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Why We Envy Bi-Vocational Pastors

Why We Envy Bivocational Pastors

“Because (Paul) was of the same trade, he stayed with (Aquila and Priscilla) and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3).

“I had a right to be supported by the churches,” said the Apostle Paul. “But I did not exercise that right, but supported myself” (I Corinthians 9).

Some churches pay their ministers enough to allow them to quit their “day jobs,” as we call them, and devote their full time to the service of the church and the work of the Kingdom.

Other churches cannot afford that privilege. And some churches and pastors choose the dual arrangement for reasons of their own.

I remember the day when my church began paying me full-time. It was like dying and going to Heaven, I thought. For the first three years of our marriage, while pastoring a small church and then attending seminary, I worked in the production office of a cast iron pipe factory, worked in the office of a trucking line, and worked in the office of a soft-drink bottling company. Suddenly, all that went away when a church called me as pastor and paid enough to live one.

I loved the idea of being able to serve the Lord and His church 24/7.

All around us, however, are ministers—pastors and other positions of leadership—who, for one reason or the other, hold down outside jobs and serve the church at night and on weekends. We call them bi-vocational. What we do not call them is”part-time.” Ask their families. They’ll often tell you the parent works two full-time jobs, with the income from the church being partial.

Here are some reasons many of us admire and perhaps envy (just a tad) the bi-vocational pastor…

One. They are practically immune to the tactics of church bosses who would strong-arm them with, “Do this or we’ll fire you!” I say “practically,” because a) no minister likes to be put in that position and b) not every bi-vocational minister can live on the income from the outside job.

Two. They have a certain freedom in not being dependent on the church paycheck. My first pastorate—I was fresh out of college, clueless about pastoring, and eager for some experience before heading to seminary—paid me $10 a week. But my tithe to the church was $12. The numbers seem ridiculous now, but that was 1961-62 when a person could live on $100 a week.

Three. Ministers who work in the secular world have opportunities for evangelism they would not have if they were confined to the church office for many hours a day.

Four. When the bi-vo pastor enters the pulpit, he brings a certain credibility to his preaching as a result of having to earn his living the same way everyone else does. (Granted, this is not an issue for most people. But it matters to some.)

Five. They may have better financial resources to fund their retirement.

Six. They may also have health insurance which a small church would be unable to fund. These days, the cost of health care for a church staff can be a massive burden on the church budget.

Seven. They are motivated to disciple people and train volunteers since the pastor will not always be available to the congregation.

Eight. The pastor is automatically forced/driven out of his office and into the community.

More reasons to come—in just a second. But we interrupt this flow of “reasons we envy bi-vo pastors” to make two important statements…

  1. There are serious negatives to being a bi-vocational pastor, among them these: The minister may not be available when a church family needs him; often he does not get the seminary training he wishes he had and feels he needs; he thinks of a hundred things he’d love to do in the church but does not have the time, energy or means. So, there are serious limitations.
  2. Also! In no way are we saying that a pastor holding down an outside job is superior to the church paying him full-time. Even though some denominations make a huge issue of their not paying their ministers, Scripture says they should. (See I Corinthians 9, Galatians 6:6 and I Timothy 5:17-18.)

Nine. One bi-vo pastor pointed out that “the opportunity to model Christlikeness to everyone, to disciple a few, and to witness to many” was a constant plus for him.

Ten. A pastor who is no longer bi-vo says he misses the daily inspiration for sermons that used to come at him fast and furiously in the “working world.”

Eleven. Another formerly bi-vo man said, “I got to see first-hand who what I preached on Sunday applied and worked out on Monday.”

Twelve. The bi-vo pastor finds that he is being watched every day by co-workers and others. “I was held to a higher standard as a result of being bi-vocational,” one pastor said.

When my teenage granddaughter told me she was preparing for a career as an artist with the Walt Disney people, I told her about a man I had met who worked for Disney/Pixar. He told me, “It sounds like more than it is. The work is often seasonal, depending on whether there’s a movie in the works. So, we have to have other ways to supplement our income.” So I wrote to Darilyn to say, “Plan on having a day job!”

Ministers are not the only ones who have to juggle jobs and assignments.

(One more thing: Pardon the pronouns please. In my part of the world, all our ministers are male. But I am aware many churches have women in leadership, so please use any of this you can with our blessing. Thank you.) 

This article originally appeared here.