What are potential benefits?

There are many potential benefits to bi-vocational ministry, although it must be kept in mind that not all of these benefits will apply to every pastor or every situation.  But it is crucial for these potential benefits to be highlighted, for it seems that far more often over the past few years the potential pitfalls or drawbacks of this model have been focused on.  This is probably the case because until recently, the vast majority of those in bi-vocational ministry worked in that model out of necessity; if they had the choice, they would have been employed by the church full-time.  However, more and more pastors are choosing the bi-vocational life despite the challenges (see blog post here), in large part because of the benefits associated with this model of ministry.  These potential benefits include:

This model allows pastors greater ability to be in touch with and develop friendships with not-yet Christians.  This potential benefit alone may make the bi-vocational model worth all the challenges, for never before has there been a greater need for real followers of Christ to come in contact with those who do not know Him.  It is very difficult for today’s full-time pastor to find the opportunity to ever get outside the walls and relational boundaries of the church, so this exposure to and these relationships with folks who need Christ is priceless.

This model allows pastors to live in the “real” world and understand the practical struggles of people’s lives.  Because it is often difficult for full-time pastors to have deep relationships with folks outside the church, their teaching and leadership often reflects a lack of understanding of the practical struggles people face in their daily lives.  But the bi-vocational model allows pastors an intimate knowledge of the struggles faced by those they seek to serve.

This model follows the incarnational model of Christ.  Just as Christ humbled himself to become one of us, the bi-vocational model encourages those with theological education or training not to separate themselves by clinging to pastoral titles and prerogatives but to humble themselves in joining the regular working world.  This is not to say that those who do not work bi-vocationally are arrogant—-certainly not.  But the ability for bi-vocational pastors to closely identify with those they seek to serve follows the model of Christ who, though he was certainly distinct from us, became one of us in every way (except in sin).

This model can offer flexibility.  Many would argue that the bi-vocational life offers less flexibility, since it usually requires more working hours.  Yet some are finding that if a job outside the church can be found that offers some measure of flexibility, there is freedom as far as when those hours are worked.  In other words, one is not expected to be in an office from 8-5; rather, the work for each job gets done on one’s own schedule.  This is certainly not the case for every bi-vocational pastor or every job, but it is a benefit for some working in this model.

This model can enable one to pursue a range of interests or callings.  Again, some would see this potential benefit as a curse, since they do not desire to pursue multiple interests.  For others, though, this model enables them to serve in ministry but also work in the “secular” job market, either continuing in a job they enjoy or beginning a new venture in an area of interest.

This model can allow for greater financial independence, allowing for fuller transparency in preaching or leadership.  When the church is providing the primary paycheck, it is sometimes difficult for those charged with leading or speaking truth to that congregation to do so with full openness.  Sometimes pastors hold back without even realizing their reason for doing so.  With greater financial independence, pastors are able to be more honest in preaching and leadership, though certainly humility and consideration must still be practiced in exercising these roles.

This model can alleviate economic concerns for churches, allowing churches without the budget to support a full-time person to employ a pastor.  Quite simply, some churches are able to employ bi-vocational pastors but would not be able to financially support a full-time pastor.  Further, even churches that might be able to swing a full-time pastor are freed up through this model to hire multiple bi-vocational pastors, or to allocate their funds to other important ministries.

This model provides emotional distance for the pastor, freeing him or her from being superhero pastor.  Being bi-vocational often frees pastors from feeling that the church “owns” them and their time, or from feeling that they must always be working or on call, since they “work for the Lord.”  In a church environment where such expectations exist, being bi-vocational offers pastors some distance, and the ability to freely say that they are unavailable.

The following three potential benefits come from posts on David Fitch’s and JR Rozko’s blogs.  Read the full posts here and here.

This model breeds congregational participation in the life of a church.  Folks tend to “relax” or even disengage when there is a full-time or multiple full-time pastors on staff at a church, assuming those paid to work at the church will take care of the needs of the body.  The problem, of course, is that this is contrary to what the body by nature is supposed to be, with all members at work.  In the bi-vocational model, the congregation knows everything will not be taken care of by the staff person(s), and this breeds more participation.

This model guards against excessive organization and programming.  One of the ills of today’s church is its fascination with the “show.”  Somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that one of the greatest goods in church is “excellence,” and therefore we spend inordinate amounts of time ensuring that our services are programmed to perfection.  But as David Fitch says, “The gathering on Sunday instead must become an organic, living, liturgically driven encounter with the living God and His mission sending us outward.”  The bi-vocational model aids in accomplishing this, since there simply isn’t the time or manpower to over-program.

This model fosters a church culture that is outward focused.  Bi-vocational pastors themselves are pushed to have a mindset that is outward-focused, merely by the fact that they spend a good deal of time in the workplace.  They are also able to better model for their congregations how to live out a missional witness in all areas of life.  The entire culture of the church can change as a result of the mindset and priorities of those in leadership.