BIVO Series (2/4): Why We All Should Consider Being BiVo
The word bi-vocational is becoming more prominent in the ministry world, in part out of desire and in part out of necessity. This trend in ministry is not new, and in fact has been around since the Bible was written. The Apostle Paul is the most referenced biblical figure when it comes to the conversation on whether one should consider being bivocational.
There was a time in U.S. history that being in full-time paid ministry was not only normal but very attainable for those that were qualified and desired such. I actually fit the description of most that pursued such a venture. I finished a BA in Communications, took a year off to get married and work, and started seminary pursuing an M.Div. (the degree I was told I needed to go into ministry).
In fact, I went into “full-time” ministry while I was completing my degree requirements. My family took a role with a prominent international missions agency and spent a couple of years as international church planters. My full-time job was to disciple, equip, and train national leaders in South Asia and send them out to plant reproducing churches. To date, this period in my life is considered the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, nothing has compared.
I have no regrets on pursuing an M.Div and actually went on to also get an MA before leaving seminary behind me. I may even pursue a doctorate in ministry or Ph.D. in applied theology eventually because I enjoy knowledge and learning in a way that only the academic classroom lends itself, but I also appreciate hands-on practical experience.
It’s funny that bi-vocational ministry is becoming more of a normal practice now in the U.S. because when you study disciple-making church planting movements around the world you’d be hard-pressed to find the names of any “rock-star” pastors…. because they don’t exist. Sure, there are apostolic leaders that have planted hundreds and in some cases thousands of churches, but you will never know their name, read a book authored by them, and their church will never make a top one hundred list of fastest growing churches in the world.
For the most part, not all, but most of these leaders are bi-vocational. I worked with a group the last six months of living in South Asia that went on to plant five reproducing churches and every single one of them had another occupation. Some were teachers, some were farmers, and others did odd jobs to provide for their family. These particular leaders are in one of the poorest areas of the world and their church will NEVER become self-sustaining enough to pay their salary. So, much like the Apostle Paul (during one part of his ministry), they are “tent makers.”
With this said, I’ll be transparent and lay my cards out to let you know I have consistently wrestled with the idea of being bi-vocational. It is not an unwillingness on my part, but I do think we need to be careful that the pendulum doesn’t swing so far that we prescribe it to everyone in ministry. At the same time, I know that we don’t only need hundreds or even thousands of new churches planted throughout the U.S. but millions. In short, we do not have enough “full-time” ministry folks to equip the people needed to reach the growing U.S. population.
The exciting part of this shift in thinking is that I believe relying on full-time paid workers for too long not only hindered the capability of the church but also hindered the mission. Unfortunately, there are still many people, mostly of an older generation, that believe it is the full-time ministry workers job to make disciples. But the more we see this shift take place, the more we will see this translate to a message of freedom and family put into the hands of everyday people.
This should translate into new faith communities being started more rapidly, and multiplying disciples being made throughout the country. Note, I am not suggesting we do not have biblically qualified leaders, but I am suggesting that the New Testament doesn’t show these qualifications to be a seminary degree or full-time support to lead the work.
Since 2011 I have found myself in and out of full-time ministry. My family returned from life overseas with a desire to continue to do what we had in South Asia but now amongst our own culture. I also knew that God had called me to provide for my growing family so even though I took a ministry role with the Table Network in late 2014, I also chose to work an outside job rather than raise support. There was some freedom for me at the time to re-acclimate myself to my own culture and to do so in relationship with others. This led me to work as a Barista at a coffee counter for a short season, an Operations Associate for a financial software company (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds!), and eventually an Account Manager for a cloud based software company. All three of these roles were different, but none of them changed my ultimate vocation or calling to make disciples.
Even those that chose a traditional path to full-time ministry need to be willing to do whatever is needed in order to fulfill the calling God placed on their life. This is a very real and personal topic for me as a church planter now in urban Portland, a place that is very challenging to get a self-sustainable church up and running to pay a full-time pastor.
So, do I believe we have reached the end of an era in full-time paid ministry workers? No, but I do believe we have reached a new era of seeing both fully paid, partially paid, and no payment at all as disciples go and make disciples that translates into faith families forming along the way. Regardless of where we are in the world or what we do to pay the bills, I believe we all need to consider the future of making disciples amongst those who haven’t yet believed in Jesus and prayerfully consider if God would have us be bivo if that is needed to meet them where they are.