CHAPTER 1 – Small Church Realities
Tom graduated seminary full of passion and enthusiasm for using his faith to make a difference in the world around him. He and his young wife were so excited when a small church near his hometown called him as pastor. Their commitment to making a significant difference in their community through their church caused them to throw themselves into as many activities as they could. Like many small churches, Tom’s church was not able to fully-fund his salary, so he worked a second job at a local business to help support his family. At first the excitement of it all kept Tom energized and passionate about his new role as the pastor of a small church. But as time went by, the pressure of raising a family, caring for the needs of the church and working a second job to help pay for it began to have a negative impact in Tom’s life. As the pressure began to build, Tom began to lose his excitement and energy for ministry. He tried to pray more in order to regain his passion, but he was often so exhausted that he would fall asleep during his prayer time. His wife tried to help all that she could, but with two small children at home and her part-time Internet business, her time also had great demands on it. Tom began to have anxiety attacks. His blood pressure rose to unhealthy levels. His wife would often gently remind him of how long it had been since he had been home for dinner with the family. Finally, four years into what Tom thought was going to be a lifelong adventure, Tom resigned from the church and moved his family to a larger community where he took a full time job teaching at the local community college. When friends and family asked Tom if he was ever going to re-enter the ministry, he would respond that he did not want to talk about it.
Every year godly pastors such as Tom, who serve small churches that are unable to fully support their salary, leave the ministry. Some of these pastors will eventually re-enter the ministry, but many will never return to a calling they once found so fulfilling. Such pastors are often referred to as bivocational pastors because they have two vocations, one that is ministry oriented and another that is outside the church. While there are many reasons why bivocational pastors may leave the ministry, a significant one is that they simply burn-out. The pressures of working secular jobs and carrying on the duties of leading churches become too great for some bivocational pastors to bear. When these pastors leave the ministry, the churches are deprived of their experience, their passion, and their unique gifts and talents. Churches cannot afford to continue to lose so many good leaders.
Bivocational pastors face not only the additional pressure of working a second job to support their ministry; they also must frequently deal with a perceived second-class status in ministry. Over time, this perception of bivocational ministry being second-class has resulted in a negative social stigma being attached to the concept of bivocational ministry. Some pastors feel a sense of inadequacy when serving in bivocational roles. They may not even want to think of themselves as bivocational because of the perceived stigma attached to the term.
Due to a lack of understanding, people will occasionally refer to bivocational pastors as part-time pastors, a misnomer because all pastors are on call twenty-four hours a day. Therefore, there are no actual part-time pastors. When discussing this issue, Dennis Bickers suggests “rather than referring to full-time or part-time ministers, it is much better to call ministers either fully-funded or bivocational.”
While there may be no part-time pastors, there are situations in which full-time ministers must discover income from other sources so they can accomplish the ministry to which they have been called. Ronald Hornecker and Doran McCarty write in their book Making the Most of Change that “it is more accurate to talk of bivocational churches than bivocational pastors.”[v] This is probably a more accurate way to describe bivocational ministry.
Bivocational ministry is not the right decision for all pastors and all churches. Dennis Bickers reminds his readers that “the call to bivocational ministry is a call to a specific ministry for both the church and the minister, and how blessed when both respond to this call with joy and anticipation that God is going to do something powerful as a result.”[vii] Bivocational ministry is not the place for those whose ministry skills are so inadequate that they cannot