Direction of the Church?
So is bi-vocational ministry going to become the norm? Is this the direction the church is headed—-away from traditional full-time ministry positions and toward a bi-vocational model? Although there will certainly always be full-time pastors, and even large teams of full-time pastors at some churches, as a whole the bi-vocational model is certainly becoming more common. In fact, as financial pressures increase and the church becomes less and less in the center of society in post-Christendom, even large churches with many staff people may consider moving some or all of their staff members to bi-vocational positions. Though staff members who enjoy their current positions might find this a bit scary, it should not induce fear, as there are many potential benefits to the model. Whatever feelings this truth brings about, the fact remains that the bi-vocational model is on the rise, and it does not appear that this will change.
There are two streams that feed the growing river of bi-vocational ministry. The first stream includes the increasing numbers of pastors who pursue this model out of necessity. Though they would prefer to devote all of their hours to working as a pastor, and to be paid full-time by the church, this is not possible either because the church cannot afford to pay anyone full-time or because the financial needs of the individual are greater than even a full-time pastoral job can provide. Financial pressures are exacerbated by small churches getting smaller (which is the trend in North America), decreasing the ability of the church to fully support a pastor, and also by rising costs of living (such as increased costs of health care). For pastors in this camp, bi-vocational ministry is their only choice if they want to serve or continue to serve in ministry. A growing number of pastors are entering this stream.
The second stream includes those pastors who are entering the bi-vocational life not out of necessity but as part of their plan for and vision of ministry. These folks have become convinced that not only is the full-time pastoral model not sustainable, but also that there are distinct advantages to being bi-vocational. They are seeking out creative ways to serve the church and to be employed in a “secular” profession at the same time. This stream is being “stocked” by many who are a part of the missional/organic/emergent church movements, particularly by those who want to plant a different kind of church—-a church centered around authentic Christian community and incarnational involvement in the culture. Church planters who are intentionally bi-vocational from the launches of their plants are becoming common. This decision enables these church plants to remain small and focused on fostering genuine community, without the pressures of fully funding pastoral salaries. In addition, working in the community enables these pastors to remain connected to that community and to the working world and its issues.
Though bi-vocationalism is growing, many will certainly remain opposed to the idea, saying that those who have been called to serve in ministry should devote themselves to this call, rather than wasting mental and physical energies on roles that are not as central to who they have been called to be. There are certainly truths to these and other arguments against bi-vocationalism, but it does not change the fact that this model of ministry is on the rise. The fact is that from the inauguration of the church there have been those who served full-time and were supported financially by the church, and there have also been those who served the church but also had other means of financial support; both of these models will probably always be in existence. Whatever one’s opinion of the model, in many ways the future of the church is bound up together with bi-vocational ministry, and it is essential that the church wrestle and come to grips with this truth.