7 Reasons Bi-vocational Ministry Isn’t Plan B

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Bert Perry's picture

It probably depends on the situation, but I would dare suggest that we know those who Paul trained (Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, etc..) in part because his workaday life left him no choice but to train people who would follow after him.  I'm not going to tell my pastor to go get that blue vest with the yellow smiley on it, but there are definitely cases where exactly that is appropriate.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Excellent article. Excellent.

At my last church, I was bi-vocational for part of the time I was there. Let me be very frank - I don't know of anything that can eat you up, spit you out and burn you out more completely and thoroughly than Pastoral ministry. If you add the pressures of bi-vocational ministry, you may just be shooting your Pastor in the head. 

I left that Pastorate convinced of two things:

  • Plurality of elders is simply necessary. Do it. It's too much for one man to manage alone. Two are better than one, and the various duties of Pastoral ministry can be split among the two men according to gifts, abilities, etc. 
  • Churches need to be willing to lower their preaching expectations, if necessary. I had to do four services a week. Insane. Too much for one man, while he's working bi-vocational. If you had plurality of elders, these duties could be split up. The Pastor who had the lighter teaching load could be bi-vocational. Take me, for instance. I have a relatively simple, 9-5 job. I could manage one good sermon per week (two decent ones, if need be) without too much strain while maintaining a full-time job. I'd even do it for free, and donate my salary to support a missionary. This kind of scenario isn't possible in a solo-Pastor church. 

Let me add another point - some Pastors don't know how to do anything else. If they have to go bi-vocational, they're working minimum-wage jobs. Through the Lord's providence, I'm not in that position. Some men are not so fortunate. I often look at church planters in the US, and wonder why they don't simply go bi-vocational rather than spend years raising support. Perhaps part of the reason is some men just don't have the skills to be bi-vocational? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

My goal is bi-vocational pastoral ministry. I've seen it done poorly. I've heard about it done well. I agree with Tyler that the key to successful bi-vocational ministry seems to be in having a team of wise, godly, and dedicated men who share the vision, mission, and responsibilities of the church. They are apt to teach. They are competent to counsel. They love and defer to one another. They shepherd the flock.

Bert Perry's picture

....but this comment by Tyler is one big reason I look at many Bible colleges with a very jaded eye.  

Let me add another point - some Pastors don't know how to do anything else. If they have to go bi-vocational, they're working minimum-wage jobs. 

Let me be blunt about this matter; if you have a college degree, and cannot find anything besides "Chez Mac", "Wal-Mart", or the like, you are the victim of educational fraud.  When my parents were in college, it was noted that the CEO of Deere or Cat had an entirely relevant degree: classics.  So even in the "liberal arts", one ought to be getting mental habits and skills that will get you past the first rung on the economic ladder.

Which, i guess, really relates back to the topic of what level of qualifications a pastor ought to have.  Really, if if man is not qualified to get beyond the proverbial "flipping burgers" or "Wal-Mart greeter" level, count me very uneasy about whether that man is really "apt to teach".  Being able to exegete a Bible passage properly ought to correlate really well to other skills.  

Count me 100% agreed with the multiple elders model as well, by the way.  As we know here, iron sharpens iron.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
Let me be blunt about this matter; if you have a college degree, and cannot find anything besides "Chez Mac", "Wal-Mart", or the like, you are the victim of educational fraud. 

As I remember, we've hit this topic multiple times here. A Bible / youth ministries / evangelism degree is worse than a liberal arts degree when it comes to finding meaningful (i.e. I can support my family) employment outside of the church. If someone is interested in pastoral ministry, they should get a bachelors in business, engineering, education, etc. and minor in Bible. They then can pursue an advanced theological education, be it an M.A., M.Div., or Th.M. If pastoral ministry doesn't work out, they then can support their family without becoming a "traveling evangelist."

Joeb's picture

The jaded eye comment about Bible Colleges to a degree does fit. Some schools are an extension of private Christian High Schools academically.  Remember I said some but there are a lot of good ones out there  to.

 What seems to be happening is the good ones are doing what Bert says.  Training the people to have a trade in addition to the Bible courses. The question is can they do it fast enough to survive in the competitive college world.    I think the schools that do it quick enough and are a bargain in price will survive.  One that comes to mind is Maranatha. I'm sure there are others.  

When I was at Drexel one of the Deans who was a believer and logical thinker like Bert created an engineering program and major. The program taught engineering for third world countries.  He established the program with the idea of attracting young Christian men or women and peace Corps types who would learn engineering to be applied to better people's lives in third world countries.  He also hoped young men would go to the mission field with these skills.  I don't know if Drexel still has the program but it seems something like this even if involved just carpentry plumbing and other basic skills would lend itself well to a Bible College setting.  

As Bert says skills other than just flipping hamburgers. 

JD Miller's picture

I like what Joeb wrote:

something like this even if involved just carpentry plumbing and other basic skills would lend itself well to a Bible College setting.  

I am a bi-vocational church planter and self employed carpenter.  I earned an associates degree in business from a state university and ran my own business before going to Bible college.  The carpentry skills are in demand in this area and I started growing my business here while still on deputation.  We raised 45% of our support so I do not have to be full time at the carpentry.  I am actually hoping that our support will continue to increase, since that would provide more time for outreach.  Still God has blessed, and plenty of carpentry work has come in.  At the same time, I have been able to enhance the business end so that I can more effectively bid jobs and make a bit more per hour, thus freeing up more time for ministry.

The point I am making is that some sort of business degree is very helpful even if you are a carpenter.  By being self employed you can often make twice as much per hour as you can working for someone else.  Of course you have to have a lot of tools, but I had a lot of those already.

Still, being bi-vocational is not without its challenges.  First, there is an extra drain on time regardless.  Next, you have to be responsible with your time.  That means putting in the hours to keep customers happy without robbing hours from the church work.  This is especially important when you are self employed and are able to set your own hours.  There is also the challenge of fellow ministers who dislike the idea of bi-vocational ministry mixed with those who expect that you should do it.

I often wonder if those who are strongly opposed to bi-vocational ministry are thinking of the Walmart greeter model rather than the businessman model.  I am actually interested in hearing more comments- especially those that can help me avoid some of the pitfalls that come with bi-vocational ministry as well as helpful tips.