A controversial take on bi-vocational ministry

I had a brief chat the other day and my take on bi-vocational ministry was called controversial. So, here’s a very brief explanation as to why I believe what I believe. Bi-vocational ministry isn’t ideal!

Bold statement! There are contexts where bi-vocational works wonderfully. I’ll be honest and say I’ve not heard of tons, but they do exist. So why would I say that bi-vocational, by in large, isn’t ideal?

Bi-vocational ministry insinuates that there is a cutoff time for those in ministry. However, in reality most pastors work beyond their contracted hours. It’s kind of what you sign up for. Most pastors know that they will work beyond their contracted hours. But I worry that the same expectation is there for bi-vocational guys that would simply lead to them overworking and running themselves into the ground.

Ministry isn’t a 9-5, it’s not the kind of job that you keep on the side because pastoral ministry involves people and there’s no way you can simply ignore people from a certain time onwards. The only way bi-vocational ministering can work, in my view, is if the person is responsible for certain ministries, rather than people.

Ministry is about sustainable sacrifice! There will be and I would argue that there should be sacrifices in every ministers life, but the key question to ask is; are the sacrifices sustainable?

The sacrifices that we take in life, in order to minister well to our people, must be able to be maintained in the long term. If they’re not then a pastor can burnout, get run down or see themselves as a saviour (which is totally wrong and the exact opposite of what a pastor should be doing).

I’m addition to that, for bi-vocational ministry to work a person needs to be able to have a second job that’s flexible. That kind of cuts off a lot of other jobs. I don’t know many bricklayers who can choose to work part time or lawyers, cashiers, or doctors. There aren’t many jobs that will allow the kind of flexibility to enable someone to be a part-time pastor.

My view is that bi-vocational ministry isn’t ideal, I don’t think it’s sustainable. Sure, there are ways to make it work if it’s necessary for whatever reason, but I don’t think that it does the pastor or the church a favour.

3 thoughts on “A controversial take on bi-vocational ministry

  1. Thank you for this. It is good to know that someone understands this. I would only add that a pastor’s ministry also suffers when his wife has a job outside the ministry in the home and church too. I think this is much more of a problem than we talk about.

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  2. I’ve been bi-vocational for the majority of my 20+ years in ministry, although I am now full-time for our church. I think solving the issue you raise is not as hard as you think, but it reveals expectations around what the pastor ‘should’ do and how successfully a church can collectively engage people in body ministry. The next key is setting a sustainable pace. Moving slower is OK.

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