6 Realities & Trends In Bivocational Ministry

By Karl Vaters of newsmallchurch.com.

I’m not a church planter. But I spent three days teaching at the Exponential West conference for church planters last week.

I’ve also never been bivocational. But almost all the teaching I did was with bivocational pastors – most of it tag-team teaching with Hugh Halter and Artie Davis.

So why was I there? The one thing we all have in common is the Small Church experience.

I had a great time sharing my story and the lessons learned along the way, and hearing their stories, too. Bivocational pastors have a lot to teach the rest of us.

Because of the chance to spend so much time together (over 10 hours of teaching and conversations) we all learned a lot about the current state of bivocational ministry and some trends we’re likely to see in the near future.

Here’s a recap of six of them.

1. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Rare

Most of the pastors in the world are bivocational. Always have been.

If you live and minister, as I do, in certain segments of the world where there are larger churches with full-time staffs, it’s easy to start thinking of that as the normal church and pastor experience. It’s not. It’s fine, but it isn’t normal. Bivocational ministry is how most of the world’s Christians are pastored.

2. A Bivocational Pastor Is Not Half a Pastor

Hugh Halter pointed out that, when 1 Timothy tells us “elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor,” it’s not because pastors are more important than others. It’s because bivocationality was so universal for leaders in the early church that the believers were encouraged to give an extra blessing to those who were making such extraordinary sacrifices for the church body. Double the sacrifice, double the honor. 

3. Bivocationalty Is not a Problem that Needs Fixingworkers-sign-e1413521884144

The Apostle Paul was a bivocational pastor. In fact, some people still refer to bivocational pastors as tentmakers because it was Paul’s profession.

Obviously, Paul’s ministry didn’t need fixing. There’s nothing “less than” about a bivocational ministry.

4. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Always Temporary

Many, maybe most of the bivocational pastors I talked to weren’t bivocational by choice, but out of necessity – and they were hoping it would be a very short temporary situation. But, just like many Small Church pastors expect their small size to be temporary, it often ends up being their regular state of ministry. We need to get used to the idea that bivocational ministry is more than a pit-stop along the way to full-time ministry, because…

5. Bivocational Ministry Is a Better Choice for Many Churches & Pastors

I learned a lot from Hugh Halter last week. I recommend his book, BiVo, for more good information of this topic. Hugh is bivocational by choice. And he makes some very strong arguments that it is often a better choice for many pastors and many churches, because being bivocational…

  • Allows for more money to go to hands-on ministry
  • Keeps pastors in touch with the unchurched and their real-world needs
  • Frees us from being trapped in the “ministry bubble”
  • Requires us to fulfill our biblical calling to train others to do the work of ministry
  • Makes the priesthood of all believers more of a reality, not just a theological belief
  • …and more

Artie Davis, whose church has grown to be quite large and could easily stop being bivocational, has also chosen to keep his janitorial business as his primary income source for many of the same reasons.

6. Bivocational Pastoring Is Likely to Become the New Normal

As I mentioned last week, in the post, My Church Is an Endangered Species, Unless…, one of the “unlesses” was that bivocational ministry may be a financial necessity for the survival of many small- to mid-sized churches in the coming years. That’s always been true for many churches in small towns, but it’s going to be more common in large population centers too. Demographic shifts and changes in why and how much people give will make bivocational ministry a necessity for many city and suburban churches if they hope to survive and thrive.

It’s Time to Sing the Unsung Heroes

Bivocational ministry has always been with us. And it always will. In fact, some of the greatest heroes of the faith, like the Apostle Paul, were and are bivocational pastors.

We’ll never know most of their names. But we can learn a lot from their sacrificial examples.

They deserve our support, our prayer and our fellowship.

If you’re BiVo, on behalf of the church I thank you for all you do. In the very near future, you may not be coming to our conferences to learn about pastoring, we may be coming to you.

So what do you think? What do you know about bivocational ministry that you can add to this list?

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