Most articles I read about bivocational ministry focus on the challenges often found in this approach to local church ministry.
Having served as a bivocational pastor for 20 years and working with many bivocational churches for an additional 15 years as a judicatory leader, I am well aware of the many challenges.
However, I have also learned that bivocational ministry provides many advantages to the church and to the minister.
There are at least five advantages for congregations:
1. Longer pastorates are often possible.
Studies find that longer pastorates often result in more productive ministries. In my research, I have found that bivocational ministers tend to remain at their churches longer than fully funded pastors.
2. Smaller churches can receive quality ministry.
For decades in the area in which I live, most of the smaller churches depended on seminary students to serve as their pastors. While these young people were eager, they seldom stayed more than two or three years.
These churches lost out on having mature pastors who could provide the kind of ministry and leadership they needed.
A bivocational approach could offer a constructive alternative to congregations in similar circumstances.
3. Bivocational ministers have relationships with “unchurched” people.
As a bivocational pastor working in a factory, I was in the midst of our mission field every day. It gave me an opportunity to minister to them that other pastors might not have, and this allowed our church to have an impact on their lives.
4. Lay people are more involved in ministry.
This is a necessity if bivocational ministry is going to work in their church because their pastor is not always going to be available. The more people who are involved in ministry, the more effective the church’s efforts are going to be.
5. More money is available for ministry.
Smaller churches that try to keep a fully funded pastor often pay a large percentage of their income for the salary and benefits package of their minister. This leaves little money for ministry, and this reduces the church’s impact on their communities.
There are also some advantages for the minister who is bivocational. Here are five:
1. The minister can enjoy greater financial security.
I’ve known fully funded pastors who allowed themselves to be intimidated by their congregations out of the fear of losing their income. They had families to support and other financial obligations.
I always knew that if the church decided to terminate me, I would be going back to my other job the next morning, and on Friday I would receive a paycheck.
2. There is greater freedom in ministry.
This is closely connected to the above advantage. I could say things and take positions that some of my fully funded colleagues couldn’t. I could take more risks and try things that I believed would benefit our church.
3. Being bivocational helps keep the pastor fresh because he or she is doing different things.
A bad day at church could be offset by a good day at my other work and vice versa. I was also always learning new things by having two careers, which helped keep my mind active and inquisitive.
4. Families can benefit from longer pastorates.
I’ve always felt sorry for the families of ministers who move every three to four years. There is no time to put down roots. It’s hard to build relationships with others when you know you’ll be moving soon.
5. The minister can enjoy a great relationship with the church.
While I was always open to God’s leading, I never spent time looking to see what churches might be seeking pastors.
We served a church in the county where my wife and I were raised. We had roots here.
We had no interest in moving, which meant that I could concentrate on serving my congregation and building relationships with those folks.
For me, the advantages of being bivocational always outweighed the challenges that come with such ministry. I can truly say that knowing what I know today, I would still choose to be bivocational.
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. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
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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.