When folks in ministry circles learn that I serve bivocationally in the contexts of a local church and a theological school, they inevitably ask, “Did you choose bivocational ministry?”
Implied in the query perhaps are the assumptions that I was incapable of landing a full-time ministry gig and thus settled for the second-class option. Neither rings true for me.
I am completely confident that I have the skills and gifts required to score a full-time position, but at the same time I do not regard bivocation as below me.
In fact, I never sought a solo pastorate, instead choosing from the beginning to be a member of a ministry team.
While some ministers voice their beliefs in a specific call “to” bivocational ministry, I was called “by” bivocational ministry. It beckoned me by speaking to my passions and gifts, which are diverse and useful in a variety of settings.
Bivocational ministry affords me the unique opportunity to serve in two communities, to learn from two communities and to grow with two communities.
I was chosen by this ministry model, and to be effective I must also make the following choices, which offer insight into bivocational ministry for those who might be considering this approach:
1. I choose to communicate.
The need for clear and frequent communication cannot be overstated. Certainly, I must employ excellent communication skills to be an effective minister and project director, but even more important, I must clearly delineate my work schedule and availability to each vocational context.
Both church and seminary need me to help them understand the nature of this balancing act called bivocation. Communicating well facilitates understanding for all parties connected to and touched by my ministry.
2. I choose to commute.
My particular positions of service are located in different cities about an hour’s drive one way, and I live in the city where my congregation resides. Living near one vocation necessitates commuting to the other.
While I am glad that I am not required to fulfill rigid office hours at the seminary, I enjoy the time spent on campus, and I relish the one-hour drive.
Time in the car is time well-spent preparing for the day to come and reflecting on the day just passed.
Driving allows me much-needed quiet, alone space to decompress and then gear up for evening family commitments.
3. I choose to compromise.
The art of compromise is perhaps the primary skill needed to serve bivocationally. On occasion, my two positions (thus, my passions) clash with one another. Schedules sometimes overlap; considering the distance, I must choose between the seminary and the church.
Most of the time these choices are simply a matter of where I want to be present; sometimes I have congregational functions on days when I’d really like to attend an event at the school and vice versa. In these instances, I choose thoughtfully, and then I communicate.
4. I choose to connect.
Community is at the heart of the gospel, so connecting with others must be a priority. Making connections is challenging for bivocational ministers.
Pulled in multiple directions, compelled to make difficult choices regarding time and resources and stretched to the limits by others’ relational needs, it would appear that bivocation precludes connection. I disagree.
I recognize the necessity in my own life to be a part of meaningful, authentic community so I choose to cultivate relationships within congregation and seminary.
Because I have strong connections in each context, I am healthier and better able to fulfill my call.
I am bivocational by choice and believe it is an important approach to ministry that others should consider choosing.
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.