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5 Tips on Keeping Bi-Vocational Ministry from Imploding

imagesBi-vocational ministry has a bad name.
This bad name was bequeathed upon it by Christendom. Because within this Christianized world, where every body is a Christian, the pastor is looked upon as a professional carrying out all of the numerous tasks of the church to offer services to Christians to sustain them in their Christian life. This model of ministry (I call it the Superman/woman model) is ordered for efficiency. It is a top down chain of command that gets things done. One person basically does all the gifts of the body, including preaching once a week, pastoral care, visiting the sick, running the business end of things, managing conflict resolution, and engaging the community with new and innovative ways to get people to come into church. Frankly this job is impossible even under the best of circumstances. But as a bi-vocational pastor? It will kill you. Yet the “Superman” pastor is an image of leadership seared deep in the consciousness of the Christendom Christians. These are the expectations of people who have been part of the established church. My pastor does a.,b. and c. and my job as parishioner is to go to church, receive some of this good pastoral care, donate some volunteer hours and then give a tithe. Rarely can bi-vocational pastors live up to this model of church.

So here’s 5 tips for avoiding Bi-Vocational Ministry from imploding.

  1. Teach your small community different expectations for the pastor. When they ask questions, seek goods and services, according to the old model, redirect.
  2. NEVER (and I mean NEVER!) enter bi-vocational ministry alone. Bi-vocational ministry is meant to be a shared leadership with 2 to 4 other pastors, all bi-vocational, who know their giftings and complement one another.
  3. Do not look at ministry as a job. You may get some compensation as bi-vocational pastor to relieve having to work over time etc., but ministry is a life style into which all people participate. You just happen to be a leader at your church.
  4. Keep your existing secular job within boundaries, recognizing there will be seasons, when you will have to work more. But by faith, keep your job limited to 40-50 hours a week, and as you grow with it, begin to pare back, to 35 hours, as the church can supplement your wages and your value as a skilled employee increases and becomes more valuable and flexible in your employment. For most bi-vocational pastors this takes 3–5 years.
  5. Stay flexible. Navigate your job. Look for ways for God to provide more flexibility. And as the church grows, look for ways to change and manage your secular job. This may mean you become full time at the church at some time in the life of this mission. But you will be forever changed in the way you lead ministry and see understand ministry because you started out bi-vocational.

And a few last things. Despite everything I said above, bi-vocational ministry is not for everybody. There is a place for the professional clergy in shepherding the large masses of Christians still left in the West into Mission.. Bi-vocational ministry is the vocation of a missionary. It takes a kind of imagination to see ministry beyond the boundaries of traditionally received ministry and the 4 walls of the church.  In N. America, there is a great need for both missionaries and professional clergy that can lead churches into the mission fields of post Christendom.

Also, bi-vocational ministry is not always permanent. Many pastor/missionaries I know start out bi-vocational and 15 years into it, they are full time paid from their churches out of necessity. I was bi-vocational for almost 15 years. Bi-vocational ministry is a journey not a permanent static ‘position.’ Blessings to all on this journey.

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