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General Essays > The Bivocational Pastor


(A Pastor for all seasons)

        Monopolizing the attention of the casual Christian today is the church planting entrepreneur. With flash and dash he captures the headlines with his high level success and unique approach to starting a church. However, these ministry mavericks make up only some of what is really happening in church planting today. The bulk of church planting is accomplished by men who do not capture any headlines or special attention and for the most part, work with little or no recognition. Apart from the sacrifice of these men and their families many churches would not be in existence today.

        DEFINITION OF BIVOCATIONAL MINISTRY

        Bivocational, as it relates to Christian ministry, refers to a man called of God to a ministry unable to support him or his family adequately. He must secure secular work that enables him to do spiritual work. Often it is to plant a church in a community with no clear gospel witness.

        A special breed of men; bivocational pastors willingly sacrifice to plant a church. Not everyone possesses the necessary qualifications. Gifted by God they enter a town without contacts or any nucleus and begin a church. Usually, this ministry is completed in two and a half to three years and the church planter moves on. One church planter observed, “If he stays much longer he destroys what he started.” The Apostle Paul, the master church planter, said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” (I Cor. 3:6 NIV)

        Bivocational church planters come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some are recent seminary graduates while a growing number are second career men. Older men sensing the call of God to leave their profession or business, go back to college to prepare for the ministry. These men offer a variety of experiences and maturity to the ministry of church planting. No matter where they come from, one thing is obvious: they have a definite call from God for the work of church planting. They are men with grit and determination to fulfill God’s calling on their life despite difficulties or obstacles.

        The primary motivation is a need for a gospel preaching church in a particular community but no available funds to support such work. This has always been the problem with plenty of opportunities in many communities without any gospel witness, but lacking funds to penetrate these communities. Self #30;supporting laymen also respond to the challenge and go to these unreached communities.

        A bivocational ministry for some is a calling, with others it is circumstance. Some men believe this to be the calling of God for their entire ministry. When a church comes to the point of supporting a pastor, the church planter packs his bags for another community to start all over. Others have a burden for a particular community and begin the church from scratch and work only until the church can support them.

        The bivocational ministry affords unique advantages. For example, it takes the financial pressure off a local situation enabling a pastor to minister in the

        community. In light of some recent scandals in Christian circles the bivocational pastor has helped reestablish integrity in the pastoral ministry. The community sees a pastor not preaching for money but supporting himself while ministering. It helps the community believe in the sincerity of the pastor’s motives. Some bivocational pastors discover that working outside the church helps them relate to secular thinking. In addition, their job may even provide a steady flow of contacts for the church.

        DEMANDS OF A BIVOCATIONAL PASTOR

        More than any other ministry, the bivocational pastor shoulders many demands. Church planting is more than a part time job with many things needing done; and usually the church planter can turn to no one for assistance. If he doesn’t do it, it just does not get done. Invariably, he and his family must set up for church services with little or no help from anybody. Then after the services of the day they must pack everything up for next week. A little of this goes a long way.

        The first thing demanding attention when the prospective church planter arrives in his target community is to find a job to accommodate his needs. This is his most difficult problem in the initial stage. The entire work of the new church depends upon the job he can find. Many church planters are not skilled in any marketable job. As one young church planter put it, “My seminary training did not prepare me to work in the marketplace.”

        Available jobs pay only $4 to $6 per hour which is not enough to support a young family. Few businesses will invest in someone who is not going to be permanent. Not only wages, but the time schedule presents a problem. Many jobs lack flexibility and the young church planter must work around his secular job schedule.

        The bivocational pastor, a self #30;starter, highly motivated and organized, squeezing as much out of each day as he possibly can. No part of a day can be wasted. A day off from his secular job means time spent in church work. It is not unusual for these men to work seven days a week all year. Vacations are few and highly unaffordable.

        “One of the difficult things,” one pastor reflected, “is seeing people give little or nothing while you and your family are giving everything.” To continue week after week demands a man know that God has called him. The average church plant does not experience super growth calling attention to itself. Some take years before they really become established. The church planter and his family are in for a long, difficult road if they are to see that church take root in their community.

        The pastor’s wife carries much of the burden. Working side by side with her husband, she experiences what he experiences. She sees her husband working hard at a secular job only to come home and work even harder at the church. Week after week she sits in the small congregation listening to her husband preach his heart out to the few people who make up the congregation. During the week, if she doesn’t work, she stays home but nobody calls her, few in the church and nobody outside bother finding out how things are going. Soon the glamour of the beginning days degenerates into gloom and discouragement. One pastor’s wife reflected, “Sometimes I feel like we’re being used by the denomination to fulfill their goals at our expense.”

        DILEMMA OF BIVOCATIONAL MINISTRY

        The contemporary bivocational church planter faces many dilemmas during his ministry. Perhaps the most unexpected paradox is that many people, particularly fellow pastors, do not view bivocation as a viable ministry model. Many feel a man is bivocational because he can’t get anything else or God is punishing him.Some try bivocation because they can’t get anything else, but God effectively weeds them out. Unfortunately many look upon these bivocational men as inferior to other pastors.

        Because of a secular job, bivocational pastors enjoy little fellowship with other pastors in the area. Special conferences have to be passed up because of the schedule.

        Another dilemma facing the bivocational pastor lies in the area of sermon preparation. “I don’t know,” one pastor confessed, “how often I have finished writing a sermon Saturday night and felt that if I had just one more day I could do so much better.” Another pastor said, “To be honest, I don’t feel I have adequate, quality time. Therefore, I have a sense of guilt when I preach that I’m not doing the best I could.If I just had more time.”

        With time at a premium the bivocational pastor makes the best use of the time at his disposal. To solve this time factor for study one pastor said, “I always carry my briefcase and put in a minute here and there as I get opportunity.”

        Reaching new families and convincing them to become part of a fledgling congregation represents another dilemma. Even people of the same denomination moving into the area are reluctant to become part of a small church group. They would rather support an established church with programs for their children. At times the bivocational pastor has the feeling of being cast adrift by his denomination. Working for the Lord and his glory, but a nagging sense of laboring without recognition plagues the bivocational pastor. A new missionary leaving for some foreign soil is enthusiastically supported and cared for while the church planter struggles to make it through the month.

        Someone in the community will ask, “Can’t your denomination help you?” And the church planter only smiles hoping that someday there will be enough help.

        An important initial aspect of church planting is meeting the needs of hurting people. Often the bivocational pastor misses opportunities that could be helpful for the church. One pastor said, “I missed an important event in the life of one of our church families because of my secular job. Apologies don’t always make up for it.”

        Sometimes after working all day at a secular job, the bivocational pastor finds little energy remaining for the work of the ministry. “Some days my secular work takes so much out of me I don’t have the energy or emotional strength to be my best and visit in the evening or do other ministry duties.”

        Then there is the lack of workers. No church can grow beyond its work force. Consequently, the bivocational church planter faces a most difficult job. That work force must be located and developed. Without secretarial or administration help the pastor must do the work himself. Or, his wife shares in the burden of the ministry.

        Church planting has become the vogue of contemporary evangelism. Care must be taken that it be viewed as a platform for systematic evangelism and not merely an evangelistic method.

        Lord, take the frayed strands of my day and weave it into a tapestry of acceptable service.