10 Suggestions / Thoughts on Bi-Vocational Ministry
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?