Bivocational ministry Church Leadership

Reflecting on Bivocational Ministry

June 26, 2013, 7 Comments

Introducing myself in this season of life has always felt a bit odd. Since age 16, I have looked at my career in only one light… serving the church as a pastor. For most of my adult life, it has been my work, my way of earning a living, and, for better or worse, a major portion of my identity. Meeting a new person, it has always gone something like, “Hi. My name is Philip and I serve as the pastor of…”

Then, about four years ago, my life switched and I began saying, “Hi. I’m Philip and I work at a publishing company.” My vocation changed from the pastoral to the business world. Today, I have a full-time job as a publishing director. I also serve as a part-time teaching pastor for a church.

For all of those who serve in a bivocational fashion – and there are many of us – I periodically find myself still leaning my introductions toward the ministry side of life. Depending on how my professional career went over the last few hours, my introduction can sound different. I occasionally find myself hurrying to a point where I can say, “…and I serve bivocationally on a church staff.”

To be plain, I love both of my jobs. I am in the envious position that not a lot of bivocational ministers enjoy. My full-time job is also a ministry to the church because I work for a Christian publishing company. Nevertheless, I have recently been reflecting more upon the life lived by the bivocational minister. Whether you serve as a pastor or a staff member, it is… different. For many, it is unexpected. In my own life, I thought that I would serve full-time on a church staff until a ripe-old age when they would have to force me into retirement.

For those who serve bivocationally or those who are shepherded by a bivocational pastor, here are some reflections I’ve had recently.

1. Serving bivocationally is difficult. There, I said it. It is hard. It requires a level of discipline that I’ve not shown before. Even in my scenario in which I serve bivocationally on a church staff that has several others who serve full-time, it is difficult. It requires more attention – mentally, physically, and emotionally – than anyone can really expect.

2. It is physically taxing. After all, you are working more than one job. It is not unusual for my full-time job to require 60 hours a week. Simply finding the physical and mental strength to plan sermons, counsel members, and attend church events can feel like an endurance challenge. It can easily add another 12 hours to your workweek. The pace can be overwhelming.

3. I have a stronger appreciation for how work is an offering to God. Even though it is tiring, having a full-time job makes me a better pastor in many ways. I can speak with a genuine perspective about how our job can be an act of worship. But, I’m still not great at this subject. I know that my seminary training and years of full-time church staff ministry still make me different than most in the workplace. But, I think I’m now better at understanding others’ lives.

4. Sometimes I mentally barricade myself from church and church staff issues. It is not that I don’t love my church or our church leaders. It is simply that my survival instincts kick in every now again and I need a mental break. I’m still deciding if this is good or bad. If you’re wondering what I mean, here’s a common scenario for bivocational pastors… After studying on Monday and Tuesday night, the sermon comes together with a theme, outline, and applications. But then, every morning and night for the rest of the week, you awake, toss, turn, and sometimes dream about the message. On some weeks, it is great and on other weeks, it is maddening. So, on some days, I just want to shut it off, be a normal person, and just pray to God about my own life.

5. It can be frustrating for my family. My wife and sons would actually like to have my undivided attention more often. When you have two jobs – any two jobs – it requires a greater intentionality about how to spend time with the people in your own house. Even though I’m doing the “work of the church,” I don’t want my sons to have reached adulthood and only remember me sitting at a desk. I want to have loved them well.

6. Study can become a chore. In full-time ministry, preparing for sermons and Bible studies was a major part of my workweek. Now, it is in addition to my workweek. I am still tinkering with my schedule but prepping for Sunday messages has meant eliminating other pursuits, hobbies, and entertainment. I love studying the Bible and developing messages… most of the time. However, there is the occasional week when it is simply difficult to get going on it, sustain my efforts in it, and finish strong.

If you attend a church with a bivocational minister, please take a few moments to pray for their spiritual health.I f you serve a church as a bivocational minister, I know that this is not necessarily all indicative of your life. But I hope my list of quasi-confessions will serve to help you recognize glitches in your own life.

Next week, I will come back to this subject and address how a bivocational minister (and church family) can navigate these issues well.

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  • Reply Jeff Keady June 27, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Phil,what you said in #3 about your being a better pastor because of your full time job – that is sometimes a frustration for me, as a full time pastor. I sometimes think that if I were bi-vocational I would appreciate my people more and, in a sense, walk in their shoes. I would perhaps expect less out of them, but no less than what I was willing to give. So, the grass is always greener, right? 🙂 I look forward to your next post about navigating these issues.

  • Reply David June 27, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for being transparent and speaking the truth about bivocational ministry. I am “trivocational”, and all three are in Christian ministry. You said it well, it’s hard, and there are days I want to give up one or more of these roles… but I don’t, and will continue to serve where God has me until He tells me it’s time to do something different. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement

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  • Reply Nate July 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I have served bivocational for over 20 years and I agree it is difficult at times, Vacation and personal days aer given to church activities. Lunch hours are given up to do church work.I have almos quit at times but have four friends/brothers i meet with weekly that have had to suppourt me when tirred physically and spiritually.
    Thank you for your article, it is good to know someone understands.

  • Reply Terry Lange July 25, 2013 at 10:41 am

    How did you go from being a full-time pastor to a bi-vocational pastor? Was it for economical reasons? I figured that most people would be going in the other direction. I have been serving bi-vocationally (not in a pastoral role) for many years. I have two seminary degrees. Serving bi-vocationally in the church is exhausting at times but well worth it.

  • Reply Philip Nation July 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Hey Terry,
    I moved from full-time vocaitonal ministry to work at LifeWay Christian Resources nearly five years ago. It was an unexpected turn of ministry type in my life; but a good one. I had begun writing and editing. It led to an offer from LifeWay. After a few years at my company, a local church invited me on staff in a bivocational capacity. I think that one day I’ll be back into a full-time ministry position but don’t know when that will be.

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