“I Am A Bi-Vocational Pastor” – What the heck is that?

I am a Bi-vocational pastor.

“What the heck is that?”  

That’s the sentiment that most people have been giving me, as I’ve decided to change all my social media and networking resources to reflect this.  In fact, I’m going to self-identify as this from now on, I decided.  This isn’t an officially recognized thing in my church denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or a new job, as some have believed with their responses of “Congrats on the new job!”  In fact, the term isn’t even a new thing or concept; it’s been around for awhile.

“Bi-Vocational” has traditionally been understood as a pastor who has another job in addition their job as a pastor.  Sometimes the jobs compliment each other; most of the time they don’t.  It’s popular among evangelical church planters and some denominations even recognize it as a roster in their church.  There are tons of blogs and articles on a “bi-vocational” model being advantageous or disadvantageous; but my concern is that most of the reasons given are usually based on economy, particularly financial.

For evangelicals, this makes sense within their theological framework of a growth-focused ecclesiology.  In an age where resources for ministry are more scarce than ever, paying a pastor full-time usually comes at the expense of money being available for ministry.  So you find pastors who can work two or more jobs……because 1.2 + 1/2 = 1, which means the bills get paid, and the church benefits so it can grow.

But for me, bi-vocational pastor models are much more than that.  In fact, I am probably “multi-vocational” – I’m a pastor to two small parishes.  I’m a Chaplain in the Navy Reserves.  I’m a volunteer wrestling coach at a local HS.  I’m serving as an unofficial chaplain to a college wrestling team.  So, I hang out with people who don’t go to church and don’t even really believe in religious life, for that matter.  I do funerals for wrestling coaches and invite wrestlers to church potlucks.  I get made fun of because my wrestlers think I’m a catholic priest.  My churches get frustrated with me because they forget it’s not in my job description to be in my office, just waiting for them to come with their problems.  However, I don’t think what this means is that I have too many jobs to juggle…..rather, it’s really just one vocation being lived out and expressed in different ways.  Each role informs the others, and ultimately informs who I am as a child of God and a follower of Christ. In fact, I don’t even get paid for some of these vocations. Economy isn’t the sole basis that drives my pastoral identity; rather, most of them are theological. It is these theological reasons I think need to be explored if a case is to be made for bi-vocational pastors.

For me, bi-vocational pastors are needed because we need people who can minister to people in a pluralistic, diverse setting.  We need people who can share gospel and grace with the world when people don’t hold on to denominational identities, much less a Christian one.  There is a lot to understand about how long-standing pastoral and congregational models may not be effective in reaching certain demographics of people in the world.  For me, I think that needs to be explored.  I feel I can explore that because right now, that is who I am – a “bi-vocational pastor.”  It’s how I understand all the things we talk about as church and people of God: discipleship, vocation, mission, evangelism, church, stewardship, witness, and all those other “churchy” words and concepts.  Most important, It’s how I understand and hear gospel in my life as well.

So from time to time, I hope to share my experiences with you as a “bi-vocational” pastor.  I want to share with you how things like evangelism and mission and theology all fit into this way of being pastor.  I guess I don’t so much want to convince you that my way is the “right way,” (Ok, maybe I do a little!) but rather I want to start a dialogue, a conversation.  It’s one I think we need to start having as we look at our church communities and realize if we don’t start asking questions about if the integrity of who we are and what we share is being maintained by how we live it out, we will indeed fade away into irrelevancy.

So I hope you’ll engage the conversation in the days, weeks, and months to come.  I’m still learning.  And really, I could learn a lot from you all as well…..as we try to figure this whole faith in the 21st Century thing out together.

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