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The bi-vocational pastorate is on my mind a lot lately. With the changing economy, we increasingly hear of the portfolio career—it’s “what’s trending now.” And relatedly, I am hearing more and more of a rise of the bi-vocational pastor—I hear anecdotes of them coming from all corners of the US. Of course, many inner city pastors and immigrant pastors have been carrying on bi-vocational ministries for many years, but now it seems bi-vocational ministries are cropping up in the middle-class neighborhoods as well. In the world of mission, there has been a well-established tradition of “tent-making” missionaries, following in the footsteps of the original Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. Finally, bi-vocational ministry is on my mind a lot because I have become a bi-vocational pastor myself.

Having planted a church in an inner city neighborhood in Philadelphia with the generous financial support of our denomination, we graduated from the grants a few years into our church planting effort. However, our mission of reaching our economically challenged community has not led our church plant into affluence, and I’ve had to become more and more bi-vocational.

I should carry out more research and back this up with some hard data, but I suspect that I am not alone, and we will see a rise of the bi-vocational pastor in the future. Why?

  • We live in a post-Christendom world. The church’s influence on society isn’t what it used to be. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The church has an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a missionary body, if it no longer holds the position of landlord of this world. Instead, we are, and have always been, strangers and aliens here, witnessing to the city of God to come. But in a post-Christendom world, the necessity of the clergy is no longer assumed. It will be harder and harder to keep funding a large class of full-time pastorate.
  • We also live in a post-denominational world. We are seeing a decline of churches in matters of giving and availability of resources. The economy is bad, but denominations are seeing bad times too. Grants for church planting work are way down. We have to do more with less.
  • We live in a global world, where the global cities are teeming with immigrants. Christians are a significant part of this global migration movement, and many of them support themselves with other jobs and carry out their calling into ministry—this is how they are able to carry on sharing the good news of Jesus in their new homes.

Bi-vocational ministry is a hard road to take—there is the toll of carrying out double duty, the financial insecurity, the pressure on the family and the church, the potential to be divided. Many sermons won’t have polish. However, I also see that there are some surprising benefits to going bi-vocational.

  • It forces us to develop the other gifts in the church. Often, pastors haven’t developed the other gifts in the church because… well, they didn’t have to. They could carry out the work of the ministry by themselves. When pastors become bi-vocational, however, they are forced to depend on others to carry out the work of the ministry, and leadership development becomes a priority. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Bi-vocational pastorate may more fully realize that vision.
  • It also forces us to be creative in our church models, and develop ministries that are much better suited to our contexts. In order to more effectively reach our world, we need church models that are more nimble, flexible, adaptable. We may need to adjust our expectations and visions, because our current ministry models may be better suited to a Christendom of the past than to our world now. For example, mega-churches are certainly effective in certain contexts, but they will prove to be a bad fit in many post-Christendom contexts—contexts that are becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • The bi-vocational pastor can potentially become much more incarnational. The pastor becomes one of the “working stiffs” who (really) shares in the joys and sorrows of those we are seeking to reach. 
  • It can mean great opportunities for evangelism. In the older model, pastors have been cloistered away among the churched. In the bi-vocational model, the gospel messenger is loosed into the world, for the pastor is now constantly interfacing with relational circles that used to lie outside the reach of the pastorate. Pastors are not just servants of the institution called the church; they are also missionaries of the kingdom who have the gospel to share with the world.  

For better or for worse, I see the rise of the bi-vocational pastorate in the future. This development entails great challenges, and the church will need to re-examine how we carry out theological education, models of ministry, allocation of resources, among other things, in the light of this shift. But it can also mean great opportunities for the kingdom. Church leadership and theological education institutions would do well to examine the implications of the bi-vocational pastorate, and those called into ministry would do well to consider it a path worth taking.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).   

Comments 

 
0 #24 Kyuboem Lee 2013-03-27 18:22
Anthony: Thank you for commenting. It is a joy and encouragement to hear from others in the trenches who are pursuing the call despite the hardships. Thank you for your example, and may the Lord bless you and strengthen you in the journey.
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0 #23 Anthony Luckett 2013-03-27 13:17
I agree with Daniel and Benjamin. I am a bivocational Pastor,who planted the church and we are 3 months young. We are growing but we are still in the stage where the giving is just enough to make our rent payment. Also, I tried so desperately to find another job last year but God kept telling me to stay put. I now see why HE did because my job compliments the ministry. The days are long but from the comments I received the congregation are growing spiritually and they enjoy the ministry. There is not enough time for me to get a lot of things done, and sermons are not as polished, but God is moving. Also, I have to keep reminding myself, although I work for God, I have to make time for myself to be intimate with HIM. Great Article!!
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0 #22 Kyuboem Lee 2013-01-21 10:04
Fuzzy lake: That's an interesting observation you make regarding retirement and bi-vocational pastors. I wonder how many pastors do actually "retire" from ministry, even if they're not on salaried status.
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0 #21 Fuzzy lake 2013-01-20 07:53
I had been a bi-vocational pastor for 22 years and had planted a church 5 years ago. I have a financially secure business that allowed me to pastor the church with little income. We were averaging around 150 on Sunday. I recently resigned and have found that when you leave from that people do not know how to treat you. None of them except my wife truly understood the demands. I also saw a counselor when I left. I had some traumatic experiences in my childhood, however this counselor assured me I had seen much more trauma in my 22yrs. Of ministry than any other time in my life. LOL as Paul as my example also I know how he felt being alone. God bless those who can hang in there. I heard not too long ago that only 2 out of 10 bi-vocational pastors actually retire from the ministry.
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0 #20 Eugenio Maltez 2012-10-01 18:27
Hi Dr. Lee, Thanks so much for this nice article, I have been a Bivocational Pastor for more than 10 years, I´m a church Planter too, In fact I´m the Senior Pastor of a 150 members congregation at my city, I work as an IT System Administrator at a big company and it´s hard people understand the calling and the different sacrifices and roles we play. Of Course Paul the Apostle is my model to follow. Even a few weeks ago a young professional middle-class family that I pastored years ago when I attend other church refused to join my church because I´m not a Full-time pastor, in spite of the Full time Senior Pastor of the Megachurch they attend don´t know them personally and maybe he never did a hand-shaking to them!

It hurts and it´s hard when the church members demand more time from you on ministry while you are struggling to keep your job up because yo have a family for feed. But 1 Corinthians 15:58 get my face Up! Let the Lord be glorified in the Bivocational Ministry.
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0 #19 Kyuboem Lee 2012-09-28 07:04
Daniel and Harry, thank you so much for sharing your struggles and insights. You are not alone in the difficult decisions you face. May the Lord continue to supply you with the grace to keep living in him in the midst of these challenges.
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+1 #18 Harry Burchell III 2012-09-26 08:03
This is very important to me. I currently have three jobs, including being a "supply pastor" to a small congregation. Since my son was born this summer and we bought a house, I have been considering options regarding my call, and the discernment is rough. I have an undergrad in Pastoral Ministry, a M.Div, and am currently working on a Masters in Library Science. Please pray for us. Thank you.
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+1 #17 Daniel Nelms 2012-09-07 06:11
Dr. Lee
Thank you for your thoughts here. Two years ago I helped plant a church here on the Jersey Shore, and have been bivocational for both years. Our church is growing, ministry is growing, but resources are not. I have two young children, and we live in one of the most expensive areas of the country. Just recently my wife and I have been struggling greatly with the amount of hours I'm gone from the house between both jobs. I've been fighting for joy and been fighting for a passionate intimate love for Jesus in the midst of my life, and it's difficult. But reading your blog here has reinforced an area that I have been neglecting - I'm a missionary and am currently in the workforce. My mind is fried in many ways, and I've almost been living in fear of digging into peoples lives at work, afraid of what hours it will add to my schedule. I'm grateful for your thoughts - bivocationalism is a gift, an opportunity. And I need to trust God and dig into their lives. Thank you for this.
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+1 #16 Benjamin Soto 2012-08-06 13:38
I believe based on experience that being Bi-vocational is a "double calling". The pastorate and the "day job" really have to complement. Going into the wrong job can pull you away from ministry and can be taxing for you and your family. The job really has to complement, enhance, and even provide more opportunities to serve. The toughest part I believe is finding employment that fits this criteria.
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+1 #15 Bernard 2012-07-24 00:08
I really enjoyed your article! Very thought provoking as I also spent a good number of years serving as a youth pastor while working full-time and I echo all those thoughts. I saw one of the benefits of a bi-vocational pastor challenging the congregation to live out their faith, MORE. It's hard to say, "well of course I can't serve like my pastor and pray and study and read, because I have a full-time job"
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0 #14 Kyuboem Lee 2012-07-18 10:55
Thank you for your comment, J. B. Santos! As I've mentioned in the post, many urban congregations have been practicing the bi-vocational pastorate model for a very long time, and doing so quite effectively. There is a lot for "traditional" churches to learn from them in our post-Christendom context.
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+1 #13 J.B. Santos 2012-07-18 10:39
Hi Kyuboem. I was doing some research on the topic and came across your article, which is excellent by the way. To me, this is somewhat ironic in the sense that I've only come to know the term "bi-vocational" recently, although I've seen it in practice for some time. I am part of a Church in the Boston Metropolitan/MetroWest Mass. area. We are blessed with Shepherds who are REAL men of God and truly care for their flock. The reason I say I've seen bi-vocational ministry in practice, is because we have two men who were ordained about 7 months ago, and still work outside the Church. They have been serving our Church for the past 17+ years as leaders, and through their fruit of ministry and recognition from the flock, were laid hands upon and ordained Pastors recently. Both hold high-responsability roles in a local company, which they've been working together at for almost 20 years now. These two men are some of the Godliest examples of men I've ever met, and bless us greatly!
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0 #12 Kyuboem Lee 2012-07-17 08:57
One more thought: I think we could mistake the number of hours spent at work to equal amount of output--a very western kind of worldview shaped by our industrial legacy. The work of the pastorate is often very different from this mechanistic view of work. It involves prayer, wisdom, intimacy with Scripture, a living relationship with the Lord... and an ability to teach. It's very hard to put these activities into a clock-in, clock-out framework. Of course there needs to be integrity as a worker, accountable to the Lord and to the church leadership. But is measuring the number of work hours the way to get there for a pastor? I doubt it. I think there are other ways to measure: Is the pastor demonstrating a life before the Lord worthy of emulation? Is there guidance, teaching, prophetic word, leadership, given by the pastor in a way that is life-giving to the church, beneficial to its growth, maturity, and fulfillment of its mission?
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0 #11 Kyuboem Lee 2012-07-17 08:43
Phil, I think every congregation needs to arrive at a model that is workable for its own situation. I find that there are too many unique variables in a congregation's situation that copying a model isn't always helpful. Nevertheless, some questions that need to be asked are: Is the pastor being compensated adequately by the church for the pastorate to be the sole source of his income? Should the rest of the leadership be prepared to take on more of the ministry load, and work towards becoming a team of shepherds? Should the pastor's role evolve more into a trainer/teacher of elders? Can the preaching load be shared more broadly? This development can be healthy for the church, as I've already stated, but it does need a unity of purpose owned by the whole leadership if it is to work. If that consensus process is short-circuited, there could be trouble down the road.
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0 #10 Phil Calendine 2012-07-14 07:10
Our senior pastor of a church of 300 has just announced that he intends to become bivocational. He was previously an accountant working at home (15 years), and an opportunity fir e same firm has come up some four years after he stepped into ministry. One of my biggest concerns is how can he have enough hours in the day to do both? As it is, he has been logging 45-50 hours/week currently, likely to be reduced by 66% or more. How can one fully lead a church without having time to actually pastor? We have a very active elder team and 2 other fairly capable staff pastors. I'm just really wanting to see a working model to help me conceptualize how this might work. Thanks
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0 #9 Mark Einfeld 2012-01-17 15:57
Enjoyed the read. Well written with good reasoning. Blessings to your family and ministry.
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0 #8 Kyuboem Lee 2011-12-18 15:31
Nathan, thank you for your words; it's good to hear this post can be an encouragement to those who are in the trenches such as yourself. The challenge will be to keep up with your biblical/theological education so you can keep growing and stay sharp in the ministry. It sounds like you have a plan for that. Keep it up! Many blessings as you pursue this road.
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0 #7 Nathan 2011-12-18 07:32
This was actually kind of a releif and very encouraging. I have contemplated bi-vocational ministry for quite some time now. I also citing Pauls example and even Jesus worked befor he began his ministry though the text is not clear if he continued to work though circumstantialy it is unlikely. How ever I thought it might cause me to be to divided but it never left my mind. So it is good to know that others are successful in this way. I am currently pursueing an AAS to be an auto tech and then finish my bachelors in bible as I'm working. I would greatly appreciate thoughts and advice concerning this plan and bi-vocational ministy.
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0 #6 Kyuboem Lee 2011-12-06 19:48
Hi John, thank you for your thoughts. Some employment situations are quite demanding or all-consuming and can be a real hindrance to ministry, as you rightly point out. It will be a great challenge to provide for the family and for the ministry that we will need to keep watch on. And thank you for your confirmation... I do pray that more of the church body will grow in the operation of their gifts. The present time demands it, I think.
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0 #5 Kyuboem Lee 2011-12-06 19:44
Hi Ben, it's not always possible to choose what kinds of jobs bi-vocational ministers can take on, especially these days. But it would probably be closer to ideal if the minister could seek employment that relates to their ministry or serves the community/population they are seeking to reach. For example, coaching a local school's sports team if they are planting a church reaching the community. Thanks for your comment!
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0 #4 John Hanner 2011-12-05 21:02
Hello Kyuboem,
Good article. This hits close to home to me. Though I am not in a pastor's position, I have served as an elder for many years now. I desire to move into ministry, but it has not occurred, and I believe bi-vocational is where I will end up.

For my experience, the serving of two masters is a real possibility, especially if the secular job is one of responsibility. Often times the time requirement will choke the little time for ministry - I am speaking from working a full time secular job. Of course, if one can find a part time job, that helps. In my estimation, the greatest benefit is that it does force the leadership to develop members for their ministries. The church than truly develops into a body where all the members are functioning in their gifts. Thanks for your article.
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0 #3 Ben Soto 2011-12-05 14:28
What's up Kyu,
The question I have is if a Pastor decides to be Bi-Vocational should any job be taken as long as it doesn't interfere too much with ministry or Should the Pastor seek a specific job that directly relates to their ministry.
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0 #2 Kyuboem Lee 2011-11-30 19:32
Hi Bud! The post-Christendom question would require a LONG answer, but let me refer you to an article by Joshua Smith: http://jofum.com/editorial/articles/church-after-christendom-a-gospel-centered-proposal-for-post-christian-mission/, and we can have a longer conversation. People will disagree as to what are the defining events, but most will agree we are in a post-Christendom situation. Postmodernism is a whole another (but related) animal!

As for the impact on the family, that would be a good topic for another blog post. The challenges are obvious. But the first thing I can think of as positive is that the family has access to other life circles. In the older model, the church is the family's worshiping community, primary relational support, and source of income. That amounts to a lot of pressure on the family for the church to "succeed." The bi-vocational model can mean the family is free to minister without the financial burden.
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0 #1 Bud Chase 2011-11-30 10:53
:sigh: Hi Kyu, Can you tell me if there was a specific event that marked the beginning of "post-Christendom" or another term I hear, "post-modernism"? Is there a landmark event or has it become an cultureal evolunary shift?

Also, is there a positive impact of the bi-vocational ministry on one's family? Have a blessed Christmas.
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