6 Realities & Trends In Bivocational Ministry

workers signI’m not a church planter. But I spent three days teaching at the Exponential West conference for church planters last week.

I’ve also never been bivocational. But almost all the teaching I did was with bivocational pastors – most of it tag-team teaching with Hugh Halter and Artie Davis.

So why was I there? The one thing we all have in common is the Small Church experience.

I had a great time sharing my story and the lessons learned along the way, and hearing their stories, too. Bivocational pastors have a lot to teach the rest of us.

Because of the chance to spend so much time together (over 10 hours of teaching and conversations) we all learned a lot about the current state of bivocational ministry and some trends we’re likely to see in the near future.

Here’s a recap of six of them.


1. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Rare

Most of the pastors in the world are bivocational. Always have been.

If you live and minister, as I do, in certain segments of the world where there are larger churches with full-time staffs, it’s easy to start thinking of that as the normal church and pastor experience. It’s not. It’s fine, but it isn’t normal. Bivocational ministry is how most of the world’s Christians are pastored.


2. A Bivocational Pastor Is Not Half a Pastor

Hugh Halter pointed out that, when 1 Timothy tells us “elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor,” it’s not because pastors are more important than others. It’s because bivocationality was so universal for leaders in the early church that the believers were encouraged to give an extra blessing to those who were making such extraordinary sacrifices for the church body. Double the sacrifice, double the honor. 


3. Bivocationalty Is not a Problem that Needs Fixing

The Apostle Paul was a bivocational pastor. In fact, some people still refer to bivocational pastors as tentmakers because it was Paul’s profession. Obviously, Paul’s ministry didn’t need fixing. There’s nothing “less than” about a bivocational ministry.


4. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Always Temporary

Many, maybe most of the bivocational pastors I talked to weren’t bivocational by choice, but out of necessity – and they were hoping it would be a very short temporary situation. But, just like many Small Church pastors expect their small size to be temporary, it often ends up being their regular state of ministry. We need to get used to the idea that bivocational ministry is more than a pit-stop along the way to full-time ministry, because…


5. Bivocational Ministry Is a Better Choice for Many Churches & Pastors

I learned a lot from Hugh Halter last week. I recommend his book, BiVo, for more good information of this topic. Hugh is bivocational by choice. And he makes some very strong arguments that it is often a better choice for many pastors and many churches, because being bivocational…

  • Allows for more money to go to hands-on ministry
  • Keeps pastors in touch with the unchurched and their real-world needs
  • Frees us from being trapped in the “ministry bubble”
  • Requires us to fulfill our biblical calling to train others to do the work of ministry
  • Makes the priesthood of all believers more of a reality, not just a theological belief
  • …and more

Artie Davis, whose church has grown to be quite large and could easily stop being bivocational, has also chosen to keep his janitorial business as his primary income source for many of the same reasons.


6. Bivocational Pastoring Is Likely to Become the New Normal

As I mentioned last week, in the post, My Church Is an Endangered Species, Unless…, one of the “unlesses” was that bivocational ministry may be a financial necessity for the survival of many small- to mid-sized churches in the coming years. That’s always been true for many churches in small towns, but it’s going to be more common in large population centers too. Demographic shifts and changes in why and how much people give will make bivocational ministry a necessity for many city and suburban churches if they hope to survive and thrive.


It’s Time to Sing the Unsung Heroes

Bivocational ministry has always been with us. And it always will. In fact, some of the greatest heroes of the faith, like the Apostle Paul, were and are bivocational pastors.

We’ll never know most of their names. But we can learn a lot from their sacrificial examples.

They deserve our support, our prayer and our fellowship.

If you’re BiVo, on behalf of the church I thank you for all you do. In the very near future, you may not be coming to our conferences to learn about pastoring, we may be coming to you.


So what do you think? What do you know about bivocational ministry that you can add to this list?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Caution Workers Above sign photo from Windy Winters • Flickr • Creative Commons license)


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21 thoughts on “6 Realities & Trends In Bivocational Ministry”

  1. I love this post! The one thing I’ve noticed about people my age in ministry is a lack of outside skills. It’s hard to be bivocational when you’re outside job is minimum wage. Some people can luck out and get an entry level job with higher wages and benefits, but it’s not always that easy.

    1. That’s a great point, Jordan. I remember when I was starting out in ministry, an older pastor encouraged me to develop a skill that would pay the bills outside of ministry, in case I needed it. In my youthful ignorance I his advice as a lack of faith, so I ignored it. Today, I would take his advice.

  2. Thank you Karl for this post. I think there is struggle within the church body in this regard as well. I believe some in the body would prefer that their pastor is available at any time – that their focus is on the church alone and not on another profession or business.
    I think Acts 6 gives bivo pastors some good advice in verses 3-4 “…We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Bivo Pastors need to be mindful to train up other leaders and give up some of the responsibility to them.
    Just a few of my thoughts as I have pondered what Bivocational pastoring might look like.

    1. Great point, Thorsten. The older generation wanted (and still wants) a full-time pastor and a stand-alone church building. It was considered a sign of permanence and respectability. And they were willing to give to make that happen. But I think that is changing.

      Younger generations don’t want to give to pay the pastor’s salary or the church mortgage. In some ways, that’s a healthier understanding of what the church is really all about. But it will also mean that the pastor and church will have to work better together to train up lay leaders, like you said.

      1. I believe we will begin to see movements when we commit to train all people to minister – some to pastoring alongside their career and others to ministry without the role of pastor/elder. We have 4 Pastor/Elders – all are BiVo. We are still working to train additional Pastor/Edlers with the dream of planting another church without needing giving for pastor salaries.

        Let’s keep working to train up leaders!

  3. Karl, I want to thank you for the article. I have been a bi-vocational pastor for more than 7 years now. When I said yes to the 16 people who asked me to be their pastor, I had no idea how I was going to work a job, be a husband, be a dad, and be a pastor. After I burned up every sermon I had ever preached in the first two months, I was really nervous. But on the other side of my ability was God’s ability. He has been so faithful to strengthen my hand for the ministry to which he has called me. I have seen God take my weakness, and make his strength perfect.
    Thanks again for this article and it’s encouragement.
    I really love your blog! It’s a big help!

  4. I have been “on Staff” as a bivocational Minister since 1965. As a Music Dir. Youth Minister, Supply Pastor, Sr. Adult &/or Educational Minister. Always advise young people who feel called to ministry to prepare to pursue a profession that will financially allow them to serve wherever the Lord permits. I see this trend growing as we enter a new NT era where the “church” & Christians are increasingly marginalized in our culture.

  5. I am a bi-vocational Unitarian Universalist minister and my concern is that it is not financially viable particularly if you are supporting a family. Also it means living without a number of essential benefits like health insurance, retirement. While I understand this is the reality and will only become more common, our seminaries and ministerial formation processes are not preparing either ministers or congregations for this new reality. As I financially struggle to make it and find additional income that will work with my ministerial schedule I worry about how many of us will be in need of the social safety net in order to get by. Here is my latest blog post on the reality of my bi-vocational life: http://www.scatteredrevelations.net/2014/10/when-all-choices-are-poor-making-it.html

  6. One thing I would LOVE to see more of, more intentionality, is conferences of this nature FOR the small established (non plant) church. Seems like there’s a lot of support out there for church plants and planters ( which is good), but that the support is limited to the planters…almost like, ‘ We’ll lend support and help if you are small BECAUSE you are a church plant.”. But not so much if you’ve been small for the last 20 years. Is it because ‘they’ think that with a new work there’s more of a chance with growth, so it’s a better investment? Not sure the reason myself. BTW if there was a said conference, I know who I’d suggest for the keynote speaker….

  7. Thanks! I became bivocational 14 years ago. I thought it was temporary until we could “turn things around”. It has been a struggle at times. I have had both church members and other pastors ask when I was going to be full time again. I admit, I see good in both ways. I appreciate your insights as always.

  8. Thank you so much for the point about not being Half a Pastor. I would add to that not being a Real Pastor. I’ve been in ministry in various capacities for 30 years and still get told that I’m not *really* a Pastor or that I wasn’t a Real Pastor of xyz church. I wonder exactly what I’ve been doing all these years? I finally got old enough to stop being devastated by such remarks.

    When I was appointed as Pastor of a Deaf congregation at the ripe old age of 20 yrs old, and still in Bible college, I was the center of debate among the theology students because I’m female. Interestingly, my circumstance was eventually sanctioned by an esteemed Professor who pointed out that I was ONLY pastoring a little church of Deaf people. So apparently it’s ok to be a young, female, bi-vocational Pastor as long as you minister to a numerically insignificant minority. 😉

    1. Woman, bivocational, deaf church… you hit a real trifecta there, Pam! God bless you and your church.

      Interestingly enough, it seems like the “not a real pastor” accusation for bivos is older than I thought. I was studying 1 Corinthians 9 for yesterday’s sermon and it seems like one of the reasons some people in Corinth denied Paul’s authority in the church was because he refused to take a salary. So even the Apostle Paul was called “not a real pastor” because he chose to stay bivocational.

      You’re in good company, Pam.

  9. Karl, I am the District Coordinator for small church development in our area of Southern Ohio. I have been a bi-vocational (multi-vocational might be more accurate) for all of my 36 years in ministry. I have your book “The Grasshopper Myth” and use it as I work with small congregations that are seeking to grow. I really liked this blog as I’m doing research for a white paper presentation I have to make next year. It speaks to the very real dynamic we see in the United Methodist rural churches I work with. On your recommendation I also just purchased BiVo. I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for your posts.

    1. I’d love to read your paper after it’s written. I’m grateful that this post and my book are blessing you and your churches. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.

  10. I have been Bivo for 50 years by choice. I know what the average person in the pew goes through in their daily vocation. I have known what it is like to go to work and be told you were being “laid off,” and what it’s like to tell someone they were losing their job. I am grateful for every minute of my ministry. Many things I would not understand if I didn’t know from first hand experience.

  11. What a great post! I have just finished my first year of being a bi-vocational pastor (I am also a teacher) and I was beginning to think that God calling me to two ministries was a mistake because of all the pressure on me to drop teaching and become a fulltime pastor (one person even said that “I serve two masters”). I love to teach students and love to preach for adults, and your post has made me realize that being bi-vocational has its advantages and I should not feel bad for wanting to do both of them. One advantage I see in being a bi-vocational pastor, is having the ability to see avenues in their other jobs (aside from pastoring) of where the church can be “Christ’s hand and feet”. I see needs in the school that our church can help with and I would have not known that if I was not working there. Thanks again for your insight.

  12. I have been in Full time ministry for years(20+ years). I am 43. Started Full-time at 15 as an evangelist. I am currently in a Full-time Pastorate Position of a Small Rural Church, Before that I was a Staff Pastor at a Larger Church but still I guess considered small (150-200). I have been Feeling the Pull to Learn a trade and become Bivo for a few years now. I can’t explain it. Our Church has grown from 15 to around 70 on Sunday mornings since I took it 6 months ago. My pay is not great, but with the parsonage is doable. The finances are growing but I am not sure it is a financial thing that makes me feel this way. Of course Finances do have some to do with it, just not the complete reason. I feel that it would give my family more security in the future, Be able to save for retirement etc. We have lived for years on a lower income trying to remain in Full time Ministry.

    Really wish that My wife and I would have learned a trade years ago. But i guess it is never to late. But I also feel like the direction the world is going in, and the change in outlook toward Christians, that Having a Career outside of Ministry may become Necessary for various reasons in the Future. I feel the “Holy Huddle” thing and it is just My wife and I…LOL. Sometimes I feel that I can relate, but at other times I feel Isolated and out of touch. I know I sound Like a Bipolar Preacher, But I assure you that I am not…LOL. I just feel like sometimes that our WHOLE life, livelihood, and existence is tied up in “The Church” to the degree that it sometimes feels unhealthy. Is that Wrong?

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