Matt Henslee – A friend of mine recently shared a gripe on social media. These days that should come as no surprise, but this one hit home: “As a bi-vocational pastor, one of the most hurtful comments I’ve heard over the years is this: ‘Oh, you’re just a part-time pastor?’”
Bi-vocational ministry isn’t second-class ministry. No, and there’s even some biblical precedent for bi-vocational ministry with Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, for starters (Acts 18:3). Bi-vocational ministry is really more an issue of salary and paperwork. In reality, there is no such thing as a part-time ministry. You’d have a better chance at finding Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, some choose the bi-vocational path to leverage opportunities to share the gospel, while others work another job because they have to. There have been several seasons in my life when I had jobs in addition to my responsibilities at church. During one stretch, I worked from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. and then had an evening shift at a running store during the week. On the weekends, I’d work at the running store on Saturday, and then gave most of my Sunday to serving the church. There was another season when I taught adults with special needs at a non-profit and led worship on Sundays at a church that was an hour away.
Currently, while I’m fortunate enough to pastor my church full-time, my work here with Lifeway Pastors helps fill in the financial gaps for our family. This has not only helped to meet needs but has also provided me with the privilege of encouraging pastors in churches of all shapes and sizes, full-time and part-time, in the trenches of gospel ministry.
Bi-vocational ministry isn’t second-class ministry. Bi-vocational ministers aren’t second-class ministers. In fact, I’d say they’re true heroes. Bi-vocational ministry is far less valued, but far more common and far more work than most really understand. Bi-vocational pastors won’t often find themselves on the conference circuit, but they’ll work tirelessly to provide for their families and shepherd their churches to the best of their abilities.
Many of the ones I know have embraced these unique opportunities to be in “both worlds,” leveraging them to advance the kingdom in creative ways. They’re not lazy, nor are they unqualified to “move up to bigger and better.” In fact, many of these pastors have preached some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. They don’t lack the potential or qualifications, or even the drive to go full-time. In fact, some of these guys’ leadership and organizational skills put higher-profile pastors to shame.
No, they’ve embraced God’s call to pastor micro-churches in obscure towns, and many will tell you it’s one of the greatest joys they’ve experienced. These guys have embraced obscurity and taken the road less traveled to the frontlines of gospel ministry, but they should be celebrated more.
If you’re a full-time pastor, I have a challenge for you: Find a local bi-vocational pastor and reach out to him and see if you can work out a time to take him to lunch. And then, get this — listen to him, learn from him. There’s a good chance he can offer some incredible insights into juggling the many hats he wears, and what that has taught him about focus and perseverance.
There are challenges in pastoring in no-man’s land and there are challenges in pastoring in a booming metropolitan area. There are challenges to full-time ministry and there are challenges to bi-vocational ministry, but one thing remains clear — God has called all of us to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Let’s just take some time to celebrate the nobodies (by the world’s standards) that are giving their overtime to tell everybody about the only one who saves — Jesus Christ.
— Matt and his wife, Rebecca have four daughters. He formerly served on staff at Temple Baptist Church in Little Rock (now South City Church). This article was originally published at Lifeway Research (research.lifeway.com/2020/02/18/the-hidden-truth-behind-bivocational-ministry) and is shared with permission.