Jesus: The First Bivocational Pastor?

One of the privileges I have at Pastors Edge is conversing with many bivocational pastors. The time and ministry challenges of bivocational ministry make Pastors Edge resources a good fit for their limited study time. Beginning with a sermon or series idea and adjustment or expanding for a particular congregation is a way to bring excellence in Bible teaching to a more challenging church environment.

Recently it occurred to me that the bivocational pastor may indeed be closer to the model Christ showed to His disciples through His life in the gospels. The few “full time vocational” church leaders we see in the New Testament were normally of the Pharisee variety, and were typically the corrupt guys—legalistic, hypocritical, scheming, wrong. No intentional slight to vocational pastors of our day in this—just an observation.  Later we see overseers and deacons being appointed, but interestingly, the idea of full-time vocational ministry is really not found in the early church of the New Testament. Consider also:

Jesus had a day job. Jesus was a hard worker. Probably not strictly a carpenter—the Greek translation of Mark 6:3 is actually “craftsman”. Many scholars surmise that lack of heavy forested land in Jesus’ region meant He probably worked with both wood and stone, possibly even some metal. Until He began His full-time ministry at around age 30 we know He worked, in the Jewish tradition from his early teen years and into adulthood. Because little is said of this time period in Jesus’ life, we don’t make much of it, but the reality is that Jesus spent the majority of His earthly life as a simple worker in service to the needs of others. That sounds an awful lot like most bivocational pastors I’ve met.

Jesus was focused on relationships. When Jesus did start His earthly ministry in Matthew 4, His church planting consisted of 12 guys. No church building, no carefully crafted mission statement, no coffee bar in the lobby. He spent three years pouring His life into a small group of men who were close to Him. His life was the textbook and His focus was relationships. Countless times we see Jesus teaching not the masses, but His disciples. Among His final acts before going to the cross was praying for the disciples’ unity (John 17).

This is mirrored by the ease with which a bivocational pastor builds relationships outside of the walls of his church. Often we see the practice of true pastoral discipling relationships modeled not by vocational pastors, who are studying and attending meetings, but by bivocational pastors who rely on these relationships with key lay leaders to build the church. In other words, in practice it may be easier to personally disciple when you can’t hire someone to delegate it to.

Jesus did not spend much time in church. Outside of the childhood incident of Jesus reading in the temple, we don’t see much of Jesus in the organized church. Indeed He spent the vast majority of His ministry time among the people. When He did come back to the temple, it was to rebuke the moneychangers and prophesy His own transformation of the relationship between God and man where the temple building would become irrelevant.

An interesting contrast is built in the Gospels where we see the organized church as insular and threatened by Christ, but Christ Himself is deeply burdened by the lost, is out spending time with them, teaching His disciples to serve them, and rebuking those who care not for the poor or needy. I think there’s a reason Jesus’ didn’t drag His disciples constantly to the temple. He wanted them to see the world as He saw it—desperately in need of a Savior.

What we Jesus modeling here? I am fortunate to be in full-time ministry, though more and more I believe that my particular vocation is actually born more out of our culture than a strictly biblical interpretation of church leadership. It’s no doubt a blessing for a pastor to have no other income responsibilities outside of his church. But we must realize that it is also a blessing for a pastor to be in the position of living and working as Jesus did—outside the walls of the church and among the unchurched masses. In fact, what we term as a bivocational role may, in fact, be closer to the New Testament style church leader. We must realize that those in vocational ministry may be missing out on something important—that life outside of the church world that gives opportunity to relate, disciple and impact others in powerful and personal way.


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.