocatinal pastor. Private Christian schools in California require a credential, but rarely hire outside their denomination. There is no Southern Baptist private school near me. My resume will go to the Mennonite Brethren and Christian Reformed private schools, but it will likely be at the bottom of the list.

    2. There should be opportunities available to bi-vocational pastors. Some of us have skills as writers, proof readers, layout, etc.

    I have tried contacting Lifeway repeatedly over the last 5-7 years with no response. Are their other reputable publishers? Is there a way to break into this industry?

    I, personally will never ghost write for any of those fraudulent celebrity pastors, but there are others like Swindoll, Warren, and Yancey who write their own books. I do know they hire proofreaders and editors to work with them after the first draft is written, but how do you apply to be a proofreader or book editor for publishers like Lifeway or for other authors?

    On the publishing side, I have been exploring this option for some time. Recently, I’ve started sending out queries about education writing and publishing. Currently, the main textbooks in private schools and homeschooling are from Abeka and BJU. Neither of these are acceptable options for history and social studies. Abeka tends to be full of factual errors and BJU is simply the bottom of the academic barrel in quality.

    Putting a writing and publishing team together would not be difficult. For example, there is no shortage of history majors and historians willing to write. Some of us are bi-vocational pastors with the research skills and academic qualifications.

    Well, I hope this helps illustrate that it is not as simple as as finding that bi-vocational job, especially when the network opportunities for SB bi-vocational pastors offers very little help in this area.

  • Clark Dunlap says on

    This is helpful and #7 is telling. I’m thinking of doing this but I’m afraid I can’t earn any significant money. Been doing this a long time.

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