I’ve been bi-vocational in some way or another for about 9 years.  Here is some random advice/thoughts to those who are beginning or in the midst of the bi-vocational approach to ministry: Try and find a second job that feeds your gifting  and passions in some way. I actually really enjoy web design. It taps […]

I’ve been bi-vocational in some way or another for about 9 years.  Here is some random advice/thoughts to those who are beginning or in the midst of the bi-vocational approach to ministry:

  1. Try and find a second job that feeds your gifting  and passions in some way. I actually really enjoy web design. It taps into my creative side and gives me an outlet for that kind of thing. So, while it has its frustrations, I really can enjoy the work.  This has been very important as it doesn’t necessarily drain me as I engage the these responsibilities.
  2. Try and have your second job be a career type job and not just a part-time placement where the only positive is that you make money. While I don’t want to have to depend on web design as much as I do, I know that I can make a career of it if I have to. This is something that too few of my pastor friends can say.  The best case scenario for your second job is one that can become a career if it has to be.  I assume since you are bi-vocational you are in a non-established, fringe type ministry context. You might just need to do your pastoral work for free someday.
  3. Do whatever you have to while you search for that kind of second job. While you might want a job that brings you life and a job that can turn into a career, that might not come for a few years.  I slaved away at UPS and Starbucks for a combined 5 years before web design was even on my radar.  My skills in web design only came because God brought a few people into my life that were gracious enough to mentor me.
  4. You better really be ready to sacrifice a lot. Living the bi-vocational life isn’t sexy.  It might sound like the cool thing to do and you might think you get to say “look at me, I’m a living the genuine missional life. I’m SO MISSIONAL!” but then when you get into it you realize that it’s really gritty, hard work.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  But, it is far from easy.
  5. Be more committed to the Church than your career as a pastor. Honestly, I’d be a pastor at The Well for free if I had to. Granted, I wouldn’t be able to put the time in that I can now as a part-time salary supported staff member.  But I absolutely love the local church / global Church. I’ll always serve in some way or another even if I am not getting paid.  Being on staff at a church is a blessing in that it allows me to focus more energy there.  If you are in pastoral work for the career, bi-vocational isn’t for you because you have to realize you might never get there (I’d also argue that pastoral work isn’t for you in general, bi-vocational or not!).
  6. If you aren’t prepared for it to be hard, it’s way too easy to become bitter and resentful. You have to guard your heart against this at all costs. If you choose this way of life and this way forward, you have to realize that you aren’t necessarily going to be living the American Dream and a lot of your ideals of what a pastor should do and be taken care of have to be revisited. If you aren’t ready for this, it’s far too easy to become bitter or resentful towards the church.
  7. You better be willing to admit you can’t do it all. Why? because a) you weren’t made to.  This is why God made the body of Christ. Read Eph. 4 if you don’t know what I am talking about.  and  b) you don’t have time to.  The blessing of bi-vocational ministry is that you can’t take away the work that the people in your congregation should be doing because you just don’t have the time. So you have to be okay with saying no to things and admitting you aren’t the savior of the world (a harder task than most for many of us pastors than we’d like to admit!!). Honestly this is one of the best parts of being bi-vocational because we aren’t supposed to do it alone and we’re forced to live out Eph 4 by the nature of the way things are set up.  I like that.
  8. Make sure your spouse is on board. I don’t know that this needs to be said but maybe it does.  If your spouse isn’t behind it, you won’t last, and I’m not just talking about your career.  Your marriage won’t last either.
  9. Be ready to learn how to be self-disciplined. When you are bi-vocational you tend to not be “in an office” all the time and you tend to be able to schedule your life as you need/want to.  This is great freedom and it’s one of the best parts of being bi-vocational. At the same time, this is a great responsibility.  You absolutely must learn how to manage time and have discipline when you don’t have the “blessing” of someone looking over your shoulder all the time.
  10. Being bi-vocational isn’t more spiritual or better than being a full-time pastor. Sometimes I feel like people get the idea that to be “really missional” (whatever that means) you can’t work full-time for a church.  I’ll be honest, I think that’s bull crap.  I don’t think that being bi-vocational is any better (or worse) than being/having full time paid staff.  I think it really all depends on the context.  There might come a day when The Well pays me full-time. and they might cut be back from 3/4 time to 1/4 time.  It really depends on how and where God is calling us as a community.  I get frustrated when I hear people imply that being bi-vocational is a more authentic expression of pastoral / church leadership because I see the value in both and I firmly believe that both are appropriate expressions of church leadership. We don’t have a policy of bi-vocational pastors at The Well.  It’s what I and we have chosen to do for this time as a community.
  11. Being bi-vocational has both positive and a negative aspects to it. I know I said there were 10 suggestions but I just had a conversation today that made me want to add this one.  We were talking about all the positive things that come from being bi-vocational (shared leadership, not as much money spent on staff, the pastor isn’t sheltered from the world, etc).  Well, with each of these positives and strengths comes a weakness as well. I guess this is a continuance of the last point but there isn’t a right way to address this topic that is true for all time and all places.

Okay. Anything else to add?

  • Todd, this is an amazing and thoughtful list. You should write a book on #5 – it would save countless leaders from undue pressure and pain, not to mention the damage done to those they try to lead.

  • JR, thanks man. yeah, #5 isn’t just for bi-vocational ministers eh? Heck, I think this is an issue with people who are both paid and unpaid…

  • Todd, thanks for this post. Having been ‘bi-vocational’ for about 3 months now, I appreciate hearing thoughts developed from years of working to make this kind of balance work. I’m particularly understanding the difficulty of #s 4 and 6, and working to get better at 9!

  • todd,
    great job. I love it. #3 and #6 are so important. everything is a process. i definitely wouldn’t want to over-glamorize being bi-vocational, that is the worst thing you could do. but I would push back a little on #10. Certainly it isn’t more ‘spiritual’ per se, but I do believe it is generally better for the pastor and the church because if forces you to actually deal with point #5 (Careerism). I’m not saying always and forever that full-time is bad, but…in the future, it will be a necessary component for “authentic” missional church b/c while I hate to hit the slippery-slope button, full-time pastorates lead to and come from Christendom.

  • Currently, I really resonate with #9. I think there are a number of us who are bi-voc, who also have some anti-institutional type bent, which makes the schedule thing really challenging. I know that it is consistently proving to be my greatest challenge – managing my freedom to make sure that I’m getting everything done.

    Thanks for the list, I will be sharing it with our leadership team this week.

  • @ Geoff, i knew you’d push back on #10 🙂 and i totally get what you are saying here…fascinating claim that full-time pastorates come from christiandom, is that true or just a casual thought. also, wondering if something coming from christiandom automatically makes it bad (which, where you intend to or not, you are implying).

    but. again. i get what you are guarding against and i’m with ya mostly.

    @ bryan, nice tattoo 🙂

  • i might have been too loose in the christendom statement. how about a little too close to old-time american religion. certainly even the NT advocates some form of pay for preacher/leaders (even if Paul refused it! something to think about…). but the past can’t always tell us the way forward, and I believe bi-vocationism is a type of spiritual therapy to cure us of the ills of American Christianity. it is strong medicine (as you indicate above, for us and for our churches), but in my view necessary. Churches can only work there way back to a full-time understanding once they have finished being cured, but not just because they feel they don’t need to.

    In fact, I would call full-time (and especially solo/senior) pastoring a type of addiction that the American church must overcome. And as you all know, you can’t go back to the problem too soon without probably succumbing to the addiction again, and many times it is best to leave it alone for the rest of your life.

    maybe our children’s churches can have full-time pastors, but that will probably only be the case if we break our generational sin/addition.

  • also, see this.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/article/power-is-an-addictive-drug

    I think it seeks to what I was saying above re: our church cultures and the power a pastor can hold and the dependence it creates in the congregants.

  • Thanks Todd!
    I think you’re right, it is so contextual. Paul refused support from the Corinthians, but rejoiced when the Philippians supported him. Jesus tells the apostles to not just ask for salary but lodging and food in Luke 10, yet claims the Son of Man has no place to rest his head. Sometimes bi-vocational flows out of a desire to spread leadership. Sometimes it flows from an anti-clericalism that ignores all the New Testament says about the office of elder/priest/pastor. Bi-vocational can be an awful burden in some places and incredibly freeing in others. Context, context, context. Thanks brother.

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  • @Geoff, yeah, good thoughts. interesting thoughts in terms of being healed of the addiction of paid staff. I’m curious where the next generation will take this. anyways, good thoughts.

    @gary – you are the man.

  • These are all good points, event the “11th” one on your ten point list.

    Those wanting to find practical tools to make bivocational ministry more effective should check out this listmania on Amazon.com which gives all the books on bivocational ministry currently available on Amazon.com.

    http://www.amazon.com/Bivocational-Ministry-Books/lm/RACAGF4VU49GL/ref=cm_lmt_DYNA_f_2_russss1?pf_rd_p=496997231&pf_rd_s=listmania-center&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1615072527&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=06PD1KPPT07EXCNHC0W3

  • Todd,
    Great thoughts.

    I think #1-3 are the big hurdle, and where I run across a lot of angst from others. It’s not easy to recognize a unique skill that can lead to a job that is flexible enough to complement ministry.

    I’ve spoken to a few who were in full-time ministry and considering a bivocational plant, and I encouraged them to start developing some potential bivocational work sooner rather than later.

  • Great list. (I have a second interview with UPS today…..)

    🙂

  • UPS!!!! AGHGHGHH!!! DON”T DO IT!! 🙂 haha. just kidding. though, i did just describe that job as my worst job ever last night to a group of friends. but, that’s mostly because of the bad management in the hub that i worked it. my experience was particularly bad. not true of all hubs i’m sure. 🙂

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  • Pat

    On #5, I’d say be more committed to Christ (which I’m sure goes without saying). While like you, I love the local/global Church, I love Christ more and that’s the ONLY thing that keeps me going through all the ups and downs of ministry. If it weren’t for Christ, believe me, I’d thrown in the towel on a number of occasions.

  • John

    I’ll say this bi-vocational works if the second job somehow fits to the extent that the church mssion can be played out in how you live your life in front of others in that work place. I work in healthcare and church. The gifts I bring to both are balanced. People that I engage in the wopkplace see the same guy that is in church, M-T-W-Th-F-S-S. I let Christ shine through me, but they also see my human frailities.

  • hey guys, great conversation. We need to figure out a way to continue this on multiple levels.

    but I want to add something, and hopefully not take things too far a field.

    But I want us all to be careful to unlink questions of sustainablity and personal fulfillment. What is sustainable is in the eye of the beholder, and often thoughts of what is fulfilling creek in. I think this is absolutely detrimental to helping people be bi-vocational. We need to realize that for the most part we are all talking about bi-vocational ministry as downwardly mobile “choice”, when many don’t get to choose there vocation at all. I think of Raj down at the Dunkin Donuts by my house that works 65 hrs a week as an immigrant from Pakistan and has two little daughters whom he doesn’t see much. His life is probably not sustainable, but does he have a choice? Let us know forget our demographic (i would hazard a guess we are all white men here?)

    Anyway, i know I usually kill a comment threat with thoughts like this, but I would like to see the conversation center around not having a choice to be bi-vocational. For those of us who serious hope to change (reclaim) the Church around missioan principals in the next 50-100 years, bi-vocationalism is not a choice, but a necessary step of faith. It will be hard, it will suck, it will not fulfill us, it will seem unsustainalbe, but we might need to think about those missionaries who did hard oversees work for a lifetime w/o seeing the harvest.

    Neither side of our bi-vocational ministry, only Christ fulfills us.

    so I guess #4 and #6 are central to this.

  • geoff, you are bringing some deeper parts of this discussion into play here. thank you. part of what i wanted to do in the post was to somehow state that pursuing a bivocational leadership model is more than the new hip thing to do. one must take it very seriously. as pat did a great job of pointing out, we not only need to love the church, but we need to take that a level deeper and be sure that our love for the church is coming from a love for jesus. your points of sustainability and fulfillment are important ones. i realize that we are in a privileged place to be able to match up our jobs in ways that make us fulfilled, much of the world can’t do this.

    it’s interesting, in my life I am pulled in two directions. friends who are saying “i want to see you taken care of in full-time ministry some day” and friends who are saying “the path is hard but its worth it, stay the course.” Hopefully all my friends aren’t like Job’s friends! 🙂

    i think this is an important direction for the conversation to go… thanks.

  • Andrea

    Thanks for writing this; it’s great stuff with alot to further ponder.

    Pat (from comment 18): I fully agree.

  • Hi Todd,

    This is a good list. I have been bivocational for 11 years now: working as church planter and commercial photographer in Europe. It works, but it’s not easy.

    The biggest challenge I find is that I have two passions running through my life. I love my photography and the opportunities it gives me – and I love planting churches and the community of people I get to do that with. But at times it feels like I have two misstresses – and they don’t on so well :-).

    May I add a few tips to your list:
    1. Maintain healthy boundaries.
    2. Do your ministry in a team context where you can depend on your team.
    3. For your ‘secular’ career, a job where you are self-employed or running your own business, might work better than an employed position. In an employed position you may be able to set healthy boundaries – but bosses often can’t.
    4. Business opportunities will arise out of your career – and that’s good. But be careful how you mix those. If a business-relationship goes sour (a client is unhappy) it might spill over into the ministry, causing damage.
    5. Watch out for the dynamics that come with different positions. Working together in both contexts with the same people or person can be great: but if in the one context you are co-equals, and in the other one of you is in leadership, that can get confusing.

    I have more thoughts, but as always time comes at a premium. I’ll check back for replies later… Peace,
    Rogier

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  • Hi Todd,

    Great thoughts. I think part of the equation is also looking at what ‘kind’ of pastor you are. The bi-vocational piece can go quite smoothly if you are an arm-chair quarterback type pastor who can manage things for a distance with little relational connections or significant neighborhood engagements.

    I think you need to really understand what your pastoral role and calling is and then find the bi-vocational piece that can allow for the space you need to live out your calling.

    I’m a bi-vocational church planter/pastor in Canada and I’ve needed to choose a career/job that allows me to be present with folks in my community and with folks in our neighborhood.

  • Scott said: “The bi-vocational piece can go quite smoothly if you are an arm-chair quarterback type pastor who can manage things for a distance with little relational connections or significant neighborhood engagements.”

    Wow. With all due respect to Scott, I could not disagree more. For the bi-vocational piece to go smoothly, you must have an exceptional number of relational connections and significant neighborhood engagement. Bi-vocational pastors seldom have time to oversee numerous programs so they must make their number one “program” connecting with people. When we connect with others in a meaningful way, we may find we don’t even need all those church meetings and programs that we once thought were so important. Bivocational pastors know that instead of having “visitation night” at the church, they go to the ballgame at the local high school and do their visiting with the spectators there (and cheer for their kid at the same time!).
    As several people have mentioned above, being bivocational is not just about “money.” It is also about being more missional. Bivocational pastors who allow the Spirit to lead them to a second job that connects them to people learn that to be “in” the community instead of in the ivory tower that many fully-funded pastors hide in.

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  • Andrew Coates

    Thanks Todd, it’s an old post but still highly relevant, I’ve been bivocational for 9 years through my twenties and once again looking at for new ways to reinvent what it looks like for me to continue being bivocational in the long term. It is definitely looking more likely based on the social and economic landscape that bivocational will become more and more the norm. I’m now having to look at it a lot differently as i consider a much longer term view of being in ministry and earning a living. Thanks for the provocative thoughts.