Post-Christendom and Bivocational Ministry

By Scott Hagley

Post-Christendom Ministry

Standing in the middle of a field in Burnaby, British Columbia, I could not help but smile. Hundreds of people from our neighborhood—new immigrants, families, elderly, young professionals— streamed into a park for the second annual “Inclusion Festival.” A youth band from a local music school played on a stage and a Peruvian dance troupe was the next act. Across the field, children worked on art projects, waited in line to jump in an inflatable castle, played games with the city parks staff, and tested their soccer skills against some coaches from a local camp. Increasingly, this is what pastoral ministry looks like in North America: finding a way to be present in the middle of one’s neighborhood in love and hope.

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The Inclusion Festival grew from the vision of a refugee claimant named Sofia. A married mother of two from Peru, she found government-sponsored housing in my neighborhood and began to make herself a vital part of the community. Occasionally, Sofia came to church functions. After a bullying incident in her daughter’s school, Sofia decided that our neighborhood needed a public event focused on the message of inclusion, hospitality, and acceptance.

The surprising success of the first Inclusion Festival drew public attention. City officials approached Sofia and offered a grant to establish the Inclusion Festival annually, with one catch: she needed to find a registered nonprofit to receive the funds and claim responsibility. Suddenly our church became the sponsoring organization for a community event that we did not plan or initiate, and one run by a non-member whose status in the country remained (at that time) uncertain. It was a mess. I like to lead. I have experience running and planning such events. But instead of leading, I found myself in a supportive role alongside Sofia.

She pulled together neighbors and created an experience that we (the church) could not. She blessed the neighborhood. And so did we . . . by supporting her. This, at least in part, is what post-Christendom ministry looks like.

Decline of Christianity in North America

We are all aware of surveys that report ambivalence toward religion generally and declining interest in Christianity specifically across North America. American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reports the rise of those claiming “none” for religious affiliation, while Christian Smith (Soul Searching) describes the Christian commitment of our young people as “moral therapeutic deism.” Sociology aside, we all likely know of a congregation that has closed, a church plant that has failed, or a church building turned into a beer hall. Post-Christendom describes (albeit imperfectly) this reality.

The Christian church in North America has lost significant power and influence. The fairly recent interest in “bivocational” ministry emerges as one solution. The reasoning usually follows: congregations have less money available for ministry staff and less energy for fundraising; congregations will survive if they have more financial flexibility; therefore we need pastors who are not solely dependent upon the church for income. It argues for bi-vocational ministry as a strategic element for congregational survival. But that argument misses the opportunity that bi-vocational ministry places within the congregation.

The North American church is not the only casualty of changing cultural meanings and social upheaval. Since (at least) the 1980s, observers have prophesied the loss of public life in America—declining civil society institutions, voluntarism, and civic practices crucial for democracy. We face a slate of social problems that seem intractable. Institutions as basic as government, school, law, and family are in various stages of upheaval. As Barbara Kellerman suggests, we seem to be facing a crisis in leadership (The End of Leadership); we have lost a collective faith not only in the pastoral leader, but also authorities in general. We must not lose sight of the fact that our congregational malaise participates in a broader cultural uncertainty.

Bi-vocational Ministry as an Opportunity

Here bi-vocational ministry becomes a Spirit-given opportunity for the church to discover the shape of mission and ministry in our dynamic era. Recently John McKnight and Peter Block have made the principles of Asset Based Community Development practically accessible in their book The Abundant Community. McKnight and Block suggest a gift-based localism, arguing that we will not build community and social trust/capital by consulting experts to solve societal problems. Rather, we will address a variety of social ills by focusing on the gifts already present in a neighborhood in order to cultivate local communities of shared gifts. Cities across North America have begun experimenting with this thesis.

The cry for abundant communities invites us to reconsider the ways that pastoral ministry might be gifted to the broader community. Bi-vocational ministry presents a distinct adaptive challenge to the church. It invites us to think more publicly about pastoral ministry, to imagine different possibilities for sharing life and funds. It is not simply “tentmaking” for the sake of making ends meet, but rather the practice of ministry for the well-being of the neighborhood.

Sofia’s invitation did not fit within the usual bounds of pastoral leadership. Her event was not one organized by the church, it did not promise to grow the church as “outreach,” and Sofia was not a member or in frequent attendance at the church. My work with the Inclusion Festival gave me the opportunity to be present in and with my neighborhood in an entirely different way. Consequently, our church community received an opportunity to participate in the sharing of gifts—Sofia’s vision, our volunteer base, city funds, a host of neighborhood organizations, and the sharing of a collective and public neighborhood event.

In a place described by several polls as Canada’s loneliest city, such an event and the sharing of such gifts certainly reflects some of God’s trustworthy character and work in the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, so-called bivocational ministry provides the push that we need to live in and with our neighborhoods in such a way that folks like Sofia and the gifts of our neighbors might be given fresh expression in the name and hope of Christ.

Dr. Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Seminary and also works with the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative and teaches in the MDiv Church Planting Emphasis program as well as the new Church Planting and Revitalization certificate program. He previously served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada.

This article first appeared on the Seminary’s blog. The Seminary offers multiple programs for those interesting in church planting including the Graduate Certificate in Church Planting and Revitalization, Master of Divinity with Church Planting Emphasis, and the Church Planting Initiative. Learn more about these programs online.

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Eight Reasons Why Some Full-time Pastors and Staff Should Go Bivocational

by Thom Rainer

Some of you reading this post may need to get a new job. At least you may need to get an additional job.

Without a doubt, many churches will always need full-time vocational pastors and church staff. I am not suggesting all of you, even the majority of you, should go bivocational. But I do believe more of you should consider this path. Allow me to offer eight reasons why:

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  1. A secular or marketplace job will put you in the middle of culture on a regular basis. Opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers will be greater. Opportunities to minister to people who would not set foot in a church will be greater as well.
  2. Full-time pastors and church staff often get missionally stale in their “holy huddles.” Perhaps the best way to break out of that Christian-only huddle is to be employed in a secular position.
  3. Smaller churches are increasingly unable to afford full-time pastors or staff. I have written on this site a few times about the flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. As resources depart from the smaller churches, so do their ability to pay a pastor or staff person full-time. But these churches still need pastors.
  4. The digital world is offering more opportunities for flexible secular jobs than ever. I recently spoke to an IT professional who is also a pastor of a church. He spends about 25 hours a week in his IT job. He has declined good full-time opportunities in secular jobs because he wants to stay a tentmaker. I spoke to another staff person of a church who is an entrepreneur in the digital world. Those kinds of opportunities are growing every day.
  5. More churches are moving toward multiple teaching/preaching pastors. What was once common in large churches is now becoming increasingly common in medium and small churches. Many of these teaching pastors are in churches that cannot afford a second full-time pastor.
  6. More churches would like to expand staff, but don’t have the resources to do so. This issue is similar to #5 above, but here it refers to bivocational positions other than a lead pastor or teaching pastor. By the way, this approach allows church leaders to “raise up” people within their own churches—people they know and trust.
  7. A bivocational pastor or church staff can have greater freedom than a person in a full-time role. One of the “secrets” of church life is that many pastors and church staff are hindered from leading because their jobs would be in jeopardy. That is an unpleasant but clear and present reality. If a pastor or staff person has a job with other income, he or she may feel the freedom to move forward without succumbing to such pressure.
  8. A bivocational pastor or staff person has transferrable skills. A number of full-time church leaders have never worked outside of vocational ministry. They don’t understand the business and secular world. Bivocational ministers have secular skills they can use in their churches. They also have skills to support themselves if they find themselves no longer employed with their churches.

Bivocational ministry is a clear and definitive trend in church life. Some of the reasons for its growth are not that healthy. But many are. It is a great opportunity to make a greater difference in this culture in which we live. It is really a great opportunity to be a missionary on the field.

What do you of think of this issue? What are you seeing in your church and others?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on January 19, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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?

Bivocational Ministry?

Bivocational ministry, or the idea that pastors work part time at the church and part time elsewhere, is entering Canadian church budgeting conversations more frequently due to the decline of church membership and the resistance of Christians to traditional ideas of tithe.  hard-hat

But is a money crunch the best reason we can offer for bivocationalism? Perhaps if we consider a positive point of view, we could see bivocational ministry as a Bible-based opportunity rather than a financial obligation.

There’s no denying that working two jobs is hard. Pastors who choose to devote only part of their workweek to a church while also concentrating on a position in the marketplace or elsewhere in ministry have their work cut out for them. All pastors, whether full or part time, run the risk of loneliness and burnout unless proper boundaries and clear expectations are set from the beginning. So why would anyone choose the additional burden of a second job when the first job is so demanding?

Andy Lambkin, a pastor and researcher with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, suggests several reasons why every pastor should consider taking a second job:

1. Bivocational ministry shrinks the clergy-lay divide.
Peter called the Church “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), but we undermine that principle by idolizing our pastors and church planters and expecting them to do all the work. When pastors become bivocational, the differences between their lives and the lives of their congregants—as people working and serving the Lord in all they do—start to disappear. And that’s a good thing.

Also, the fewer hours the pastor works, the more room there is for the laity to step up into leadership. Andy himself started as a full time pastor but has been slowly scaling his hours back to allow his team of leaders space to develop in ministry prowess.

2. The bivocational approach in church planting is an opportunity to inspire the millennial generations to leadership.
A model that allows pastors to pursue the development of a new church as part of a team, while also staying connected in their professional fields, will appeal to a demographic of apostolic, entrepreneurial young people that are often turned off by traditional methods of pastoral ministry.

3. The bivocational method of hiring staff opens up new avenues of ministry. Whereas in a traditional model we often forfeit groups that are unable to support a full time worker, bivocational ministry opens these doors as other streams of revenue are used the support the worker.

4. Having another job gives pastors credibility and influence in a broader circle.
It’s true: many pastors are disconnected from the world around them and frankly have very few interactions with people outside the Church. It’s life-giving for both the congregation and the pastoral staff when ministers can give examples from their own lives of

5. This isn’t a new idea.
The Biblical precedent for workers in God’s Church is one of bivocationalism. Paul was a tentmaker on-and-off throughout his church planting days, and actually went into business with the husband-wife pastoral team of Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth (1 Corinthians 18:1-3).

And even in our own country, I imagine that all pastors by necessity were farmers, cowboys, doctors and teachers as they settled the wild West.

Bivocational ministry doesn’t mean shoving a pastor’s job into half the hours. It goes back to realistic expectations and clear role descriptions. So commissioning a bivocational pastoral team rather than a solo pastor is likely the most effective way of keeping pastors connected to a daily mission field and encouraged in their church ministry.

Bivocationalism can be for a number of reasons and will look different for everyone. In my own church, we have a large pastoral team, but each of the pastors also holds a job elsewhere–some at a training network developed by our church several years ago, some in the secular marketplace, and one is even employed by the music school he began as a ministry to his neighbours.

Do you have examples of bivocational ministry? What could it look like in your context? What are other reasons to give this model a try, and what are some of the potential pitfalls? Leave a comment here, or email me anytime: cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

Bivocationally yours,

Cailey Morgan