Category Archives: Bi-Vocational Ministry

Bi-Vocational Pastor: Your Fundamental Belief in People

I’ve been coaching the sport of wrestling for over 12 years now.  I’ve always enjoyed working with athletes, teaching them the sport, about life lessons, and helping them achieve their goals.  It is truly satisfying work, but I noticed something disturbing in myself about 9 years ago – I found myself spending increasingly more time focusing on our best and most talented wrestlers, and less time focusing on less gifted ones.  In fact, I found myself seeking ways to avoid those less gifted kids, even though the level of commitment and desire to get better was the same from both groups.

It is natural for us to spend time with those who seem more responsive to our coaching and leadership efforts.  If we’re honest, we do so because we derive a sense of satisfaction, a measure of success and reward for ourselves.  I don’t see this tendency to be the problem.  What I do see as the problem is that if we dig a little deeper into the why, it raises this question:

What do you fundamentally think about people?

What I found for myself 9 years ago is that deep down, I simply thought less of my less talented wrestlers.  They weren’t worth my time and energy because there was a lower probability that they would achieve what I had defined as success.  As I dug deeper into my fundamental beliefs and attitudes about people, I discovered I viewed my talented wrestlers through a similar lens.  They were worth my time because they were a commodity that would ensure my success and self-worth as a coach.

I recently listened to a podcast by a popular non-denominational pastor who began to talk about the lifestyle choices of the people near the church they were discussing.  He described them as a “challenging context.” He and his partner could not comprehend why these people wouldn’t want to have families, why they seemed more interested in their dogs and drinking coffee, and “secular things.”  In fact, they even went as far to suggest they felt threatened, that their “perfectly normal” life of having a wife and 4 kids was looked upon with scorn by these people.  Yet clearly in their minds, that is the life that God desires for all of us!  These people “need God” and it validated their attractional ministry to in the premise their lives were somehow “lacking.” 

 I also sat in a church-related meeting where one person, encouraging the rest of the group to reach out to families in the community, suggested that this was desirable because “each of those families….that’s $1,000 right there.” Enough said right there. 

Now if you were one of the people these folks were referring to, and were a fly on the wall for those conversations, would you want to be part of their community of faith?

What you fundamentally think about people will affect how you interact with them.  And those fundamental beliefs will show through to people, regardless how “nice,” “welcoming,” and “well-intentioned” you try to be.

Our tendency towards sameness when it comes to who we surround ourselves with blinds us to this fact.  It deceives us into believing there is something wrong with the other, and creates an “us versus them” mentality.  Even worse, we think “they” don’t notice. The truth is, people are smarter than you and I think.  People are always watching and evaluating, and they are especially evaluating leaders.  I know 9 years ago my wrestlers were watching, just like they continue to do so today.  The same is true in my role as pastor and Navy chaplain.  You don’t have to like every person, and you don’t have to treat each person the same.  You do, however, have to hold a universal belief about the worth and value of human life.  What that is for you, I’ll leave that up to you to decide for yourselves.   I do know, however,  your integrity and effectiveness as a leader depends on your answer.

 

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The Bi-Vocational Pastor’s Manifesto

The other day, I watched this super fascinating TED Talk by Emilie Wapnick.  It’s worth the 13 minutes to watch it.  Watching it, this thought caught my attention:

“It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it. But what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?”

What if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?

My response?  “I’m not wired this way.”  My life right now is proof of that.  I have three great callings in my life: pastor, Navy chaplain, and wrestling coach.  (I don’t forget also that I’m a husband to my wife Kelly as well, so make that four!) I love each of these callings for what they bring to my life, how they compliment each other, and for how I see God at work in and through not just myself, but those I interact with.  I hate that I feel pressure to conform to our current understandings of vocation and work, that I have to choose between them and prioritize them into a fixed structure that then becomes my career.

That just doesn’t work for me. As I’ve stated, vocation is more about who I am versus what I do.  Such a notion of “vocation as one true calling” doesn’t seem true to who I am.  Moreover, as someone who truly loves being a pastor and believes that at the heart of ministry is relationship, it’s hard to reduce all of that to the realm of religious convention – the provider, performer, and manager of programs and services that happen in the building called “church” only.

A bit of a rant:  I get tired of colleagues and churchgoers who, when I tell them about my other roles as coach and chaplain and that I’m part-time in my call, make passive-aggressive comments that imply that I’m either not committed to being a pastor or that I’m not a “real pastor.”  I can read between the lines of comments: how overly busy I am, that I’m not in my office, or that I seem to care more about the non-members than the members.  The sentiment is I’m not 100% dedicated to being a pastor simply because I’m not physically around 100% of the time.

As I sit here and read what I just typed, I am sympathetic to an extent.  I can understand that it seems like I’m not 100% committed to the people I’m called to be pastor to.  They’re the ones who pay my salary and so isn’t there an expectation for the goods and services they’re paying for?  Shouldn’t they get their money’s worth out of my time?

I think we’ve done a poor job as pastors and leaders in ministry by equating physical presence with relational presence.  The truth is, your rear can be physically planted in the office 40 hours a week, but you can be totally checked out relationally. Fact is, I am committed to my congregations relationally.  Yet relationship implies that there is a mutuality to the arrangement: congregation members have a commitment and responsibility to their relationship with their pastor and to the life and ministry of the church.  For me, the vocation of the church is inherently relational.  It’s just as much if not more about our commitment to living out who we are as what we do in the name of Christ.  In the end, if we truly understand vocation as identity, then we shouldn’t have to choose.  For pastors and leaders like myself, we shouldn’t have to choose.

So what are bi-vocational pastors all about?  What do they have to offer congregations that the conventional full-time pastor or ministry leader may not provide?  I offer two “big ideas” about what bi-vocational leaders provide in ministry: Discipleship through modeling and “being church” as “co-conspirators” of mission and ministry.

Discipleship through modeling.  We are “multi-vocational beings” in that we have many roles, or stations (as Luther stated), in which our Spirit-given gifts, skills, and abilities are put to use.  I am a Christ-follower whether I’m behind the pulpit and altar on a Sunday, ministering to the sailors in my command, or on the mat at 3pm for practice.  My faith informs what I do, and those I am with inform my faith through the sharing of experiences and life.

Most pastors and ministry leaders feel it is their responsibility to help people in their walk with Christ – discipleship.  We not only want to make disciples, but be better disciples ourselves.  Traditionally, we’ve done that through bible studies, excellent sermons, ministry events and programs, and providing learning resources, to name a few.

But what if we modeled discipleship for people?  One of the great lessons I learned both growing up on the farm and in the Navy was “lead by example.”  Bi-vocational pastors and leaders are at the very heart of their ministry modeling discipleship; they are modeling how to integrate faithful living into the everyday commitments and passions of life.  I juggle schedules just like everyone else does.  I am more than just a guy who stands in front of people on Sundays or visits them when they are sick or have a problem.  Such modeling, I believe, communicates to people that their faith is made up of more than just what they do in the name of X Lutheran Church or Y Methodist Church, or within its walls.  Faith is something that encompasses their whole lives, the whole of who they are.  That is vocation.

Being church as “co-conspirators” of mission & ministry.  So the logical question out of what I just wrote about discipleship is “who’s making sure that church happens then?”  A fair question….particularly if the pastor’s not around the building as much.

Confession: I just don’t like the expectation that I am somehow solely responsible for the successes or failures of a congregation.  Yes, the secular definitions say that ultimately, accountability and responsibility of an organization resides with the leader.  This line of thinking also leads to the justification that leaders then have ultimate authority within the organization.  Both sentiments fall short within the understandings of church as community.  Being church must fall under a more relational, shared model.

Congregations that call bi-vocational leaders are committed to this way of being church.  Bi-vocational pastors and leaders are called to be “co-conspirators” of a congregation’s mission and ministry.  They are called as resources, advisors, and coaches who accompany congregations in carrying out God’s mission in being church.  Leadership within a congregation becomes shared, and thus, decisions more communal.  Yet I think there is an even greater benefit to bi-vocational leaders: it fosters the idea that all within the community are missionaries.  Vocation, then is about being a missionary – one who shares Christ’s love in relationship with the world.  Being church is about being a community of missionaries who share this primary vocation of being Christ-followers in the world.  Being church is about being a community of missionaries who gather, weary from their labors to give praise, learn, and care for one another.  The responsibilities of the community within and outside the walls of the church are mutually borne together.

I am a missionary as a pastor who encounters newcomers who walk through the doors of the church, who talks with those familiar folks facing new experiences of faith in their lives.  I am a missionary who serves young adults 18-22 serving in our Navy and Marine Corps all over the world.  I am a missionary who bears the ups and downs of wins and losses, cutting weight, and who wrestle not only with opponents, but with themselves in a particular context – on a wrestling mat.   My vocation calls me to ministry within and outside the boundaries I call “church.”  And I suspect, that the same is true for people in congregations across the United States.

I am not wired this way; for one set line of work, at least.  I have too many interests and frankly, don’t see any benefit in giving any of them up in favor of the other.  I don’t expect every congregation, colleague, or person to totally get it or even agree with it.  But when I think of everything the church is facing these days, my belief that this Christ who died and raised for us still matters, and my vocation proclaims Christ crucified and risen, even though it’s strange….I guess I’m totally fine with that.  Even more, I think God is too.

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Revisiting “Bi-vocational” Ministry

I recently read the book, BiVo, by Hugh Halter. Halter shares what he’s learned through creating a church community lead by bi-vocational pastors whose role is to train and equip Christian disciples for mission.

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To be honest, the book got me thinking about Bi-vocational pastors and ministry, especially since I identify myself as one.  While I don’t share most of Halter’s theological commitments, the book is worth a read when considering declining resources available to churches today, and the continued desire to be church in the world.  Halter’s church is an interesting one.

I do have one problem with Halter and most writers on the subject of bi-vocational ministry, and that is the insistence that the basis of this model of ministry boils down to a lesson in economics – money. To borrow Halter’s phrase, “church should be cheap.” It shouldn’t cost that much to do ministry and share God’s love and grace with the world.  Halter’s negative bias towards full-time pastors and ministry isn’t hidden in his book.  While he tries to come across as sympathetic, he takes his shots at those who choose full-time ministry and asserts that what he does is inherently better….on the basis of biblical authority. (Which then becomes another boring discussion about scriptural authority) Halter’s basis for bi-vocational as “cheap church” that “builds better disciples for the Kingdom” is one echoed by most who identify as and advocate for bi-vocational pastors.

I think such a narrow view is problematic. When we constrict bi-vocational ministry to economy, we make vocation and our discernment of it primarily about management of work (what we do) rather than identity (who we are).  God’s calling is not based on doing the right thing, but rather identification of spirit-given gifts that can be used in a variety of ways in the world. Bi-vocational ministry is about who we are (people who use their whole selves in a variety of stations in life) vice what we do (fitting ourselves to a correct type of work that is divinely-inspired).

I share that to give you a working thesis in the weeks ahead as I write more about bi-vocational ministry, just so you have a basis of understanding for where I’m coming from. (Note: Because it’s a whole lot better than me posting my 22-page seminary thesis, currently collecting dust in a box I didn’t unpack two years ago) I began an intentional interim ministry course last week, and it’s got me thinking more about the need for varied and diverse models of pastoral leadership for the church in a rapidly-changing world.  So I’ll be sharing my thoughts about that, both ideas and practical points.  Just a preview of what I’ll be sharing the next couple weeks:

– The church is NOT your vocation.
– Bi-Vocational ministry for full-time pastors: Changing the model of leadership & church.
– The Top 4 Positions you need on your church staff – and it’ll attract Millennials (because everyone wants to these days.)
– The Diversity you need…and Bi-Vocational staff can help.

– The people you serve: honoring their multi-vocational life through modeling.

– Bi-vocational ministry & economics: it does play a part, but not as “cheap church.”

I hope you’ll take the time to read and interact in the weeks ahead.  Thanks for reading!

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Thoughts from the Bi-Vocational Pastor: “The church is NOT your vocation.”

While I’ve allowed a bit more time to go by than I wanted to between posts, Bi-Vocational Ministry is still on my mind. To review, vocation is more about identity and being than economy and task.  If you want to get the “full version” you can read back to my original post.

Let’s move on to the subject of this post. The New York Times published an article stating that families today are more “stressed, tired, and rushed” in their lives than ever.  The writer offers a lot of conclusions from recent Pew Center research: both parents working, pressures of traditional gender roles, and increased activities for children are just some of the many things filling and competing for people’s lives today .  Maybe it’s too obvious to state this, but people’s lives are busy. Now I suppose we could enter into a moral/ethical critique of “busy,” but I don’t see that as very helpful, because “busy” isn’t a problem so much as it is a reality.

The question I’ve heard most church workers and leaders asking isn’t “What does this mean?” But rather “What should we do?”  Is the church part of the problem? How can the church help?

Is the church part of the problem?  My response is yes, but not intentionally.  Most are well aware of shifts in American life in the past 50 years and how that is affecting churches across America today.  There’s much research that’s been done to say that ways of doing church simply aren’t in rhythm with the schedule and pulse of people’s lives.  In short, church simply becomes one more thing on the plate, another item on the weekly and monthly calendar. Churches create programs (ministry), initiate marketing strategies (evangelism), offer education and training programs (discipleship), and offer events and opportunities to gather (fellowship) in an attempt to increase participation in church life.

Let me say that I think churches do this out of the belief and commitment that a life of faith in relationship with God is vital and beneficial for the world today.  That isn’t the problem; that’s a good thing! The problem is that by creating and offering more things to do, the church communicates that for a Christian – “the church IS your vocation.”  Not only should church be THE priority in a Christian’s life, but it is fundamentally the image of who a Christian is: a frequent and regular churchgoer.  The question has to be asked, “Are we as people of God more than that?”  I think so; and that leads church workers and leaders into reflecting on the idea that people are multi-vocational beings, i.e. “The church is not your vocation.”

How can church help? The starting point is asking the fundamental human question: “Who are we?”  For Christians, we look to the One in whom our identity is formed: Jesus Christ.  For congregations, ministry to the people they serve invites them into reflection on this identity, or vocational reflection.  What does it mean that Christ is at the center of who I am as a parent? Spouse? Employee?  Supervisor? What does it mean that God created me with the gifts and passions that drive and fulfill me, that give me life? How do I see my very life as a God-given gift?  The identity of congregations then, should be communities of vocational reflection.

Of course, these questions to lead to the logical question of “what then do these communities do?”  That answer varies with context and dynamics of the congregation’s history, size, and structure.  However, I do think congregations would do best by taking a “coaching” posture – accompanying people along life’s journey, affirming and challenging the ways they live faithfully to Christ in love and service toward God and neighbor. I would advocate for a return to more “traditional” practices and away from intricately organized programs.  Provide devotionals via email or social media. Hold an early morning breakfast/devotional group before the work day.  Provide opportunities for people to discover their spirit-given gifts through Strengthsfinder 2.0, MBTI, or similar inventories. Connect young people with particular work interests with adults in the congregation who work in those areas to do mutual vocational reflection through questions and learning.  Even worship (particularly preaching) should disciple people in the task of vocational reflection as a response to the Gospel.

And my shocker: shift weekly worship/education from Sunday morning to another time.  (I suggest Thursday evening.  I believe it can be done with some creativity.) I’m not just talking an alternative worship service.  Create an entirely separate worshipping community.  For large churches, this is easier.  For smaller congregations, perhaps the challenge is to shift your entire worshiping community to a different day of the week!

For Christians, the church is NOT your vocation.  But the church can help you live out your vocation, and that might be the best gift to offer people desperately seeking a connection with God and meaning for their lives.

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Bi-Vocational Pastor: Reflections on the Virginia Synod Assembly & “Liturgical Movements”

This past weekend, I headed to Salem, VA to take part in our annual Assembly of the Virginia Synod.  It’s my second Synod Assembly in Virginia, but my first as a pastor (I missed last year for a valid reason, I promise!).  People show up starting Friday morning, and we conclude on Sunday at noon.  Each year, the culmination of the Assembly is Saturday evening worship at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA.  It’s a pretty grand worship in a beautiful sanctuary – the procession of pastors across the Synod, full organ and brass ensemble, and over 300 voices singing hymns and speaking liturgy together as one voice.

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I took the opportunity to not process with the rest of the pastors, primarily because I don’t get to simply worship much anymore.  I appreciated that time, but I also have to admit, there were times during worship that things seemed, well, mundane.  Tedious.  Grandiose.  Performative.  As beautiful as the worship experience was, I found myself not just drifting, but disconnecting.

My thing about worship like this past Saturday night is that for me, it just feels so disconnected with what typically happens in my day-to-day life.  It doesn’t seem to resemble anything I see or do.  And I suppose that’s the point; that’s what makes worship like this special.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA has written, “At the heart of what we do is worship,” but I wonder, what does this mean?

And it doesn’t remove the feeling of disconnection that I feel.

I admit, my attitudes towards worship are different from most pastors.  Having grown up in Minnesota farm country, folks appreciated a nice, “efficient” service because they had been up since 4am milking cows.  Don’t preach too long, don’t sing all 6 verses of that hymn, and it’s ok to skip the full Eucharistic prayer and Sanctus in the communion liturgy.  However, through that experience growing up I came to understand that worship was something well beyond Sunday morning and the doors of our little church.  Our whole lives are worship and in that way, worship was at the heart of who we are and what we do.

Liturgy means generally, “The work of the people.”  What I’ve come to understand about my life is that it is an act of worship to God, and that my daily activity is a series of “liturgical movements” within that worship.  What I’ve come discover in the journey through seminary and since I’ve been a pastor is that I’m focused and aware of these liturgical movements occurring in daily life.  This past weekend at Synod Assembly was no different.

I heard laughter and excitement as people registered on Friday morning.

I watched people – long time friends and strangers – gather over meals and have meaningful, life-giving conversations with each other.

I caught up with folks from Bedford Lutheran and heard about their hopes and challenges in becoming an established congregation in the Synod.

I learned what other congregations are doing, ideas they’re trying as ways to be more missional in their communities.  And more important, I noticed their passion and desire, alongside their anxiety and uncertainty.

I got to watch my good friend “hover” around his 7th grade daughter as she participated in the Youth Assembly – the struggle of every parent who watches their kid shift to a time of independence.

I watched congregations wrestle with the questions raised about getting to know and understand their neighbors around their churches better and what that means for them.

I saw two old pastors engaged in a late night conversation as I headed to my room – clearly they were good friends who didn’t see much of each other.

I watched my Synodical Bishop read the list of saints departed, pastors who have died this past year – one among those names being his own father.

I listened to a man’s response, his frustration about race relations in this country and the helplessness and pain he feels.  I also listened to his concerns for the future about the farm he operates and if there will be anyone willing to take it over.

I witnessed the representatives from the two congregations I serve have meaningful discussion about the future of their churches, and their future together.

And I got to play racquetball with that good friend of mine too (although I kicked my ass and that bothers me!).

I could continue on, but do you see it – Worship?  Confession, thanksgiving, sharing of the peace, hymns and sounds of praise, prayers of intercession, and blessing.  People nourished and refreshed, not just in Word as preaching and Sacrament as Eucharist, but Word proclaiming that Christ, the incarnate God, is among us and Sacramental presence that unites saints and sinners around God’s Grace.  These liturgical movements are the work of the people happening in the routine, the ordinary, and the familiar.  It is in these liturgical movements that people come to know a God who is deeply with them and acting for them, and for the sake of the world.

I wonder if others feel that disconnect between what happens in the pew and from day-to-day, and struggle with what seems like competing priorities, too.  David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a former professor of mine at Luther Seminary was fond of saying, “Today, weekly worship needs to be thought of as the practice rather than the actual game.  The value in weekly worship is that it trains us to know what God’s presence and action look like, so that we might identify it more easily in our lives.”  What this suggests is that worship is indeed at the heart of what we do as Christians – but it’s a worship that encompasses all of life, both in the pew and in our daily routines and activity.

This past weekend affirmed and reminded me that this connected and integrated truth about Christian worship is true, and it is this truth that strengthens and sustains us both in faith and vocation as Christians living in the world today.

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Bi-Vocational Pastor: Thinking about “Transitional Ministry”

Interim Pastor.

Take a second and think about all the initial thoughts you had as you read that title – what came to mind?  Most of it probably not very good.  While I’m one of those people who see a great benefit and need for interim ministry and pastors who serve as interim pastors, congregations often have different reactions, and think of it something like this:

Interim Pastor: someone who is retired (or near retirement), and spends up to a year “holding down the fort” while the church’s call committee (or whatever body that is for your denomination) finds the next pastor – “our” pastor.  A long-term pastor; a full-time, present all the time pastor.  An interim is just that – the “in the meantime guy (or girl)” while we wait for the coming of the one who will lead us into the next 30 years of our church life. (Ok, maybe not 30, but most think it’ll be a “really long time”)

Does this sound familiar?  To be fair, many congregations realize the gift of an interim pastor and the interim time of ministry – it’s a chance to reflect on the current state of things, and to think deeply about what the “next steps” might be.  There are congregations that graciously and courageously allow themselves to be led by this person, and this person faithfully leads them in healthy and important discernment during this transition.  However, all too often there is a sense of anxiety during the time of the interim pastor – fear over a loss of momentum in mission and ministry, an identity crisis in the wake of the departing pastor’s absence, and the decline in participation of communal life and worship.  The interim pastor is not the “real pastor.” The interim  is a time that must be quickly moved through in order to resolve this anxiety, usually by calling a pastor as quickly as possible.  Then there’s the whole issue of an ineffective interim pastor/leader; congregations’ stigma is based in an unfortunate, but true, reality.

I think all this is problematic on a number of levels.  One, decisions are made out of anxiety and fear, which usually never produce positive, long-term outcomes.  Two, it creates a stagnant, “stuck” period for churches that often takes the new pastor years to rectify (the road to recovery is long after a period of “backsliding”).  Three, it becomes a year of wasted resources (back to that retired interim pastor – “we just paid a full year’s salary and benefits for a guy with 30 years ministry experience to preach and visit people?”).

However, there is another reason I think this falls short, which ties into the present reality of our changing religious context in society and congregations struggling to understand and engage it. Churches in transition need more than just a one-year interim period to figure these things out.  They need a leader who will walk with them through an internal transformation and culture shift. They need a pastor who will lead for a set period of time with clear goals and outcomes in mind.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Model Constitution, paragraph C9.11 of Chapter 9 states, “While the approval of the bishop of the synod, the congregation may depart from [normal calling procedures] and call a pastor for a specific term. Details of such calls shall be in writing setting forth the purpose and conditions involved.” This provides the opportunity for a new type of pastoral ministry: Transitional Ministry.

Transitional Ministry would be similar Interim Ministry in that it would likely be short-term (1-4 years).  However, it would differ in that rather than just provide a person as “placeholder,” it would provide a focused period in which the congregation would call a pastor to lead them through a set period of transition with specific goals and purposes in mind.  In addition, the pastor wouldn’t just be someone present solely to perform functional tasks (preaching, teaching, sacraments, pastoral care), but rather would be called with a particular role with specific skill sets to best serve the congregation during this period of discernment and change.

How would this look? Think “John the Baptist.”  Someone who can help “prepare the way” for a new chapter as Christ’s church.  Someone who can proclaim both good news in Word and Sacrament yet also speak prophetically  and honestly into the reality of the community of faith and community at large.  Someone who, when the time is right, would decrease so that the congregation might increase in its mission and life to the world for years to come.

This is where Bi-vocational pastors would be an excellent fit for transitional ministry.  Constraints on time require the Bi-Vocational pastor to more clearly and distinctly define their role within the congregation he or she serves.  A decreased financial commitment to a pastor during the transition would allow congregations more freedom in developing a more realistic and relevant budget for mission and ministry.  Bi-Vocational pastors have the ability to shift the paradigm of congregations away from the notion that fully present relationally means “fully employed.”  There is also the benefit of having a pastor who has one foot within the context and one foot in the congregation – the pastor is an interpreter and advocate for both communities.  Bi-vocational pastors also bring specific skillsets and expertise from their other professions and work.

Here’s a few ways to imagine this: A larger congregation, in need of developing a strong Children, Youth, & Family ministry, but with limited financial resources to grow staff could call a bi-vocational pastor as a 1/2 or 3/4 time Associate Pastor.  They could then use this savings and call a full-time Director of Youth & Family Ministry to develop the ministry. The bi-vocational pastor could serve for a 2-4 year period, supporting the senior pastor by sharing certain pastoral roles and ministry oversight, and perhaps focus in on a particular ministry need (outreach, evangelism, social justice, vocational discernment, etc.)  In time, in concert with enhanced ministry and increased staff, the financial resources may increase to call a full-time associate that the congregations needs down the road.

Or, a medium-sized congregation that also recently established a non-profit as a ministry could call a bi-vocational pastor for a period of 2 years with non-profit management and community engagement experience.  The last pastorate was 30 years, and the pastor was full-time in the congregation.  However, finances now only allow for a part-time pastor and the congregation wishes for the non-profit to be “a ministry of the congregation” but don’t currently have the resources to hire a full-time non-profit manager.  The pastor could serve in this dual role, helping establish the ministry and its relationship with the church and community.

Or, a congregation set near a military base, but not understanding the context, could call an Armed Forces Reserve chaplain to serve the congregation and help establish a ministry that supports military service members and their families through the deployment cycle for 3 years, at which point the chaplain would then mobilize for a one-year deployment and the congregation would call a pastor who would serve them long-term.

Or, a congregation having dealt with serious conflict and a split may agree to a 2-3 year pastorate that would provide the stability necessary to understand and heal.  The congregation would agree to pay the pastor full-time, allowing that 20% of his or her time would be open to pursue personal ministry (young adult, college, synodical, churchwide) as a means of self-care for the pastor and as a missional act of sharing the pastor with the wider church.

These are just a few of the possibilities….but what would such transitional ministry mean for congregations in our present day and age?  And what would it mean to raise up pastoral leaders with unique skillsets to serve congregations in this way?  Transitional ministry would provide stability to congregations in anxious times, focus in their discernment of God’s mission, and innovation and financial freedom around the pastor’s role.  And of course, we trust the Spirit at work….and maybe that transitional pastor might be the right one to stick around for the long haul.

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The Bi-Vocational Pastor – “I am NOT a part-time pastor.”

“I am a bi/multi-vocational pastor.”

“What’s that?”

“It means I have other callings I live out in addition to being a pastor.”

“So you’re a part-time pastor then….”

I swear every time I try to explain what I do to people, the conversation always ends up here.  It is true; I am only paid part-time and I don’t spend 40+ hours a week doing stuff for my congregations (well, at least most of the time). Again, the conclusion is always based in the economic, as I asserted in my last post.  I’m part-time out of necessity, since the congregations I serve can only afford to pay me “X” amount of dollars out of their limited resources.

I think the notion of a “part-time” pastor is problematic in today’s context.  Congregations operate from a scarcity mindset – they’re making due with less, which often leads to the church doing less.  There’s not a pastor around to lead and ensure all those things that would normally get done, do indeed get done.  There’s not a pastor around to do all those things that make church run.  In a part-time paradigm, the pastor’s relationship with the congregation is largely negotiated on transactional terms – an agreement of goods and services rendered.  In his book, The Relational Pastor, Andy Root names this idea of pastor as “priest, keeper and manager of divine things and the religious life.” (29) The part-time pastor then, is someone who has been contracted and hired to manage as many aspects of the church’s life and ministry as the finances will allow.  The reality for the church community is that they may have to take on some of the responsibilities the pastor typically did.  However, there is little to no conversation about the congregation’s ownership of the communal life and mission of the church.  It never discerns its place within the larger context it serves, nor what God might be calling them to as  on their own terms as Christian community.  The congregation never explores its identity and apart from the pastor.

The notion of “part-time” pastor, without this discernment of identity and mission, actually hinders the congregation’s hearing of God’s call to be church.  It also creates an unhealthy longing for a future borne out of fear of survival and shame-based failure.  Congregations bend in on themselves, preoccupied with their scarcity, fixated on trying to maintain a nostalgic, outdated model of church that simply cannot be recovered.  They dream of the day when someday they’ll be able to afford a full-time pastor, and once again, they’ll really be a fully functioning and contributing church.

Bi-vocational pastors are not part-time pastors.  They offer a gift to the church and congregations borne out of  the theological grounding of a singular vocational identity formed in baptism, lived out in multiple vocational roles.  In baptism we have been raised up from death into a new identity, free to live into the spirit-given gifts and relationships in which God calls us to participate in.  There’s nothing “part-time” about that vision of life – in fact, it’s a pretty full plate!

That is the heart of bi-vocational pastors and their ministry.  There are distinct advantages over a “part-time” pastor model.

The congregation forms an identity, vision, and mission independent of the pastor.  I think there’s a tendency that still exists for congregations to form their identity and ministry dependent on the pastor.  The congregation, therefore, usually ends up adopting and assimilating to the identity and interests of the pastor, not the community’s (both Christian and surrounding context).

It is possible that congregations calling part-time pastors do have a sense of identity and mission that they own 100%.  However, I do think congregations looking for a bi-vocational pastor do ask a set of completely different questions that congregations who seek part-time pastors ask.

The part-time pastor congregation asks:
What will the pastor be able to do?
Will the pastor be able to meet our needs with their limited time?
What things do we have to eliminate or compromise since there won’t be a pastor around as much?
What do we have to do to (growth) in order to get back to a full-time pastor?

The bi-vocational pastor congregation asks:
What role will the pastor play within our congregation and ministry?
What does the pastor offer to our community with their presence?
What is the focus of our communal life and mission to the surrounding context?
How do we utilize our existing resources in a way that is responsible and accountable to our identity and mission?

These set of questions differ in that congregations see bi-vocational pastors as a resource and tool for the congregation’s mission, rather than standard and measure of it.   A part-time pastor’s effectiveness will always be measured by growth and the amount of time spent focused on the congregation and congregational tasks.  Bi-vocational pastors’ effectiveness is measured by the engagement of the congregation’s people.  The bi-vocational pastor serves as an advisor, helping congregations assess the present context, the church’s identity rooted in scripture, tradition, and calling, and the integrity of its ministry in in living and communicating gospel to the world.

Such an understanding of the pastor leads to the understanding that the pastor’s calling is a calling to witness and serve the world, not just to tend to the religious community.  The pastor’s calling is first and foremost a Christian calling to discipleship, and must always be thought of this way.  It is distinct from other callings, but in character is no different from the call to vocation for any Christian called to discipleship.  Bi-vocational pastors, due to their multiple roles and activity, embody Christian discipleship, and communicate it to others through their identity and action.  They serve within the community of faith as pastor in the traditional sense, yet they serve just as all others are called – out in the world.

My faith is an identity that shapes how I live authentically in the world – as a pastor, husband, friend, uncle, wrestling coach, and Navy chaplain.  My faith isn’t something apart from my life – it’s deeply integrated with it.  I don’t believe that individuals who live out more traditional models of pastor don’t believe the same; however, I do think bi-vocational pastors are more explicit and public in living out faith in this way, and serve as a better example to our communities of faith.  Part-time pastors are not around as much due to reasons of scarcity, and therefore their time away from church is thought of as disconnected from faith.  Bi-vocational pastors are not around as much due to an identity and understanding of their multiple expression of calling; their time is communicated publicly as integrated with faith.

Having a bi-vocational pastor is a missional act by the congregation.  In my experience, the congregations I serve “share” me with the U.S. Navy and the wrestlers I coach.  As a part of the congregations, I become an agent of gospel with them.  The time I spend in those other roles is an extension of their mission to the community around them.  As I minister to military service members and as I mentor and coach my wrestlers, I am an extension of the congregations’ concern and desire to minister to these same communities, witnessing to Christ’s love and grace in a pluralistic setting.  That is by definition what God’s mission for the church is.

Relationships with God and neighbor are shared directly in community with each other, rather than being mediated by the pastor.  Again, the bi-vocational pastor is tool/resource and advisor to the congregation. The congregation has 100% ownership of its communal life and ministry.  Therefore, a pastor isn’t needed to mediate relationships between people, or even with God.  Prayer, education, and ministry can be organized and led by the laity.  The bi-vocational pastor provides guidance and resources to carry those things out.  This is not to say this can’t happen in part-time pastor settings, but usually the mindset is that the congregation is “making due” and therefore usually removes and eliminates religious practices and ministry because of the pastor’s limited time.  The pastor is around less to mediate the relationships, therefore, the relationships (and ministry of the church) tend to suffer.

The bi-vocational pastor’s relationship with the congregation isn’t a transaction of goods and services, but is rooted in vocational identity and communal roles.  In my congregations, there are definitely moments where I put in hours that are “full-time.”  When funerals happen, is an example of that.  However, that is my role within the congregation – I provide care and plan worship that helps people and the community deal with the reality of death and make sense of God’s promises in the midst of it.  There are also moments where I don’t work the hours that match my financial compensation.

As a bi-vocational pastor, I see my role as “full-time” in that I am fully present as the pastor they have called to a specific role in their congregations.  My relationship with the congregations I serve isn’t based on a transaction of goods and services.  If you asked them, I believe most people in my congregations would tell you I’m fulfilling their expectations as pastor – as defined by a distinct role and identity.  This communicates, I believe, that I am fully present relationally versus only partially invested.

There are many other reasons bi-vocational pastoral models are beneficial to congregations.  I will conclude with this final thought: if we shed the typical economic mindset when talking about pastors and congregations, I think a good case can be made that all pastors – regardless of their working status – should be thought of as bi-vocational.  What would it mean if a congregation paid a pastor full-time, but encouraged or even required that their pastor spent 10% of their time living out another expression of their Christian vocation (coach, writer, musician, etc.)?  What would it mean if a congregation paid a pastor full-time, but actually agreed to consider shifting aspects of its communal life (worship, education) and ministry so that the pastor could honor their role as husband and father; wife and mother; partner and parent? (Translation: this does not mean increasing vacation time, an economic decision)

What would it mean for a congregation’s spiritual health and discipleship as the church to think of the pastor as a bi-vocational pastor?

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