As people who are led by the Holy Spirit and continually asking “What is the Father doing?” it’s easy to find ourselves in unexpected places. In August of 2018, after 17 years of working in full-time ministry, I found myself where I never expected: working once again as a full-time public school teacher. I didn’t leave pastoring behind. I simply embraced a bi-vocational ministry.
In the past, having to work outside of the church has often been seen as less desirable and a distraction from being able to attend to the duties involved with leading a church. Generally accepted wisdom for church planting seems to encourage planters to work hard to get the church to a size that will allow them to come on paid staff either partially or in full.
I believe the future of church planting, especially in small towns and urban areas, requires us to view bi-vocational ministry as something to celebrate rather than discourage.
For me, becoming bi-vocational wasn’t a desperate move born out of necessity. It was a choice. One that seemed to align with who God made me to be and what he is doing now in my life.
Being a pastor who is bi-vocational and in the marketplace is clarifying and reshaping my perspective of a world that is rapidly changing. I believe the future of church planting, especially in small towns and urban areas, requires us to view bi-vocational ministry as something to celebrate rather than discourage.
But, isn’t it hard work? Yes. Yes, it is. Yet, in the few months that I’ve been living a bi-vocational life, there are three essential commitments that have helped me to thrive:
For bi-vocational ministry to work, you must have people who come alongside you to help. There’s no way to do it on your own. My wife DeDe and I are co-senior pastors. She and I share the responsibilities of preaching, leading, cleaning, and doing whatever else pastoring a small church requires. I couldn’t do it without her.
We also have committed members who lead and help out in a variety of ways. We believe we’re to do what Paul tells us in Ephesians, to equip the saints to do the work of ministry and build up the church, so we pursue raising up co-laborers. It doesn’t have to be a spouse, but you do need people who will come alongside you and help carry the weight of ministry.
I can tell you that working full-time outside of the church has helped me see just how busy our lay people really are. Weekends and days off are precious commodities. Pastors often lament the lack of involvement of their people in small groups and events. Truth is, most of our people aren’t uninterested; they’re just tired.
If we’re honest, there are many things with which we fill our calendars that don’t have anything to do with the vision God has given for your church and its context. Simplifying means prioritizing energy and events that are aligned with the mission and calling of the church.
It is difficult to say “no” to good things, but your church will surely benefit from doing less and your people will likely thank you for it.
I struggle with routine and discipline. There, I said it.
When I started my new schedule for teaching, I used that opportunity to also integrate a new regiment of soul care. I go to bed at the same time each night. I get up early enough to do my devotions, prepare for the day, and exercise. I also utilize my commute for study and reflection. Having margin doesn’t mean working harder; it means being intentional. I can say that this has been one of the most significant changes I’ve made. Even though I am busier than I was working full-time in ministry, I feel like I have more energy and inspiration than ever.
I am a believer in the benefits of bi-vocational ministry. Being outside the church is helping me to see more clearly how much God loves people. It’s not easy, but if it’s the right thing at the right time for the right reason, then the Lord will be there to carry you through.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.