Skip to site content

Asking Wrong Questions About Bivocational Ministry

Several seminary students contacted me in recent months to discuss bivocational ministry.
It’s always exciting to receive these calls because it’s an indicator of a growing recognition of the value bivocational ministry brings to the church.

As one caller worked down his list, I realized he was asking a lot of the wrong questions, which too many people are still asking about pastoral leadership and, especially, bivocational leadership.

One of his questions was, “If the pastor works in the church for 15-20 hours a week, who is at the church rest of the time?”

“Who says anyone has to be at the church the rest of the time?” I responded.

In larger churches with seven-days-a-week ministries, someone will be at the church every day. Most bivocational churches do not have those kinds of ministries.

In fact, the major ministry of a bivocational church won’t happen inside the church building.

It occurs in the workplace, community and wherever the members gather and touch the lives of people with the gospel.

Having someone sit in a church office in case someone wants to drop by is the mindset of a time that no longer exists.

Another comment the student made was that it seemed that bivocational ministry was a fairly recent development.

I shared with him that churches expecting to have a full-time seminary-trained pastor is actually a fairly recent development.

Prior to the 1950s, many churches were served by bivocational ministers. As this country was settled, it was bivocational ministers who served the churches that were established as people continued to move west.

Of course, bivocational ministry goes back even further than that. The apostle Paul was a tentmaker and supported himself through that trade, even while taking the message of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman world.

Today, we are seeing the pendulum swing back the other way, as more churches are moving back to having bivocational leadership.

Another wrong question often asked is, “If our pastor has an outside job, who will call on people in the hospital, respond to emergencies in the church and do other pastoral duties while he or she is at work?”

This assumes the pastor is supposed to do all these things, while the Bible (see Ephesians 4) assumes the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.

Many churches have found that one of the strengths of having a bivocational pastor is that more of the members are willing to do ministry because they realize the pastor is not always available.

A 50-member church with 25 who recognize that God has called them to minister to others and receive training to do so is going to have a much more effective ministry than if everyone sits around waiting on the pastor to do everything.

A very popular, but unhelpful question that churches ask, especially if they are transitioning from a fully funded to a bivocational pastor is, “How much do we need to pay?”

The underlying question is, “How little can we pay and still get someone?” My answer is always, “As much as you can afford.”

I believe that one reason some churches are dying is that they want to do everything as cheaply as possible.

They want to pay their pastor the least amount they can, give little or nothing to missions, spend nothing on facility maintenance and upkeep, and nothing on ministry in their communities.

It’s no wonder they can’t attract new people. Who wants to be a part of that kind of thinking?

The young man who called me seemed to be a very bright individual who will learn a lot about bivocational ministry through his research.

It is my hope that as more scholars study bivocational ministry and publish their research that many of the misconceptions people have about this ministry will be changed.

Those of us currently serving in this role can help by challenging the wrong questions we hear people asking and by helping them better understand bivocational ministry.

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.