The Challenge of a Bi-Vocational Pastorate

By Randy Bryant

Challenge! That word describes any ministry, but 40 to 50 percent of our pastors know a special challenge. These men face the unique demands of the bi-vocational pastorate.

Challenge in Concept

The bi-vocational pastor faces a challenge with the concept itself. Does “bi-vocational” really mean “part-time”? No! “Part-time” means that you are a church’s pastor part of the time. That term originated when pastors served a given church only on certain Sundays, maybe the first and third, or second and fourth.

A bi-vocational pastor is a full-time pastor who holds down another job to support his family. A full-time pastor who works an additional job 40 hours a week while fulfilling his God-given call to the ministry—a pastor who works another job on the side, not a businessman who pastors on the side.

The average church member has no idea what is required to be a “full-time” pastor and hold down an outside job. What they do know is that they want their pastor available in times of crisis, illness and times of sorrow. They deserve no less than this and the bi-vocational pastor’s challenge is to be there when needed.

The pastor must be creative in his scheduling—available to his people while dependable and honest with his secular employer.

Fellow pastors schedule many of their activities, meetings and programs during the day when bi-vocational men can not attend. This, many times, is just a matter of not being aware of the bi-vocational pastor’s schedule. In truth, the pastor working a second job probably needs the fellowship and “feeding” available at many retreats and conferences more than anyone since his schedule rarely includes free days for this type of event.

Sometimes, the bi-vocational pastor is not viewed as a “real” pastor and it takes special explanations to work with others such as hospital chaplains, funeral directors and local ministerial associations.

Does our denomination grasp the concept? Our reporting forms ask whether the pastor is “full-time” or “part-time.” Some church clerks mark “full-time” because their pastor is there every Sunday even though he works another job. The numbers may be higher than we realize.

Challenge of the Clock

Every pastor struggles to find enough time to accomplish all that needs doing. When you add a 40-hour week to the schedule of the average pastor, you can see how the challenge to attend the children’s school functions and ballgames, take your wife out to dinner, participate in local ministry efforts like Crisis Pregnancy Centers or nursing homes, and serve in denominational positions becomes nearly impossible.

However, if God has called you into the ministry, blessed you with certain gifts and also directed that you should pastor a church that requires you to work a second job, you have to find a way to do it.

Obviously, some things have to be sacrificed. Can it be your family? No. Can it be your church members? No. Can it be people in your town that need ministering to? Probably not. Can it be that you will not be able to serve your denomination at the district, state or national levels? Perhaps, perhaps not.

The bi-vocational pastor must become a master of prioritizing. There are some things only he can do. No one else can prepare his sermons, no one else can prepare his Sunday School lessons, and no one else can be his members’ pastor in times of crisis or illness.

However, some visits can be made by others in the church. Sometimes phone calls will have to suffice instead of home visits. Day time visits with shut-ins or activities with seniors groups in the church may not happen. This may not be the ideal, and it may not be the way he would choose to function, but it is reality.

There may need to be trade-offs with a secular boss in order to be at the hospital for Mrs. Church Member’s middle-of-the-week, middle-of-the-day surgery. Sometimes it’s tough to balance giving the secular boss your best and giving your members the time they need. It’s not a good testimony to shortchange the boss, and doing church work on his time is not fair to him. God is faithful, however, and will provide a way to accomplish what He has called you to do.

Compromises may need to be made with your family. Vacations may have to be an activity at the beginning or end of the trip to the national convention. You may have to get creative in finding time with your wife.

You may not be able to serve on local boards or attend those interesting seminars for pastors held on weekdays. Going to dinner with a family in your church on a weeknight may mean less sleep that night because you still have a sermon to prepare.

Benefits for the Bi-Vocational Pastor

It’s not a sacrifice though. One positive aspect is the opportunity to minister to people where you work. There will be occasions to minister to co-workers and bosses who attend other churches but need encouragement or advice. They see you every day, reacting in various situations, and after gaining their confidence, you will have opportunities to minister. They may never attend your church, but you can influence them positively for the Lord.

Sermon ideas and illustrations abound. Sometimes pastors are accused of not living in the real world, being disconnected from real people and their struggles. By being out there where they are every day, you experience and understand what they are facing. You see their struggles firsthand, and can speak to them.

Finally, the bi-vocational pastor will probably be able to make enough money to care for his family. He may have health insurance or retirement plans provided by his secular job. Some smaller churches would not have a pastor if he could not supplement his earnings with a secular job.

The bi-vocational pastorate is unique and challenging. It’s neither glamorous nor ideal, and many young ministers will be open only to “full-time” works. However, smaller churches must have pastors, too. God wants them to have a shepherd, to be cared for and taught just like larger churches. The bi-vocational pastor is essential to the existence of our denomination. It is a challenge that our men must rise to meet, accept and perform by the grace of God.

Article adapted from Contact magazine, August 1999.