(In Defense of the Bi-vocational Pastor)
What is a bi-vocational pastor and is it ok to be one?
This is the question that comes next after we have seen how many ministers’ pay are often not enough to cover their basic needs, forcing them to seek outside compensation.
The basic understanding of the term bivocational is a person who has two vocations. When used in regard to a pastor, it simply means the pastor is not fully funded by his church and therefore has to augment his income from other sources.
Much argument have been aired against a minister working outside of the church, foremost of which is that this is proof of the pastor’s lack of faith. But when we read the Bible, we read of characters of unquestionable faith and zeal for God’s work, practicing their craft even as they preached and performed miracles for the Lord.
In Acts 18, we read of Paul working as a tentmaker:
“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Michael Alford, in his article, Why its OK for Your Pastor to Have A Job Outside Church, points out that “nine chapters or so after being called to preach, Paul was still making tents to make ends meet and pay for his living expenses and his ministry. Being a working man didn’t keep him from preaching, and it didn’t make him any less of a preacher.”
There is nothing wrong nor shameful about having to work part-time to feed, clothe and send one’s kids to school. On the contrary, it would reflect poorly of a minister if he allows his family to starve and be destitute in the pretext of “doing the Lord’s work.”
Ray Gilder, the national coordinator of the SBC Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network and pastor of Gath Baptist Church in Tennessee argues, “why would anyone be critical of a man who is trying to work double duty so he can provide for his family while giving pastoral leadership to a church that needs him?”
While some pastors may have been forced to become bivocational, others choose to do so because they want to continue doing God’s work without being a burden to others.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, the Apostle Paul says: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.”
In any case, whether he is bivocational by circumstance or personal choice, what is important is that the pastor fulfills his obligations to the Lord with his whole heart, mind and strength in the same way he provides for his family.
In the end, he can still expect to hear the words “well done, my good and faithful servant.”