Bi-vocational is the Answer
Brian McLaren was Skyped into a conversation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia’s spring meeting. In his comments, he suggested churches are going to get larger and smaller in the coming decades. In the age of Walmart, Target, and Costco, American cultural presses churches toward big and small: it is either a church providing everything you could imagine at a very low cost; or, it is the high-touch world of the small church that will meet needs. This leaves the medium sized church is a quandary.
In a separate breakout session the conversation at the CBF-VA went to church starts. One participant, who apparently has a dream of starting a church and having CBF pay his salary, suggested CBF was not committed to church starts. Bo Prosser did his best to field the question; hang in there Bo!
These two separate conversations reminded me of the historic importance of bi-vocational ministry. People who feel called to start a church need to accept responsibility for their call and stop expecting someone else to fund their dream. Church starters should assume they will begin as a bi-vocational minister. In the future small churches will be pastored by bi-vocational ministers. Bi-vocational ministers already serve in smaller churches as ministers of music, ministers of education, ministers of children and ministers of youth.
What is wrong with bi-vocational ministry? It sounds rather biblical to me.
The dominate professional ministry model these days reflects the Industrial Age, not the Bible or the history of the Church. Churches in American in the early part of the twentieth century did not have expansive staffs. A large church in 1915 might have a pastor, one other full-time minister and a handful of staff personnel and a host of volunteers. The church did not have five ministers, six support staff members and three part-time ministry directors.
How then did we get to the point of thinking full-time ministry is the goal? The answer? The seduction of the Industrial Age. This was further exacerbated by two-income families; “We don’t have time to volunteer.”
In the transformation to the Information Age the hands of time are turning back to favor bi-vocational ministry. I encourage future ministers to consider bi-vocational ministry for any number of reasons. I offer a few.
Bi-vocational ministry makes financial sense. Five percent of ministers are going to climb up the ministerial/church latter and make it to large churches. Some of the five percent will not like what they find there. What about all the rest of the ministers who want significant careers in ministry but will not, or don’t want to, serve large churches. In the coming decades ministerial salaries are apt to level off and possibly decline as compared to the cost-of-living for the vast majority of ministers. How will you send you kids to college? What about a good retirement plan? Bi-vocational ministry makes financial sense.
Bi-vocational ministers have two incomes; thus, total compensation is going to be higher for the average bi-vocational minister over a lifetime, significantly higher; especially when one factors in building equity in a home.
Bi-vocational ministry makes sense for families. Moving children and asking spouses to give up good jobs is asking a lot. Looking back over the years, my children and my wife paid a pretty heavy price for my mobility. While the full-time minister may not think the family sacrifice is significant, I suspect the spouse has a different view.
Bi-vocational ministers are catching a next wave in American culture. The market for large church ministers is going to wane. The number of medium sized churches may decline rapidly. There are going to be a lot of small to modest churches for many decades to come. Bi-vocational ministers are going to be in much demand while the demand for large and medium church ministers will decline.
Bi-vocational ministry comes with lower expectations, much lower expectations. In the last twenty years expectations on full-time ministers have gone through the roof. For two decades, full-time ministers have been doing more with less and the hours a minister works has been significantly increasing. At some point, full-time ministry is not going to be much fun. By contrast, the bi-vocational minister will face much lower relative expectations as compared to the full-time minister. A full-time minister is going to work 50 hours a week on average. Sometimes expectations will push that to 60 and more hours. By contrast, a bi-vocational minister is going to work Sundays, maybe Wednesday evenings and visit hospitals as she/he is able. The church of a bi-vocational minister will have a significantly more active laity to help carry the load.
Bi-vocational ministry can fit well with “secular jobs.” There are thousands of part-time (bi-vocational) minister in churches now. They work all kinds of jobs. I am also partial to the notion that a clergy couple would have two jobs: they job share at church and they job share at the other job as well. This will work if the couple share a common secular job interest. This is a much better idea than a couple working at a church for a single salary.
Bi-vocational ministry is biblical. I encourage young minister to think long and hard about bi-vocational ministry.
Grace and Peace,
Tagged with: bi-vocational ministry • future of ministry • pastoral ministry