One piece of advice I often share with church planters who are preparing to launch in the urban context is this: dispel the romance of ministry by taking a realistic look at the mechanics of it. The initial area I highlight is the church’s finances.
Does the ‘Mission Wait’ for the Money?
When I was preparing to plant I often found myself in conversations with other planters in my city. When we started talking, almost immediately I felt intimidated when their robust 5-year budget, precise mission statement, and well-organized core values rolled off their tongues easily.
Enamored by how well thought-out their plans to reach our city were, I’d ask how and when they planned on starting this super-ministry, and almost always their response seemed to include a need to raise support first before they could begin. When I probed a little more, the heart of the matter was, they were convicted they couldn’t begin their work until they raised their funds and could go full-time. In short, the mission had to wait until the money came in.
Stumbling vs Strategy
For me, things didn’t work that way. I stumbled into being bivocational (I had a full-time job while at the same time pastoring a church); it wasn’t a part of my life’s strategy. In fact, I didn’t know what the word bivocational meant until one of my fathers in the faith, John Mark Clifton, told me that’s what I was classified as.
All I knew was, in the city, if a pastor was blessed to have a full-time job, the church’s money would be able to sustain other areas of ministry and be effective in the community. For our church plant, that was the vision and mission. My being bivocational was the best strategy for us, and it was a blessing for our church for the first couple of years.
Three Blessings of Being Bivocational
Although I know every church plant is unique, in the urban context especially there are some similar rhythms no matter what city you’re serving in. Financial struggles during the initial start-up years are common rhythms. The full-time vs bivocational talk is real and, if allowed, I’d like to interject a "middle way" voice of seasoned counsel to the conversation.
Here are three reasons why I would challenge you and your team to consider allowing your Lead Pastor (or Lead Teaching Elder) to start off being bivocational for the infancy of your church plant;
Having a job will provide the pastor and his wife with the opportunity to work together in setting boundaries with the stewardship of their time early on in ministry regarding family, congregational life, sermon prep, and community impact. Your pastor will find himself in a place where he must learn to delegate responsibility to others, leaning on them to complete tasks he can’t, allowing them to grow. This will safeguard him from burnout, enemy #1 of church planters.
One aspect of shepherding that sheep appreciate is relating to their shepherd. Think about it: one reason we connect with Hebrews chapter 4 is because it unpacks the fact that we have a High Priest who sympathizes with us during our times of weakness. In a similar way, when I was bivocational, it seemed as if my people felt a greater sacrifice of my time when I answered the phone or met them for coffee after work for counseling, because like them, it was after work. When I used sermon illustrations about fighting through traffic, they identified with it more because they saw me on a peer level. I was seen as more "blue collar" than "clerical collar."
Obviously, not paying the pastor a full-time salary saves the church money. At the end of the two years of my bivocational run, our church had five figures in the bank. When our ministry began to grow numerically and the need for shepherding increased and the demand for me to invest my life more in the lives of the men became a reality, the church was able to bring me on full-time.
Starting out bi-vo for a season may provide your church with the stability you need to have a long lasting impact in the city God has called you to. Think about it and pray. May God give you His wisdom.