You must be careful when you label something a revolution. After all, if everything is a revolution, then nothing is a revolution.
But I call the bi-vocational movement a true revolution in the church. The revolution is taking place right before our eyes, but most church members and leaders don’t see it. And it is a movement that has accelerated the past two years.
The Extent of the Movement
Though we don’t have precise data, we estimate that there are over one million bi-vocational pastors and church staff in North America alone. That number is increasing during the pandemic. Indeed, most churches have at least one bi-vocational staff member. I was working with a church averaging 175 in worship attendance last week. I asked the pastor how many bi-vocational staff he had. Much to his surprise, he counted six.
He was not even aware of how extensive the movement was in his own church.
That church is the rule, not the exception. We only expect the numbers to grow.
Understanding What Bi-vocational Mean
In its simplest definition, “bi-vocational” means a pastor or church staff member does not depend on the church as his or her primary source of income. These persons have another line of work that provides their primary income and benefits. In many cases, the pastor or staff member puts together several side gigs to provide additional income.
We sometimes use the word “co-vocational” to define a type of bi-vocational pastor or staff. This person has chosen to be in both the vocational church and the vocational marketplace. They have a keen sense of calling to remain that way even if the church could afford to compensate them full-time.
A Need for a Spirit-led Strategy
Here is the challenge: Most church leaders are not thinking through the implications of the bi-vocational revolution. What ministry positions in the church should be strategically planned to be bi-vocational? When a full-time staff person steps down or retires, should we replace him or her with one or more bi-vocational staff? How do we provide training and resources for these people?
We are in uncharted waters. To be clear, the waters have existed and grown for the past several years, but we have not charted them. To mix the metaphors, we are going along for the ride instead of planning for the next wave.
What Can We Do Now?
We are in the process of creating more resources for bi-vocational pastors and staff. I pray many churches and organizations will intentionally join this movement and see where God’s Spirit will lead.
We must rethink our staffing structure in light of this movement.
We must seek to provide resources for the bi-vocational pastor and staff person. Most of the focus has been on the full-time person in vocational ministry.
We must rethink educational models in light of this movement.
We must retrain lay leaders who provide oversight and accountability for bi-vocational staff.
We must help pastors know how to lead the bi-vocational staff effectively.
We must be prepared for many pastors moving to bi-vocational status.
Forward into the Future
This revolution should neither intimidate us nor scare us. It is a movement that should have profound implications for the health of the church, specifically for the improving health of the church.
God’s Spirit is always at work. Sometimes we recognize these movements clearly. Sometimes we need a better focus.
I truly believe the bi-vocational movement will be both disruptive and positive. But we ignore it at our peril.
It is time. It is time to understand the bi-vocational revolution. It is time to respond to the bi-vocational revolution. It is time to embrace the bi-vocational revolution.
It could be one of God’s great movements in our churches in recent history.
I would not want to miss it.
Posted on October 4, 2021
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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