Friday, July 17, 2015

How bivocational ministry has evolved

In 1981 I was voted in by the congregation of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana to be their bivocational pastor. The interesting thing about that is that neither the church nor I had ever heard of the term bivocational. In fact, it was at least a couple of years later before I heard the term.

Like most small churches in our area, Hebron had been served for many years by students from a seminary in Louisville. Typically, a student would enroll in the seminary and begin looking for a church to serve while completing a three year degree. Occasionally, a student would pursue an advanced degree and remain at the church longer than the traditional three year Master of Divinity, but that didn't happen very often.

It was expected the pastor would come to the "church field" on Saturdays and do visitation and lead the worship service on Sunday mornings. Some of the churches had evening services, so the pastors would either do more visitation or stay at the church and do school work until time for the later service. Afterwards, the student would go back to Louisville and either return on Wednesday evening if the church had a service then or the next Saturday.

This had been the model for a majority of the churches in our area for years. Few people referred to these as student pastors, they were just the pastor. So, no one thought it odd that I would pastor the church while working a full-time factory job, and few people considered me to be anything but the pastor.

It wasn't until a couple of years into my pastorate that I heard the term bivocational. The funny thing was that I was providing the church the same amount of ministry, if not more, than most of the student pastors, but their ministry was largely respected while many were viewing bivocational ministry as suspect.

The student pastors were gaining experience while pursuing a theological education. This earned them the approval of church and denominational leaders. These same leaders often looked at bivocational ministers as unqualified for a "real" church. Early in my ministry I had both seminary trained pastors and denominational leaders questioning my ministerial abilities. While most denominational leaders in those days tolerated bivocational ministers, they offered little, if any, support, encouragement, or training specifically designed for us. (In fairness, the judicatory leader whose ministry included our church was very supportive of both me and our church and was most helpful to me. However, I also experienced a lack of support and respect from others.)

I receive enough e-mails from bivocational ministers today to know that some still do not receive the kind of support and respect they need, but I also know that things are much better now than they were when I began my ministry. Bivocational ministry is much more accepted today as a legitimate call of God on a person's life. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of bivocational ministry. Some schools have designed specific programs especially designed for persons called to bivocational ministry. Many denominations and judicatories now offer training programs created for bivocational ministers.

It has been very rewarding to see these changes occur, especially in light of the fact that we are seeing increasing numbers of churches seeking bivocational ministers. Most denominations today report a growing number of bivocational ministers serving in their churches, and they believe that trend will continue to be upward.

God is calling men and women to serve as bivocational ministers to meet the growing need for such leadership in our churches. Perhaps he is calling you to this ministry. I served the church that called me in 1981 as their bivocational pastor for 20 years, and I will tell you it is some of the most rewarding work I've ever done. Yes, it was rough, but it was also a joy and a blessing. I left there in 2001 for the judicatory role I have now which includes working with many smaller, bivocational churches, and I continue to be blessed by the work these individuals are doing. If you sense that God might be calling you to such ministry, and you need to talk to someone about that, please contact me. If you would like to better understand bivocational ministry I encourage you to read my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

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