Local Church Ministry

Bivocational on Purpose

When most ministers think about serving in a bivocational role, the majority do so for one specific reason – financial necessity. The church or ministry organization operates on a modest budget and simply cannot afford a full-time pastor or ministry leader. Therefore, many pastors must work a second job to provide for their families. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing so. After all, a pastor has a biblical responsibility to provide for the needs of his family. 

Financial necessity has been the primary reason I have served bivocationally for nearly 90% of my time in ministry leadership. I worked as a data analyst in the healthcare industry for half that time, and I served in a dual ministry role for the other half. The bottom line is I have done so because I had to, like so many of my bivocational brothers.

In other situations, pastors and other ministry leaders have chosen to serve in a bivocational capacity. While their ministry organization had the resources to provide for their family, they have discovered strategic reasons for intentionally having a second source of income. In other words, they are bivocational on purpose. Here are five reasons why some have chosen to do so:

  1. Allocates more funds for ministry. This is the most common strategic reason. When churches spend less money on personnel expenses, they can spend more on other kingdom purposes. Some ministry leaders choose to be bivocational so that those funds can be invested in fulfilling the Great Commission.
  2. Provides evangelistic opportunities. Church members may be surprised to discover that most pastors don’t spend a lot of time around lost people. Their time is consumed with the biblical responsibility to shepherd the flock of God. To do so, they must spend most of their time around other Christians. Therefore, some pastors take on a second job to intentionally be around lost people regularly in the hopes of sharing the gospel. In other words, some choose to be bivocational because doing so also allows them to be missional.
  3. Fosters courageous leadership. Suppose a pastor depends entirely on the church for the financial well-being of his family. In that case, he may lead differently than a pastor who has a separate, independent source of income. One who is not utterly dependent upon the congregation for his financial stability may be more willing to confront an influential church member who is openly sinning in some way and bringing shame to the name of the Lord and the church. He may be more willing to lead the church through a controversial but necessary transition of some kind. A pastor whose financial well-being is not solely dependent upon his congregation may be more likely to lead courageously when others may not.
  4. Promotes a model of servanthood. Church members are busy. Church members who work full-time jobs are very busy. Sometimes, church members cite their busy schedules as a reason why they can’t serve in the church. When encouraged by their full-time pastor to follow his example of serving the Lord, these church members may respond that the pastor is expected to serve in the church. After all, it’s his job. However, it’s difficult to respond the same way to the bivocational pastor. If he can work another job, spend quality time with his family, and pastor his church, indeed, the busy church member can make time to serve as well. This was Paul’s rationale for securing a separate source of income through tentmaking. He explains in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9: “For you yourselves know how you should imitate us: We were not idle among you; we did not eat anyone’s food free of charge; instead, we labored and toiled, working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It is not that we don’t have the right to support, but we did it to make ourselves an example so that you would imitate us.”
  5. Reduces unnecessary obstacles. Sometimes, I hear the accusation – usually from those outside the church – that pastors are only in the ministry for the money. However, most people would retract that statement if they saw the average full-time pastor’s salary! Still, two of the biblical qualifications for a pastor are pertinent to this accusation. First, pastors are not to be greedy (1 Tim. 3:4) and also should “have a good reputation among outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7). Because Paul was aware of this accusation even in his day, this is another reason why he would often serve as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3) instead of receiving financial support from those he served. He explained in 1 Corinthians 9:11-12: “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right; instead, we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ.” (emphasis mine) Paul understood that it’s much more challenging to accuse bivocational pastors of serving the Lord for financial gain than their full-time counterparts.

For some bivocational pastors, they must secure a second source of income for financial necessity. However, some pastors choose to do so for other strategic reasons. They are bivocational on purpose.

Regardless of your reasons for doing so, if you are a bivocational pastor or ministry leader, I want to say thank you. Your faithful service to the Lord is appreciated. I know your labor is not easy, but I also know it is not in vain. May the Lord continue to bless you as you continue to serve Him!

Photo by Matt Bero on Unsplash

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