On Being a Bivocational Pastor
Often ministry resources like Pastors Edge are begun and aimed at full-time ministry leaders. Yet we know that two-thirds of all churches in the United States are served by bivocational pastors. The challenges of a bivocational pastor are multifold, as they must shoulder the responsibilities of a senior pastor while at the same time providing for their financial needs through another source of income.
Surprisingly, little in the way of statistical information and concrete ministry resources exist that specifically address bivocational ministry. In fact, much of mainstream ministry resources assume that the user is dedicated full-time to their church. Most often, this is not the case. A bivocational pastors faces three primary challenges in their role:
The time challenge. In today’s more fragile economy and tighter job market, it is not uncommon for an average person to work 50-60 hours per week. The bivocational pastor would consider this normal. Time management is a tremendous burden for the bivocational pastor. Certain jobs lend themselves to this role—tradecrafts like plumbing and electrical, school teachers and bus drivers, nonprofit directors and funeral home operators, for instance. The greater the daytime flexibility in terms of time and hours, the better the fit for a bivocational pastor.
In a bivocational role, a pastor must be especially diligent to plan times of rest. Simply put, one cannot burn the candle at both ends indefinitely. Since the higher paying job usually demands a person’s first fruits in terms of time (after all, the mortgage must be met!), then both the church and the family must be keenly aware and flexible to ensure the pastor can both do what he needs to do, and still have time to engage in what he wants to do.
The ministry challenge. Church leadership development often focuses on vision, mission and lofty goals, ignoring the practical side of ministry. The bivocational pastor is typically more often focused on what it takes to get through the week. Beyond his other job, there’s a message to prepare, meetings to attend and members to care for. Depending on the church there may also be campus duties to perform (everything from managing the church building to mowing the grass). A bivocational pastor is challenged with discerning what he must do, and what others can handle.
Further, the church must also understand the incarnational ministry of the bivocational pastor. Working out in the “real world” is, in fact, a part of his ministry. The pastor’s role as an “average Joe” in a bivocational situation rarely spoken of in church leadership circles and conferences, even though the vast majority of Pastors in the United States are bivocational. Often the teaching to pastors assumes they are ministry-employed full-time, with the support of staff and budget dollars–making some of their developmental and operational ideas difficult if not impossible to execute. A bivocational pastor must clearly communicate to his congregation how God is using him in his “day job” on a regular basis, then, to help them grasp the dual-role nature of his position.
The developmental/relational challenge. A 1992 study showed the average bivocational pastor was 49 years old, with few younger than 30. Perhaps this generally older demographic is a reflection of the maturity needed to handle the additional stress that carrying two jobs holds. The fact is, though, that bivocational pastors as a group are aging. Further, the number of bivocational pastors holding that role for more than 3 years is shrinking.
The church planting movement currently underway in evangelical circles nationwide is akin to bivocational pastoral duties. However, many planters begin with multi-year support already set, and are able to dedicate themselves full-time to planting a church. A bivocational pastor, on the other hand, often takes an existing church and is challenged with maintaining and growing a small congregation over time, while still attending to work outside of ministry. Time for friendships, leadership and spiritual development and family are at a premium. A bivocational pastor, then, most also be adept at setting aside time for personal development, and to build strong friendships for accountability and spiritual growth.
Pastors Edge. At Pastors Edge, many of the church leaders we come into contact with are bivocational. The special needs of this dedicated group lead our team to pray for them regularly and provide as many practical tools as possible. We find no less passion for preaching, and a desire for people to hear and respond to God’s Word, from bivocational pastors than full-time pastors. Additionally we find bivocational pastors just as savvy about an engaging and professional sermon presentation that not only keeps the attention of the listener, but also draws them toward Christ and gives practical advice on God-centered living. Bivocational pastors are a unique, dedicated and self-sacrificing group who form the foundation of the church, in the heartland and across the nation.
If you are a bivocational pastor and have ideas, insight and resources you’d like to share with your fellow laborers in Christ, we’d love to hear from you! A few resources we’ve found for bivocational pastors include:
- “The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry” by Dennis W. Bickers (Baker Book House, 2000)
- “The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry” by Dennis Bickers (Beacon Hill Press, 2004)
- “Our Pastor Has An Outside Job” by John Y. Elliot (Judson Press, 1980)
- “The Bivocational Pastor” by Luther M. Dorr (Broadman Press, 1988)
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.