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When Churches Transition to Bivocational Ministry

What changes occur when a church transitions from having a fully funded pastor to a bivocational pastor?
This is a topic that needs to be studied further because it is a scenario that is happening across denominations and is likely to increase in the years to come.

In the past few years, I have seen several churches make this change. Sometimes the change went well; others times it did not work out well for the pastor, the church or both. My observations have led me to a few conclusions about this transition.

One of the first things that has to change are the expectations that the church and pastor have about ministry.

I met with one church whose current pastor was moving from being fully funded to bivocational, and we talked about how the congregation would have to step up and assume some of the ministry responsibilities the pastor had been doing.

This conversation is vital because one of the dangers in this transition is that the church begins paying a part-time salary and continues to expect full-time service.

If the pastor has begun working another job, he or she simply isn’t able to continue to provide the hours the church used to expect. 

Either the congregation has to take over some of the ministry responsibilities or they need to let go of certain ministry efforts.

Some churches find this to be very difficult because they fail to understand the role of the pastor and their own role in ministry. 

Whether the pastor is fully funded or bivocational, it is not his or her responsibility to do all the work of ministry anyway.

Ephesians 4 makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. The pastor is not to do ministry while the congregation sits in the pews and evaluates.

The pastor is to train and equip the congregation so everyone in the church is involved in ministry according to their gifts and passions. 

That is the only way our churches will ever significantly impact their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, it is not only the churches that struggle with this transition; many pastors have a problem letting go of ministry.

Most pastors enter the ministry with a desire to help improve the lives of people. 

Pastors have a servant’s heart and may feel that because they have been trained to do ministry in seminary, it is their responsibility to do it all. Some may feel that doing it themselves is often quicker and easier than training others.

If they do transition to being bivocational, pastors may find it hard to give up some of the ministries they’ve been doing. 

Even with another job that requires 20-40 hours a week, they might still try to do all the ministry their churches need done if they are not able to accept the role of an equipper.

If that happens, their families, their ministries and their own well-being will suffer.

Although the church I mentioned earlier seemed to understand that they would have to become more involved in ministry if their pastor became bivocational, it didn’t work out that way.

Problems soon began to surface when the expectations they had of their pastor did not change when he became bivocational. 

Within a short time, he left that church because he could no longer meet their expectations and work another job.

Though it is a challenging process, many churches have successfully transitioned from having a fully funded pastor to a bivocational pastor.

A lot of honest dialogue between the pastor and church is required as well as a willingness of both parties to see ministry done in different ways.

Most important, pastors have to assume the role of an equipper, and congregations have to be willing to become more personally involved in ministry.

Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.