Given the average church size in America, I have to assume that most pastors in the U.S. are bi-vocational. In addition to the duties and responsibilities they have of shepherding a flock, these men find themselves working part-time or even full-time jobs in order to make ends meet; for many pastors, bi-vocational ministry is out of necessity. Some pastor minister in a low income context where supporting the pastor and his family is just not an option. Others minister is smaller contexts and the church budget just doesn’t allow for a full time salary. Then there are those who are in bi-vocational ministry as a matter of choice. They enjoy the evangelism opportunities it affords them or they just don’t want to burden or trust their congregations with the financial responsibility of caring for them and their families.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains there are many pastors who are bi-vocational. So the question is not whether bi-vocational ministry is right or wrong—I don’t think the Bible tells us that—the wrestle is with whether it is best, both for pastors and local church members.
Let’s start with pastors. As noted, there are certainly some benefits. Of significance is the fact that it opens up the Pastor to a wealth of evangelistic opportunities. Let’s face it, full-time pastors have to be intentional about putting themselves in the way of unbelievers. Most of their interaction is with church folk, and therefore the opportunities for personal evangelism are few and far between. Bi-vocational pastors, on the other hand, bump into spiritual conversations all the time. And if deliberate, they can have a fruitful influence and ministry in the marketplace. Along with this is the benefit of a steady pay check that doesn’t rely on the giving whims of the members. There are other benefits, but these two seem to rise to the top.
However, along with the benefits come challenges. Pastoring is never a part-time job. There are no timeclocks to punch or timesheets to fill out. Which means, any job added to that of a pastor, be it part-time or full, is on top of an already jam-packed schedule. Men called to the ministry are not super human. They may have particular gifts set aside for the office, but they are given the same amount of time as everyone else. Working two jobs means that inevitably something will suffer neglect. And unfortunately what often gets pushed to the side is family. Truthfully, this is not just a bi-vocational pastor’s challenge; all pastors deal with this tension. But there is no denying that this is particularly hard for the man who labors in two jobs.
There are pros and cons for pastors, but the same is true for congregations. There is indeed a benefit to having a faithful minister without having the financial burden of caring for he and his family. It frees the church up to take care of other financial needs within the community and affords congregations the ability to further support missionaries overseas. But perhaps one of the greater blessings is that a bi-vocational pastor allows for other members in the church to step up and serve. There becomes a wonderful opportunity for lay elders to step into roles that might ordinarily be filled by a full-time Pastor. But again, there are also challenges for the congregation. Some churches need to be pushed in the area of generous giving and a bi-vocational pastor can sometimes give members and easy out. Paul tells Timothy that the elder who labors in preaching and teaching is worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). And, in 1 Corinthians 9, he says, “… the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” If congregations are un-willing to support the pastor out of convenience for themselves, then they are not heeding Paul’s instruction on these matters.
The question may come, “What about Paul? He was bi-vocational.” It is true that throughout Paul’s epistles we learn that he was a tent-maker. In order to provide for the work of the ministry he worked with his hands so as to not burden the saints he served. He did this in Corinth and Thessalonica. There is no denying that Paul at times was bi-vocational,but the question is: Are Pastors to follow his example in this?
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind regarding Paul and the bi-vocational nature of his ministry. Paul knew a trade, a trade that afforded him the ability to make money on an as needed basis. Paul wasn’t punching a clock or reporting into an office. He had the luxury of using his trade for financial gain, only when there was a pressing need. That’s important because it appears Paul used this strategy to prevent any hindrances to the gospel (1 Thess. 2:9). He had every right to take up a collection from the saints in Corinth and Thessalonica, but he didn’t want to burden the people and hinder the gospel, so he worked to make ends meet (1 Cor. 9:11-15). Another detail we should not overlook is that Paul was single. He had no family to care for or tend to, which freed him up to devote the time he wasn’t teaching and preaching to working a trade to care for his needs. So while one may appeal to Paul to support bi-vocational ministry, most of the time we are not comparing apples to apples.
Perhaps you have picked up on my bent. While bi-vocational ministry has its benefits, I would say it is not ideal. But I understand that sometimes, it just can’t be avoided. Here are a couple of admonitions and encouragements for those who have no choice but to be bi-vocational.
- Learn a trade. This frees you up to set your own schedule and work on an as needed bases.
- Utilize the elders God has set over the flock to help relieve the burden of ministry
- Don’t neglect your family. You won’t be a good pastor if you are not shepherding your family well.
- Remember that God will provide and meet your needs.
This is not law, and I don’t intend it to be. I realize that each situation, culture and context is different. However, as I look at it, is seems that the ideal situation is to have a full-time pastor supported by the church. But this is The Front Porch, and as always, happy to hear your thoughts on this. C’mon up and let’s chop it up.