I frequently receive e-mails from bivocational pastors who tell me they feel lonely and ignored by their denominations.
Because of their other jobs, they often cannot attend pastor gatherings held during the daytime. Many tell me they seldom, if ever, see their denominational leaders.
I once asked a bivocational pastor who was seeking a move to another church if he had told his judicatory leader of his interest in moving.
He responded that he had been in his church for five years, and his director of missions wouldn’t know him if he walked into his office. I hear similar stories from bivocational pastors serving in numerous denominations.
As I wrote previously, it is essential for denominations to engage with and provide resources to bivocational ministers and churches because they are an ever-growing part of every denomination. Here are three ways they can do so:
1. Be present.
I had two area ministers during my 20-year bivocational pastorate, and both of them attended at least one worship service at our church during their tenures. One attended my mother’s funeral service. I spent time with each of them at various times in my ministry.
Some of those times, they assisted with issues we had in the church. Other times, they were leading workshops in our church or preaching revivals. I had an excellent relationship with both men and knew I could call on them at any time.
Our region also had three executive ministers during my pastorate, and all three of them preached in worship services in our church. My church and I felt very supported even though we were a small, rural bivocational church.
I was often asked how I got these folks to speak in our church, and the answer is quite simple: I asked them.
This is an important lesson bivocational ministers must learn. We can’t always place the blame on the denominational persons.
Now that I serve in that capacity, I can tell you that we normally go where we are invited.
If I have a free Sunday, I will go to a church I haven’t visited for a while, but I don’t have too many free Sundays.
I have 133 churches in my area so I’m usually committed to going somewhere just about every Sunday.
It’s not easy for me to just “drop in” on a Sunday. I understand a pastor’s frustration at never seeing or hearing from their denominational leaders, but sometimes you have not because you ask not.
2. Provide training.
Bivocational ministers run the gamut when it comes to theological education. I’ve heard from some that never completed high school to others who have doctorates. Some who have advanced degrees have them in fields other than theology or ministry.
Many bivocational ministers need practical ministry and theological training.
Few of them are going to be able to uproot their families and go off to college, seminary or both, so denominations need to find ways to offer the education and training they need.
Our region offers a program designed for both lay leaders and bivocational ministers.
These trainings were never designed to replace a seminary education, but it does provide solid, practical ministry training as well as an introductory theological education.
We see the need to expand this program and have increased the number of sites where it is offered to make it more accessible.
We’re currently exploring offering it online. I would advise any denomination to look into offering something similar.
3. Highlight bivocational ministry.
How often does your denomination showcase bivocational ministers? Does your denomination ever have a bivocational minister speak at its annual meetings?
Is the good work done in some of your bivocational churches ever recognized in your denominational newsletters or at your major gatherings?
Are bivocational ministers ever offered opportunities to serve on your regional boards or other significant denominational positions?
For a number of years, our region recognized “Church of the Year” churches. Similar size churches competed with one another for the award.
The church I pastored received it twice, and that recognition did much to encourage our small church.
As a bivocational pastor, I was asked to work with a number of our churches, both bivocational and fully funded, in a major capital funds campaign our denomination conducted one year.
At our region’s recent biennial meeting, a bivocational pastor was asked to speak to the gathering about some ministries their church was doing and the impact it was having on its community.
These types of public recognition are not always found in every denomination, but they should be.
Bivocational churches are growing rapidly across denominations. Many of them are providing wonderful ministry to their communities.
These churches and their pastors need support and encouragement from their denominations as well as the resources to take their ministries up to another level.
The denominations that offer such to their bivocational churches will flourish in the coming years.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
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.