I served as the bivocational pastor of a church in my hometown for 20 years.
After being called as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky, I worked with numerous bivocational churches.
Prior to retiring from that role, we began to see a number of churches and pastors shift from a fully funded (a.k.a., full-time) ministry to one that was bivocational.
Some churches and pastors were unable to make a successful change for a variety of reasons.
There are at least five challenges for a church shifting from having a fully funded pastor to calling a bivocational pastor:
The first is a sense of failure.
One of the biggest challenges for smaller churches is the poor self-esteem many of them feel.
When a church is no longer able to have a fully funded pastor, for whatever the reason, some in the church will feel as if the church has failed to live up to its calling.
Closely associated with this is the fear of what others will think.
There is a concern that the denomination may look at the church differently and begin to ignore its needs. There are also concerns about what other churches in the area will think of them.
In my work as a judicatory leader, I occasionally received emails from bivocational pastors throughout the country who felt their churches were being ignored.
While that may happen in some situations, my experience is that most denominations are not intentionally ignoring their bivocational churches. It’s often the case that the church is no longer calling upon the denomination for assistance.
A third fear is that ministry may not happen.
Many churches that transition to bivocational ministry are often smaller churches that depended on the pastor for much of the ministry that occurred. Their fear is that if he or she now works a second job, that ministry will not happen.
This is closely connected to the fourth challenge: reducing the salary but not the expectations.
The reality is that a bivocational pastor will not be as available as a fully funded pastor. Congregational members must fill the gap if the church wants to offer the same quality ministry as when it was led by a fully funded pastor.
The church will have to move from a pastoral care mindset to a congregational care mindset to make bivocational ministry work. Incidentally, that is a more biblical mindset anyway.
The fifth challenge is that of finding a bivocational pastor.
In some cases, the current pastor is able to transition into bivocational ministry, but not always. Although the need for bivocational ministers is growing throughout most denominations, the supply is still limited.
Bivocational ministers are most often found in the immediate area of the church. Few pastors are going to move across the country to serve in a bivocational setting. It often takes time to find a bivocational pastor who can lead a church.
One of the concerns I’m asked most often from pastors who are making the shift from being fully funded to bivocational is what kind of job they will do outside of the church.
I often ask them what they enjoyed doing before going into pastoral ministry. A second question I ask, if they attended college, was about their majors in college. That often reflected an area of interest in their lives.
This usually gives them some ideas of jobs to seek outside the church. Any reputable occupation is suitable for a bivocational ministry
The number-one challenge I’ve encountered with bivocational pastors is time management.
Pastors transitioning to bivocational ministry may find this an even greater challenge.
Former fully funded pastors often want to continue doing the same ministry they were doing before having a second career.
This leads to a major time management problem, which often means the pastor’s family and own personal self-care suffers while the pastor is trying to balance the demands of the second job and ministry.
A bivocational pastor can also struggle with identity issues.
Not every pastor is able to make the transition from being fully funded to bivocational. There are still some people, including some bivocational ministers, who question the validity of bivocational ministry.
I never questioned my calling to bivocational ministry so this was not an issue for me, but if a bivocational pastor begins to consider himself or herself a second-class pastor, he or she is unlikely to enjoy serving in this capacity.
Bivocational ministry is a calling from God just the same as the call to fully funded ministry. No one should feel inferior or less of a minister if this is the calling God has on your life.
I found it a rich and rewarding ministry that provided me the opportunity to use the gifts God had given me.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. His writings can also be found on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and you can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on bivocational ministry.
Previous articles in the series are: