Friday, February 8, 2013

Bivocational ministry is not a new idea

Yesterday I was talking to a person about the books I have written.  He wanted to know what the theme of my books were.  I explained that most of them were written for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  It was obvious that bivocational was a term he had never heard before as he mispronounced it several times before finally asking what it meant.  He is not alone in not being familiar with the idea of bivocational ministry.  Even though bivocational ministry has been around for a long time many people seem to think it is a new concept not realizing it was the norm for many ministers in this country until the mid-1900s.

In my book The Work of the Bivocational Minister (The Work of Series) I quote Luther Dorr who wrote "Baptists and Methodists in particular owe a deep debt of gratitude to the farmer/preacher and the school teacher/preacher of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  These men followed the people to the frontier and supported themselves in order to preach the gospel."  The same could be said of Presbyterian ministers and others whose work allowed them to serve their congregations.   Doran McCarty has written that bivocational ministry was the norm among Southern Baptists until around 1940 when that denomination began to encourage its churches to seek full-time ministers.

Those of us who serve as bivocational ministers have a rich history that began with the apostle Paul who made tents to supplement his ministry right on through today.  We are part of special group of men and women who have faithfully served their churches while providing much of the financial needs of their families through other employment.  That is why at every workshop I lead I encourage bivocational ministers to never feel like their calling is in any way inferior to the calling of a fully-funded minister.  Our call is not a call to a second-class ministry.  It is not better nor lesser than the call God has placed on any other pastor.  We have been called to serve in a particular place at a particular time, and each of us should embrace that calling.

When I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 many denominations paid little attention to the churches that called bivocational ministers.  There were few resources developed specifically for us or our churches.  Few people were writing about bivocational ministry.  I was fortunate that I had judicatory leaders who seemed to appreciate the work I was doing, but I have met many bivocational ministers who felt ignored and unappreciated during that time.  The good news is that is changing.

Many denominational leaders now see the value bivocational ministers bring to their churches and are seeking to resource these ministers and their churches.  Publishing companies are now willing to produce books and other resources specifically developed for bivocational ministers.  I really need to recognize Beacon Hill Press for the support I have received from them in publishing many of my books.  In September they will release my eighth book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.  Their support for bivocational ministry has been wonderful.  Universities and seminaries are developing specific programs suited for bivocational ministers; some now even offer dual-degree programs for persons who feel called to bivocational ministry.

It is an exciting time for those serving as bivocational ministers.  You are providing the Kingdom of God with an important ministry.  You have many new opportunities for training and resources and the number of churches who need your ministry is growing.  While we have a wonderful history, our future is even brighter.  Thank God for calling you to this ministry and commit yourself fully to it.

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