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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

The Times They Keep a Changing: Bivocational Ministry as the New Norm?

Most of the pastors in the world are bivocational.

That has always been true, asserts Karl Vaters, author of The Grasshopper Myth and Small Church Essentials.

Most people attend larger churches, so a larger multi-staff congregation is perceived to be the norm.

And, larger congregations still get most of the attention, tend to be more visible, are held as a standard for “success,” and promoted as the goal for every church.

It’s easy, then, to appreciate that a large congregation with full-time multi-staff ministers is the norm.

But, it’s not.

Bivocational ministry in smaller congregations is how most of the world’s Christians are experience church.

That’s not a bad thing.

Vaters offered the following insights on bivocational mininistry.


1. A Bivocational Pastor Is a Real Pastor

Hugh Halter pointed out that, when 1 Timothy declared “elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor,” it’s not because pastors are more important than others.

It’s because bivocationality was so universal for leaders in the early church that the believers were encouraged to give an extra blessing to those who were making such extraordinary sacrifices for the church body.

Double the sacrifice, double the honor.


2. Bivocational Ministry Is not a Problem that Needs to Be Fixed

The Apostle Paul was a bivocational pastor. Bivocational pastors are still referred to as tentmakers harkening back to Paul’s secular profession he practiced while in ministry.

Despite the challenges, there’s nothing about a bivocational ministry that needs to be fixed.

In fact, it’s not that some would wish for a full-time ministry position; many would not have it any other way.


3. Bivocational Ministry Is Not Always Temporary or a Stepping Stone to “Real” Ministry

Many, if not most bivocational pastors are not bivocational by choice, but out of necessity.

Some do hope it would be a temporary situation.

But, it often ends up being their regular state of ministry.

We need to get used to the idea that bivocational ministry is more than a pit-stop along the way to full-time ministry, especially given the reality that congregations are getting smaller in membership size, now less than 70 active members as the average.

In 2018 70% of Presbyterian congregations were small congregations.


4. Bivocational Pastoring Is Likely to Become the New Normal, If It Isn’t Already

Bivocational ministry may be a financial necessity for the survival of many small- to mid-sized churches in the coming years.

That’s always been true for many churches in small towns, but it’s going to be more common in large population centers too, claims Vaters.

Demographic shifts and diminishing financial resources for smaller congregations will make bivocational ministry a necessity for many city and suburban churches if they hope to survive and thrive.

Bivocational ministry as the new norm in congregational ministry is one of those unnoticed trends that will send shockwaves through religious systems (theological schools, denominations, and their networks) once it reaches the tipping point of impact on enrollments in seminaries, the economics of denominations, the nature of pastoral vocations, and other critical factors in the American religious landscape.

See Karl Vaper’s blog, “Pivot: Innovative Leadership from a Small Church Perspective,” and follow him on Twitter at @KarlVaters.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).


Dr. G. & Friends