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Along the Journey  |  

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

Bivocational and covocational ministries are more common than people think.

Most pastors in the world are bi-vocational. 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.

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

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

But it’s not.

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

That’s not a bad thing.

Vaters offered the following insights on bivocational ministry.

1. A Bivocational or Covocational 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 was not because pastors are more important than others.

Because bivocationality was so universal for leaders in the early church, 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. The Apostle Paul was a bivocational pastor.

Bivocational pastors are still called tentmakers, harkening back to Paul’s secular profession, which he practiced while in ministry.

Despite the challenges, there’s nothing about a covocational ministry that needs fixing.

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 will 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 to full-time ministry, especially given that congregations are getting smaller in membership size, with less than 70 active members as the average.

In 2018, 70% of Presbyterian congregations were considered small congregations. 

4. Bivocational and covocational pastoring will likely 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 and rural settings, but it will be more common in large population centers, too, claims Vaters.

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

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

Click HERE to learn more about resources for clergy and congregations.

~Israel Galindo is the Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning. He directs the Center’s Pastoral Excellence Programs. 

Along the Journey Dr. G. & Friends