Pros and Cons of Bivocational Ministry
More and more pastors that I talk to nowadays are serving as bivocational pastors. And more and more churches are hiring bivocational pastors. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it simply means that a pastor has 2 jobs or 2 vocations – their ministry job and another part-time/full-time job. Personally, I know pastors who work in a variety of different places – as chaplains, as landlords, as pharmacists, as welders, as store clerks, and much more. Personally, I serve as a pastor and a public school teacher. I enjoy doing both, and it has worked out well for our church.
As with anything, however, there are both benefits and drawbacks to hiring a bivocational pastor, and each church/pastor must decide whether it is the right fit for their situation. Although being bivocational has been great for me and for Main Street, it isn’t for every church, nor is it for every pastor. Here are some pros and cons that pastors and churches can think about when deciding whether to take the bivocational route.
More financial freedom for the church: Let’s be honest – the cost of living is high and only getting higher. And unless a pastor is very well off already, churches will need to pay pastors a considerable amount to make sure the needs of his family are met. In some areas, this could mean paying pastors a package ranging anywhere between $40,000 and $100,000 per year. For most churches, this is a lot of money. It’s money that could potentially be used for ministry events, buildings, new technology, advertising, and a plethora of other things. For churches that have bivocational pastors, one of the greatest benefits is that they are often able to spend money on some of these extra things. Although tough decisions still have to be made, churches usually don’t have to decide between paying the pastor and doing ministry. For churches with small budgets, paying a bivocational pastor frees up some money to make those decisions about.
Other bivocational staff can be hired: The single most helpful thing my church has done for me as a bivocational pastor is to hire other bivocational staff members at the church. This has been more helpful than any raise or other incentives they could have given me. Bivo-staff help take a burden off a pastor who is already stretched in a million different directions. They help by easing his load and by being there when he can’t. Know I know what you are thinking – Don’t 2 bivocational salaries equal 1 regular salary? Couldn’t we just hire 1 full-time person? Well, in some situations maybe, but not exactly. If a church agrees to pay a pastor as full-time, then they should make sure health insurance, life insurance, retirement, and other benefits are taken care of. Bivo-saff usually have these benefits from their other jobs, so churches needn’t pay them. Because of this, several bivocational staff can often be hired for the price of 1 full-time staff member.
Lay leaders must step up: As mentioned below, one of the drawbacks of having a bivocational pastor is that he can’t be there for everything. But this drawback also leads to one of the benefits – lay leaders must step up. Things simply won’t get done if church members don’t do them. And as lay leaders step up, it teaches them to lead, to use their spiritual gifts, and to rely on God. It teaches them to be true ministers of the church.
Financial freedom for the pastor: This may seem a little selfish, but I know many pastors who live in fear of business meetings. I know many pastors who are afraid to upset certain people in the church because they are the biggest givers. I know many pastors who constantly worry about what will happen to the church finances when as their older members begin to pass away. Without a doubt, these are concerns for bivocational pastors too, but at least a bivocational pastor’s livelihood is not at stake if these things do happen. He will still be able to feed his family, and he will still be able to find the place God is calling him to next without having to rush into something just to have an income.
You can’t always be there when people need you: Sally Sue is having surgery tomorrow. Betty Boop’s mother just passed away and the funeral is Friday. Johnny Joe is having his 100th birthday party next week. Courtney Cool is having a baby on Wednesday. No pastor can ever be there for everything – full-time or bivocational. But for bivocational pastors, it is hard to be there for much of anything other than church functions. My job will not simply allow me to leave whenever I want to simply because I am a pastor. I cannot always go to funerals or be there for surgeries, no matter how much I care and want to be there. So if that is something that your church needs and expects, then you probably need to go ahead and find a way to pay for a full-time guy. If not, then don’t expect a bivocational pastor to be there every time you stump your big toe.
There is never enough time: So this kind of goes along with #1, but it probably affects the pastor more than the church. Preparing for sermons, preparing for Bible study, staff meeting, business meeting, committee meetings, discipling new members, and all the things that go along with being a pastor. Plus: Lesson plans, grading papers, making tests, SLT’s, PGP’s, calling parents, and all of the things that go along with teaching school. Plus: Date night with my wife, dinners with my family, yard work, music together classes, birthdays, holidays, and all of the things that go along with being a part of a family. There is never enough time. Things are sometimes neglected. Things are sometimes forgotten. And unfortunately for many bivocational pastors, the one thing that is most needed – time with God – is often the thing most neglected. It’s a hard balance, but it can’t be done. Bivocational pastors just need to keep in mind they can’t do everything and can’t be everywhere. They must rely on others in their church and in their family to help them do it.
Feeling of inadequacy: Since there is never enough time and things are often neglected or forgotten, the bivocational pastor can often feel that he is inadequate. He will regularly feel that there is something more he should be doing for the Kingdom of God. He will often ask if he should step out on faith more and trust God to provide for a full-time ministry. And at times, he will wonder if his calling is somewhat diminished because of his bivocational status. Of course deep in his heart he knows that his call is to follow Christ wherever he may lead, and that at this moment this is right where God wants him to be. Deep down he has faith that God will work despite his inadequacies. But still there are going to be moments of question, moments of doubt, and moments of insecurity.
The danger of relying on yourself more than on God: This is almost a direct contradiction to #3, but some bivocational pastors are in danger of trusting themselves more than God. I have my own finances and can support myself; therefore, I don’t need to listen to anyone else’s guidance about the budget. You don’t pay me enough to do that. Occasionally, bivocational pastors even fall into the trap of not relying on God’s provision. I can provide for my own things and my own way. I don’t need God. Undoubtedly these attitudes are dangerous, but they can easily creep up on bivocational ministers.
These are just some of the advantages and disadvantages of bivocational ministry that I have seen since working at Main Street Baptist Mission. For me and my church, the pros far outweigh the cons. But for some churches and some ministers, the cons will outweigh the pros. Every situation is different and many factors must be considered. I hope that this is some help to those of you who are considering bivocational ministry as ministers and as churches.