What are potential pitfalls?

Despite the many potential benefits of bi-vocational ministry, there are also several potential pitfalls or dangers associated with this model, and these must be given attention and thought.  The truth is that most of these potential problems are also a danger in full-time ministry, but these are particularly dangerous in bi-vocational ministry.  These potential problems include:

Overwork.  When two jobs are on the plate, and when one is passionate about one or both of these jobs, overwork is a real danger.  It is far easier for bi-vocational pastors to become workaholics and for no one (except their families) to realize this, for they are splitting time between two workplaces.  Beyond this, many churches expect full-time hours for part-time pay, so overwork can become a pressing issue quickly.

Divided focus.  This is an obvious pitfall, since pastors who work bi-vocationally have their minds in multiple places by necessity.  This divided focus has the potential to keep these pastors from being truly effective in any single role.

Time management issues.  One of the major dangers and pitfalls associated with bi-vocational ministry is related to time management.  There simply is not enough time in the day to pastor a Christian body, work another job, spend adequate time with family, take enough time to rest and recuperate, spend ample time in study and preparation for teaching/preaching/leadership duties, take care of one’s body, and make enough time for God in the midst of it!  Something has to give, and often multiple things give.  More often than not, this struggle ends up impacting the families of pastors negatively, since it is easier to slight those we are closest to and those we know love us.  This is why the second major item to be sacrificed is the pastor’s own relationship with Christ (again, because we know he loves us).  These are serious issues with even more serious implications, and bi-vocational pastors must deal with them proactively and consistently.

Exhaustion.  Even if time is managed wisely, exhaustion is still a major danger, as bi-vocational pastors are extending themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in serious ways.  Again, this is a danger for full-time pastors as well, but the additional job adds another level of challenge, particularly mentally and physically.  It is difficult to stay engaged in two workplaces and keep up with the added stresses and challenges without giving into exhaustion.

Not using gifts or education.  Though this is probably not the case most of the time, working bi-vocationally can lead pastors to feel that they are not using the education they have received (and often are still paying for), or that their gifts are wasted as they make coffee or haul packages or do whatever they do for another job.  Though some find great fulfillment in their “other” job, some find the work less than stimulating and experience frustration.  It seems the best way to counter this feeling is to find ways to intentionally minister and engage in missional activity through each role one fills.

Inability to live out or model healthy boundaries.  This is related to the time management dangers above; pastors who are over-extended or exhausted find it very difficult to maintain or model healthy boundaries, and such modeling is one of the roles of Christian servants.

Toll on one’s relationship with God and with one’s family.  Also related to time management, this pitfall is the most important and dangerous.  If we, as we serve God, find that we no longer have an intimate connection with Him, what a shame!  And if we forsake our families for the sake of any ministry opportunity, we have probably done more harm than good, though we have done it in the name of Jesus!  These are strong words, but this is not a danger to be glossed over.  Pastors, whether full-time or bi-vocational, must maintain clear structures and boundaries in their lives to ensure that these primary relationships remain primary.

Lack of self-care (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.).  With all the demands of the bi-vocational life, another danger is that an individual will not care for himself or herself.  The physical, spiritual, emotional, social, and intellectual health of the individual will take a back seat to the tasks that have to be done, and even if he or she is passionate about these tasks, this decision will take a very negative toll in the long run.

Lack of support and encouragement.  Based on the limited research into bi-vocational ministry, many report feeling a lack of support or encouragement, whether from their congregation, denomination, or family.  Bi-vocational ministry can feel quite lonely.  Because of this, bi-vocational pastors need to build into their regular rhythms time for relationships that will build them up.  Perhaps it is with another pastor outside of their context, or with a friend or family member who knows them well.  Whatever the source, most bi-vocational pastors will need to be intentional about investing in relationships that will encourage and support them in this difficult calling.

Difficulty finding second job that fits well with pastoring.  This final potential pitfall is one that will actually prevent many from sticking with bi-vocational ministry.  Either they cannot find a job that will support them enough that they can be bi-vocational, or the job that they find requires too much for them to remain bi-vocational.  It seems one of the major needs for the future growth of this model of ministry is for Christian servants to dream up what roles pastors who are called to serve in this way can fulfill.  I hope some of the testimonials on the site will spark the imaginations of those who visit the site, and that much discussion can be generated…