The economic challenges facing future ministers was the topic of conversation during a recent gathering of clergy and laity that I attended.
The conversation was both broad and deep, for each person brought unique experience and perspective to the table.
As is the case with most initial meetings, our first task was to introduce ourselves, describe our ministry contexts and share our connection to the topic.
I took my turn, as did the others, noting to myself that I was the only bivocational ministry professional in the room. It was interesting but not the reason I’d been invited to participate.
This did not seem to be a big deal until another member of the group stated emphatically, “Bivocational ministry is impossible. There is no such thing as part-time.”
My brain immediately began to swirl and spin. “How could it be impossible?” I thought to myself. “I was doing it every week. I serve a congregation as a half-time co-pastor, and I direct a grant project for Central Baptist Theological Seminary part-time. Not only that, but I enjoy a fulfilling social and family life outside of work. I love what I do and how I do it.”
This comment and the conversation that followed led me to reflect further on my experiences.
There are four reasons why I believe that bivocational ministry is not “mission impossible.” Perhaps these can encourage others who are currently bivocational or are considering this possibility.
First, I embrace variety as the spice of life.
I rarely experience two identical days or weeks, so I do not get bored. There is no sense of drudgery or “same stuff, different day.”
I delight in preparing sermons and preaching and am privileged to do that every other week.
I enjoy the academic environment of the seminary and spend one day a week on campus.
I plan and manage events and meetings well, so I’m glad to do that in both contexts. I appreciate authentic conversation and extended time with other persons on a journey with God.
I get that opportunity in congregant homes, hospital rooms, coffee shops, classrooms and CBTS President Molly T. Marshall’s office. Truly, there is never a dull moment.
Second, I relish the freedom and flexibility to be part-time.
The church does not own me, so I can set boundaries and limits on my schedule. Not only is this good for me, but it is also good for the congregation to learn and practice healthy boundary setting.
I am not tethered to the church office or to lots of evening meetings because I am simply not available all the time.
Similarly, my seminary position allows me to work from anywhere on most days, so, once again, I am rarely tied to a desk or office.
Because of its flexibility, I can still manage the occasional church emergency or funeral.
For my own sanity, I map out my weeks with days designated for church and days designated for seminary. But, if things do not go as planned, it’s no big deal.
Third, I prioritize self-care instead of just wishing I had time for me.
The necessity of self-care can’t be overstated, especially for those called to vocational ministry. Caring for others is fulfilling but also draining.
Working hard for God and the church is fantastic unless there is nothing left at the end of the day.
I choose to care for myself, my marriage and my family in the following ways:
I spend one day a week with just my husband and another with the entire family. I see a nutrition/weight management coach weekly and work out at the gym daily. I read fiction, rent movies, play Words with Friends, post to Facebook and chat on Skype.
All these things bring me joy, so I make them part of my routine. I take care of myself so I can be effective caring for others.
Fourth, I refuse to feel guilty about having or spending money.
I’ve experienced firsthand the old church mantra, “God, you keep the minister humble, and we’ll keep the minister poor.” Too many congregations operate by that principle.
While I am not an advocate for gross wealth or a lavish lifestyle, I think it is OK to live in a nice home and shop in the same department stores where my congregants shop.
One big benefit of bivocational ministry is an income stream independent of the church budget. I think this is good for me and the congregation.
It allows me to earn what I deem necessary for my family, and it prevents my personal finances from being overly scrutinized by church members. Bivocational ministry grants a measure of financial freedom.
The list could go on, but if you are exploring this option for your church or your ministry, fear not. Bivocational ministry is “mission possible.”
Angela Jackson is project director for Economics of Ministry: From Classroom to Congregation at Central Seminary and the co-pastor of Gage Park Baptist Church, an American Baptist congregation in Topeka, Kansas. A version of this article first appeared on her CBTS blog, Dollars and Sense, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @pastorangie43.