Full-Time Ministry on a Part-Time Basis Peter Beck

June 21, 2018

I felt called into the ministry 23 years ago. At the time I had no idea what that meant, what it entailed, or what I was going to do. The only thing that I knew for certain was that I was going into the ministry.

Like so many others before me, my understanding of the ministry was limited to the examples I had seen modeled before me. I went to a larger, multi-staff church. I assumed I would one day serve a larger, multi-staff church. All of our staff members served full-time. I assumed that I would serve full-time. That’s what I had seen. That’s what I assumed all churches must look like.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I left my job in advertising and headed off to seminary. I quickly discovered I wasn’t the only person who felt called to full-time ministry. In fact, other than one person, I can’t recall ever hearing another student express an interest in any other type of ministry. All of my classes talked about full-time ministry. All of our chapel speakers – other than the occasional professor who served a church on the side – were in full-time ministry positions. Apparently, everybody was called to full-time ministry.

Then I started serving a small congregation near the seminary. That’s when I discovered another model for doing ministry – bi-vocational ministry. I was a student by day and a pastor by night, weekends and holidays. I was no Superman but I was super busy and I’d loved it. Moreover, I wasn’t alone. I found out that there are lots of bi-vocational ministers out there. After 14 years of bi-vocational ministry, I’m glad I’m not alone.

That’s becoming more and more the case. The number of ministers serving in a bi-vocational capacity continues to grow. In just five years, the number of churches supporting a full-time pastor dropped from 71.4% to 62.2%. Among certain denominations and ethnic groups, the number of part-time ministers astounds. For example, 57% of African-American pastors serve on a part-time basis.[1] In my own denomination, the number of bi-vocational ministers grows yearly.  In 1998, Southern Baptist churches employed approximately 10,000 bi-vocational ministers. That number doubled over the next six years.[2] Some are now estimating that the number of churches led by bi-vocational ministers will rise to as much as 50-72%. If these numbers are realized, bi-vocational ministry will represent not an inferior vocation, some how less because it’s less than full-time, but a valuable model for ministry into the foreseeable future.

Rather than viewing bi-vocational ministry as a measure of the minister’s commitment or a church’s weakness, the implication of our focus on full-time ministers to the exclusion of their dual career counterparts, the modern church needs to explore the tremendous potential of these arrangements. Chuck Lawless noting the great potential of this model observed, “Pastors are beginning to embrace as their primary calling the role of bi-vocational minister. Some even intend to remain bi-vocational regardless of the size of their church as it grows.”[3]

To that end, Lawless offered ten reasons why this approach should be embraced and even celebrated. Among the reasons, he listed financial independence in the vein of Paul’s own tent-making approach, the repurposing of additional monies within the church budget for ministry and missions, and the minister’s ability to relate more closely to the life circumstances of his congregation and the community around him. As Lawless helpfully concludes, “Following God’s calling does not always mean leaving home and occupation. It might mean staying where you are and doing what you do as a base for ministry. Indeed, it may mean recognizing that God has given you your job so that you might lead His church.”[4]

Thus, at the end of the day, or a really long week, myself and thousands of ministers like me, punch the clock on one job and head for another. After nearly a decade and a half of bi-vocational ministry, I no longer feel inferior. I no longer diminish the value of my ministry because it takes place after 5 p.m.. Instead, I am excited by the opportunities to live out my calling in both the secular and sacred worlds. And, I am encouraged by the fact that I’m not alone. Thousands of us are taking this journey together.

Now, let me encourage you, particularly if you’re a bi-vocational minister or if your pastor is, remember that your ministry is just as valid as any other. The small church and the part-time pastor still make a big-time difference in the lives of those you serve. You can glorify God in all that you do right where God has placed you. If you didn’t, maybe no one else would.

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NOTES

[1] Bob Smietana, “Second Shift: Thriving in Bivocational Ministry.” Facts & Trends, September 29, 2016, at  https://factsandtrends.net/2016/09/29/second-shift-thriving-in-bivocational-ministry/.

[2] Rudy Gray, “Is Bivocational Ministry the New Normal?” in The Baptist Courier, November 2, 2016, at https://baptistcourier.com/2016/11/bi-vocational-ministry-new-normal/.

[3] Chuck Lawless, “10 Reasons Bivocational Ministry Matters,” August 12, 2014, at https://thomrainer.com/2014/08/10-reasons-bivocational-ministry-matters/.

[4] Chuck Lawless, “10 Reasons Bivocational Ministry Matters,” August 12, 2014, at https://thomrainer.com/2014/08/10-reasons-bivocational-ministry-matters/.

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