The Crucible of Bivocational Ministry, Part 1

The Pastoral

by Nathan Johnson December 16, 2015

I have spent the last five years as a bi-vocational church planter assuming that my non-ministry job has pulled my attention and focus away from my ministry.  Recent conversations and experiences have shown the opposite to be true:  my secular job experience has actually helped to enrich and refine my ministry. 

In this post, I would like to share with you three ways that bi-vocational ministry has been for me a crucible that God has used to refine me pastorally.

1. I have gained a better understanding of how to relate to my un-churched friends and coworkers in a very different non-church environment.  I am able to connect with them in their context as we deal with our mutual frustrations, experiences, and relationships.  Those off-the-cuff conversations don’t readily take place with the un-churched in a church environment, but at my day job I regularly discuss the Bible, church, spiritual matters, and deeply personal experiences with my coworkers.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but I’ve found those conversations to be much more honest, gut-level, and much less guarded than if I would’ve had the exact same conversation in the lobby after a church service. 

2. I’ve also learned that bi-vocational pastors and their congregations are able to have a greater understanding of each other due to shared workplace experiences.  I am now able to understand with greater clarity the various stresses that work brings into a home, and how families’ lives are shaped by the work week schedule.  Additionally, I have experienced a more appropriate set of expectations during my time as a bi-vocational pastor than our other full-time pastor.  While bi-vocational pastors carry a multi-faceted workload, their congregations’ expectations of their pastoral duties tend to be less Superman-esque.  When your flock knows that you are handling the burdens of ministry on top of secular work obligations, they’re more understanding when you don’t return their email right away or preach the best sermon they’ve ever heard.

3. Perhaps the most unexpected blessing from my experience in bi-vocational ministry came in the form of tasks I wasn’t able to focus on or accomplish.  The limited time and energy I was able to devote to ministry-related tasks required me to prioritize and delegate the essential tasks, and completely disregard non-biblical and non-essential objectives.  Bi-vocational ministry forced me to focus on what the Lord would have me do rather than what I preferred to do.  Instead of chasing professional accomplishment, negotiating denominational politics, and relaxing into a more ‘comfortable’ rhythm of ministry, I had to concentrate on shepherding the flock that God had me lead. 

Ultimately, God taught me one of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned in my ministry experience: that a paycheck from a church does not determine my value or significance in his Kingdom – God himself does.  I hope that those of you who are wrestling with the numerous challenges that bi-vocational ministry presents will also see that there are many blessings that – if you choose to see them as such – will refine and sharpen your ability to fulfill the calling that God has placed on your life.