Skip to site content

Why Many Pastors Will Need to Reinvent Themselves

One of the problems impacting the ability of some ministers seeking to find a place to serve is the growing numbers of churches that are becoming bivocational.
My region currently has many more bivocational churches seeking pastors than we have fully funded churches seeking pastors. 

We also have some churches who have recently lost their fully funded pastor and have decided to call a bivocational minister.

This is happening across denominational lines and in increasing numbers. Frankly, many of these churches struggle to find someone willing to serve as their pastor.

As I share this reality with pastors, many react with much fear. Last week, a pastor confessed to me that he was afraid he would have trouble finding another fully funded church to serve and didn’t know what he was going to do. He said he had no training to do anything but pastor a church.

It’s a comment I’ve heard from numerous pastors in recent years. In a few cases, I’ve been able to help them identify other things they can do to earn a living, but others insist they can’t do anything but be a pastor.

I fear for them if they ever leave their current ministry or if their church joins the growing numbers of churches who ask their pastor to become bivocational.

Some ministers take the attitude that God has called them into the ministry, they have completed their education, been ordained and therefore should be guaranteed a fully funded ministry position. 

Maybe that was an assumption that could be made in earlier times, but it is not a safe one for today.

I believe many of the churches of tomorrow will be smaller and seeking bivocational leadership. 

If I were a young pastor today, I would be looking at what I needed to do to develop marketable skills that would supplement my income as a bivocational pastor and not depend on my seminary degree and denomination to guarantee me a fully funded church.

I served as a bivocational pastor for 20 years before leaving that pastorate to accept my current ministry as a resource minister for the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.

During my 30 years in ministry, I have also worked in a factory, owned and managed a small business, led conferences and workshops for various denominational groups, taught an online course for a university, published books and worked as an auctioneer.

Over the years, I have met hundreds of other bivocational ministers who have worked various jobs in addition to having very successful ministries. 

Because of these experiences I have little patience for those ministers who tell me they just can’t do anything but pastor a church.

The reality is they don’t want to do anything but pastor a church. That’s OK, but another reality is that they may not have a choice if the numbers of churches seeking bivocational ministers continues to grow.

If that happens, many pastors are going to have to reinvent themselves and become bivocational ministers or leave the ministry completely.

This may seem like a negative article, but it is not intended to be negative. I regularly hear from bivocational ministers who tell me how much they enjoy bivocational ministry.

Some of these came from fully funded churches and have found new freedoms in being bivocational.

The subtitle of my first book was “The Joy of Bivocational Ministry,” which described the joy I had in serving my bivocational church.

If pastors have to be dragged kicking and screaming into bivocational ministry, and they become bitter and resentful about it, they are unlikely to find bivocational ministry very rewarding and joyful.

That is why I think many need to be thinking today about what they can do outside the church to provide for their families and explore how they can get the skills and knowledge to do something beyond ministry.

Given the growing numbers of churches that are becoming bivocational, it might be wise for ministers to proactively prepare themselves if they find they need to become bivocational. 

There will always be fully funded churches who need pastors, but these will be the churches that find it is a “buyer’s market” when the time comes for them to seek a new pastor.

If a minister wants to ensure he or she has a ministry in the future, now is the time to consider the option of becoming bivocational and preparing for that possibility.

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.