By Dave Burnett
While pastoring a small congregation, I struggled with the reality that my salary package comprised 65 percent of the congregation’s undesignated budget. Property expenses (utilities, insurance, and maintenance) required so much of the remaining budget funds that minimal funds were available for the ministries of the congregation. I decided that it was both biblical and appropriate for me to pursue pastoring only in a bivocational context. I have experienced profound blessings through bivocational service to congregations.
The bivocational pastor must deal with most of the same issues with which many from the congregation deal. He or she has to balance time between secular employment, family needs, and the church. The requirements of the work world are many, and it’s not uncommon to see them interfere with one’s desire to be available for pastoral work. While this sounds demanding, it opens the door to blessings.
Bivocational pastoring leads to a different relationship between pastor and congregation. Parishioners identify with the bivocational pastor as “one of us” rather than someone who is significantly other. Members of the congregation accept the biblical understanding of the body of Christ. God gifts all Christians and sets them in the body. All must exercise their gifts for the body to be healthy and to grow. There is minimal opportunity for an attitude that the pastor is paid to do the work of the church. Joint ownership of responsibility for the work of God in the community is an awesome blessing.
Community unchurched persons have a very different attitude toward the bivocational pastor. Increasingly, the world sees the church as irrelevant. And at best, they see clergy as irrelevant. However, a bivocational pastor cannot be easily stereotyped as an ivory-towered, out-of-touch-with-reality person who has nothing in common with others. This opportunity to interact with the non-church community from a stance other than the sole role of pastor is rewarding.
Pastors regularly struggle with congregational issues. Sometimes progress is slow and decisions are depressing. Sometimes congregational struggles consume the life of the pastor. The bivocational pastor has respite in secular employment. The respite allows perspective. Sometimes rewards and accomplishments in secular employment help the pastor to work through some temporarily unrewarding times in the life of the congregation. Having not resigned as pastor to avoid a rough time in the life of the congregation often opens the door to long-term ministry opportunities and congregational growth.
Many pastors suffer for lack of close friendships. When involved with congregational events and persons, the pastor is always the pastor. There is need for a social group outside the membership of the congregation. Secular employment offers opportunities for new friendships and relationships.
Many bivocational pastors experience a sense of financial freedom. Pastors of small congregations generally struggle financially. Secular employment often allows the pastor to function as a giver rather than a taker. To move from taker status to giver status is rewarding.
Bivocational service sometimes increases the opportunity for the pastor of a struggling congregation to purchase his or her own home. By that simple act, the pastor is demonstrating long-term commitment to the congregation and the community. Home ownership is a blessing to most. The message of “we are in this together for the long haul” often opens opportunities for vision-casting and leadership that might otherwise be resisted.
Dave Burnett is a pastor in the Church of God who also spent twenty-six years working with the Michigan Department of Corrections. Article republished by permission of the Church of God in Michigan.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.