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Monday, May 22, 2017

Bi-Vocational Ministry

The older I get the less I like the term bi-vocational pastor.  I think the term is a misrepresentation of what is happening in the life of a Pastor who also is engaged in secular employment of some kind.  It creates a dichotomy that we argue against when it is the person in the pew that is in question.  I know there are differences but the principle of a Christ-centered life is not that much different between the person in the pew, a preacher who also maintains secular employment, and a preacher who does not (which are probably far fewer than we realize).  Don’t worry I’m not going to start a crusade against a well-established term.  Even if I was inclined to it would be a fruitless battle.  But I would ask us to change the way we tend to think about such an arrangement.  I have changed the way I think about it.  Some might argue I have done so out of necessity, but I don’t think so.

I do believe I am somewhat qualified to deal with the subject.  I have pastored the same church for over 27 years.  All those years I have also maintained secular employment.  Truth be known I have already had about three “careers” in one life time.  I delivered Domino’s Pizza for 17 years.  I know, I know it’s hard for me to believe too.  I started delivering pizza when I was 28 and left the business after I had been a grandpa for several years.  I have driven a school bus now for over 13 years.  And, as I mentioned I have pastored for over 27 years.  And, yes, there was a brief time when I delivered pizzas, drove a school bus, and pastored while making the transition from pizza delivery to student delivery.

I am a Baptist preacher that drives a school bus.  I am not a school bus driver who is a Baptist Preacher.  When I came to the church I pastor they could not afford to pay me anything.  They did provide housing and utilities for a few years until the finances got so tight that I assumed the responsibility for paying the utilities.  Without going into all the details lest it seem like I’m complaining let me summarize.  I really have nothing to complain about.  God has been faithful at every turn, no matter how sharp, and there have been some doozies.  But for about the first ten years I did not receive hardly any compensation for my pastoral work except for a place to live which was a huge help.  The next ten years I received some compensation but not enough to support a family.  Oh, did I mention we raised and homeschooled six children.  Over the last eight year or so my pastoral salary has increased substantially for which I am grateful.

Quite honestly twenty-seven years ago I entered the pastorate here thinking in five years or so the church will have grown enough to completely support me in the ministry, ten years max.  Well, that didn’t happen.  As the years have gone along I have reevaluated my attitude and spirit about being a pastor with secular employment.  Initially I thought that getting to “full time” status would be a sign of success.  I don’t believe that any more.  At some point, I’m not exactly sure when, I realized I was pastoring full time.  I was preaching and teaching in five services a week (and all the preparation that demands), doing outreach, overseeing budgets and spending which for the most part in those days was not a pleasant experience, I was discipling, doing preacher training, doing administrative work, some building maintenance, I was planning and providing vision.  I was pastoring full time and I delivered pizza and later drove a school bus.  I abandoned the idea that I had to be able to quit secular employment to consider myself in the ministry full time.  And eventually I came to see my secular employment as just another part of my ministry.  I don’t know what the next years have in store but I do know I am living comfortably and confidently in the will of God pastoring the church over which the Holy Ghost made me overseer and driving a school bus.
When I think about working preachers in the context of the New Testament a couple of things come to mind.  Churches are to, as best they can, provide for their pastors.  I have faithfully preached that to my congregation and as they have had opportunity they have not failed to make that a priority.  I’m satisfied with that.  Of course, the bible also informs us that Paul during his missionary ministry did some tent-making; literally!  He did so to provide for his own needs and the needs of those that labored with him.  It doesn’t refer to him as a bi-vocational preacher/missionary.  It just notes the fact that he did that.  And he did it to advance the ministry.  It was a great relief when I realized that my secular work was a means of advancing the ministry of my church.  It has afforded my little church the opportunity to have a pastor.  Every church, even little churches need a pastor who loves them and studies and prays his heart out to feed them from the scripture and equip them for the ministry.

Truth be known I would not be surprised to discover that most Baptist preachers throughout history have been gainfully employed as part of their ministry.  Because Baptists have often been on the run and in hiding because of persecution it seems likely that most of those preachers were engaged in activities that would help meets the temporal needs of their families.  In fact, I think we might be surprised how many preachers are supplementing their income even today.  It might be in sales, it might be growing a garden, it might be accepting pay for ministry in places other than their church, it might be doing side jobs of some kind. 

I don’t know how the last part of my ministry will play out but I cannot escape the blessings and benefits of being a preacher who has secular employment.  It has kept me grounded.  It has kept my preaching grounded.  I have a job!  I have a boss!  I have co-workers!  I have a time-clock!  I have conflicting schedules!  I get out of bed at 4:00 and leave the house at 5:35 every morning on school days.  I get home every afternoon about 5:20.  I do have, on most days, about six hours during the middle of the day to devote to prayer and study.  My secular employment has kept me mindful of what it is like to get up and go to work and come home in the evening.  I know what it is to be exposed to things that are hostile to the kind of environment that I would like to maintain.  It is not that I pastor a church that thinks a preacher only works one day a week.  Far from it.  They know better.  Most of my men are given opportunity from time to time to share the word of God with the congregation.  They understand the time and work it requires putting together a cohesive outline and then stand up and communicate that message in a way that it will make a difference.  So, it’s kind of mutual.  I have an idea of what they are going through because I experience it on a regular basis.  And they have an idea of what I go through because they experience it occasionally.  It has facilitated, I believe, to cultivate a mutual respect.

I’m not suggesting that every preacher should secure secular employment.  I’m not even arguing that it is the ideal situation necessarily.  But I am arguing that it is not all bad, it is not unscriptural, and it is not “bi-vocational”.  I have one vocation.  Pastoring one of the Lord’s churches.  The secular employment has been one means of facilitating that vocation.  My secular employment is part of my ministry.  I always tell my men, you are not welders, carpenters, surveyors, police officers, electricians, I & E technicians, etc., who are Christians.  You are Christians who are welders, carpenters, surveyors, police offices, electricians, and I & E technicians, etc.  The same applies to preachers who work secular jobs.  In fact, I’m not even a preacher who is a Christian; I am a Christian who is a preacher.