Bi-vocational Isn’t a Four Letter Word

images-6Not all of the friends I started out with are still in full-time vocational ministry. Many are now bi-vocational or are simply not in any pastoral role at all. Why? Everything from burn-out to “offers you can’t refuse” and just about everything in between. Still, I would caution anyone against judging those who have spent time in full-time pastorates for now serving the Lord in other arenas. Suffice it to say that it has become increasingly difficult for pastors and churches to continue in or providing for traditional full-time vocational roles. Just how many pastors are bi-vocational? Consider this excerpt concerning one of the largest protestant denominations in the world, taken from http://www.usatoday.com titled, More Preachers Need a “Day Job”, Too…

“About three-quarters of Southern Baptists churches draw fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning. That means they often can’t afford to pay a preacher a full-time salary. So about half of Southern Baptist churches nationwide, and two-thirds in Tennessee, rely on bi-vocational ministers.

“We represent the majority of churches,” said Gilder, who also pastors Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville.

The idea of bi-vocational ministry dates back to the Bible. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman before becoming a preacher. The Apostle Paul, when he wasn’t writing most of the New Testament or starting new churches, made tents for a living.

“He was a pretty good preacher on the side,” Gilder said.

For much of their early history, many Southern Baptist preachers were farmers or teachers as well. That changed in the 1950s, as more churches began to hire full-time ministers.

Today, bi-vocational ministers can be seen as second-class citizens.” (www.usatoday.com, 06/21/2011, by Bob Smietana)

I have come up with a word that describes well those serving in bi-vocational ministry… HEROES! In our own family tree my wife and I have had many bi-vocational pastors who served as brick masons, teachers, farmers, in the military, as salesman, painters, and more. We also have friends who are now pastoring while working as administrators, managers, teachers, bus drivers, delivery services, sales, … you name it. One thing is certain, only their pay is part-time, when some are paid at all. The Lord only knows the hours they put in to lead in a small ministry context by serving to preach, teach, vision, develop leaders, administrate, resolve conflict, plan, counsel, visit, encourage… did I say resolve conflict? Then there are those pastors who are paid “full-time” but have one or more side-jobs. Why? For many rising costs and increased taxes, insurance, etc, now makes their compensation less than adequate. For others a season of financial challenge (medical bills, school loans, salary reductions… or just making ends meet) has prompted them to put in hours at a secular job to provide what is lacking in their family budgets. No matter the reason, these gallant souls are nothing short of heroes of faith to many and examples to us all.

For those of you who are presently bi-vocational pastors, THANK YOU! You are simply amazing. For those of you who are struggling with this becoming a viable option… don’t struggle too long. Pray through and seek counsel. Trust God and be honest with yourself, family and the church. Then, go get that job, put in those hours and do whatever it takes knowing you have the Lord’s blessing, church history and a host of fellow bi-vocational brothers and sisters on your side and working right alongside you. I’ve been there and whereas I once was drew sufficient income from the church alone, I now find myself seeking supplemental income from a variety of worthy sources. Be encouraged as you all-too-often fear either the flock finding out you are working on the side (Again, I encourage you to be open and honest with your leaders), or are growing weary of any unwarranted (and un-Biblical) criticism. It may help if you realize that rarely can those outside of pastoral ministry relate to those serving within. This is true of most professions. Remember, the Apostle Paul was a tent-maker and wouldn’t have had it any other way (Acts 18:3; I Corinthians 9:1-18 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-9).

For those of you struggling with the fact that your pastor is or may become bi-vocational, please draw from the many examples in God’s Word of pastor shepherds, tent-makers, fisherman, etc, and remember that bi-vocational isn’t a four letter word. Support them, encourage them, champion them, defend them, bless them and altogether get behind them and their families.

Serving with you,

Tom

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