The Few and the Far Between: The Imaginary of the Bi-Vocational Pastor-Missionary

To be a bi-vocational missionary (or what some term a pastor) requires a completely different imaginary about yourself as a minister of the gospel. As you enter ministry from other church contexts, you must be able to rethink how you see/understand yourself in the world as a ‘pastor.’ Let me try to describe it to you. 

If you think a successful church, that runs hundreds of people or more in attendance, is where you will get your identity from (sense of personal success), then bi-vocational ministry is not for you.

If you get your joys and sense of self worth out of having a perfect family with kids who do all the sports, art and music programs, and putting all your energies into your family is what gives you your sense of purpose, then bi-vocational ministry is not for you.

If you think the way you earn your money must be a career in which you gain your identity day to day, if you think the only way to go to work during the week is to pour yourself into a career, maximize your career potential, earn the most money you can, and rise to the very top of the corporate ladder, and here is where you get your sense of self and achievement, then bi-vocational ministry is not for you.

All of the above are social imaginaries the average American/Canadian is brought up to buy into. This is why there’s not much difference between the average corporate executive and mega church pastor. But becoming a bi-vocational missionary reorders these motivations and ways of life into one over all way of life. And you live in the space that is centered daily in the Lordship of Christ where all those things come together and ordered by the Kingdom of God.

It was John Howard Yoder who once said (and I can’t remember where right now) that having a family, having a job, producing art, and being part of a church are all inherently good things. But when we make any one of these things into an idol, when we make them the sources of our identity, when we separate them from the Lordship of Christ and make them the center of all our energies, very bad things happen. They get distorted. Work becomes workaholism. Children become the center of our lives and we turn them into idols. They then become narcissistic and resentful all at the same time. Art becomes detached from the transcendent. And even church becomes a idol that gives itself over to consumerism and competition. The Christian life is not one of balancing all our spheres of activity keeping ourselves in control. It is one life unified daily under one Lord. All things become oriented unto Him and His mission.

Bi-vocational ministry forces you to live like this. Indeed the gospel is an invitation to all people to come out of our lives of idolatry and subordinate all of life to this more Lord for His mission. Bi-vocational ministry is a way to lead people into this life by modeling it first.

There are many things to be said about the structures of church that must be re-imagined for any of this to be possible. For instance, no organizing bi-vo pastor can work for more than 15 hours a week in the organizing functions of a church. There always must be 3-5 such pastors founding a community. They must know how to mutually submit to one another under one Lord. The kinds of job skills you must develop require discernment. And the way this leadership works, is to disperse power not consolidate it. But before I could even talk about all these new dynamics, for the future of the mission church of post Christendom, we must first deal with the way we see ourselves. We must allow the imaginary of how we see our lives to be transformed to way of life with God in mission.

These kind of leaders right now are few and far between. By the time the average American (Canadian) reaches their twenties they are firmly ensconced in the prototype American/Canadian way of being in the world.  But I am meeting more and more younger leaders who desire to live as missionary bi-vocational pastors in N America.  Praise be to God.

If you’re interested in discussing bi-vocational leadership with a bunch or revolutionaries join us here, shoot me a FB message, and let me know you’re coming.   

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