In a previous post I described several of the benefits of bi-vocational ministry, but it has its challenges as well.
Divided time: There are only so many hours in the day and ministry takes time. Even if you are efficient with your time, there are certain things you can’t do. I joined a bi-vocational group on LinkedIn and one of the discussion questions was “What do you wish you could do in ministry that you don’t have time to do because of your bi-vocational responsibilities?” There were a lot of responses to that question: evangelism, event planning, building contacts with the community, hospital visiting, etc. I would say one of the biggest challenges for me is meeting with others personally or in small groups. While my programming job provides me with fairly flexible hours, I still have trouble scheduling time outside of the Sunday and Wednesday time slots. (Though having two kids also has a lot to do with how I schedule my time.)
Divided attention: Not only is your time divided but so is your attention. Many times I wish I could focus all of my attention on ministry. Instead, I have to jump back and forth. It works the other way too. If I were focusing more of my attention on programming, I would have gained more of the expertise needed for various side projects in programming.
Your “success” ceiling is lowered: The reality of divided time and divided attention means that you will probably not be able to “excel” in either field. I put “success” and “excel” in quotes because I am referring to just one understanding of success. Nevertheless, bi-vocational pastors, if they remain bi-vocational, will never be able to pastor a large church. And a bi-vocational engineer limits how far he can climb the corporate latter if he continues in ministry.
Your expertise ceiling is lowered: The same principal applies to expertise. Becoming an expert in a field requires a great deal of time and attention. When those are divided you may still be able to do well in both fields, but it is hard to truly become an “expert.” I try to reduce this as much as possible by using my “free” time as efficiently as possible. I spend quite a bit of time reading non-fiction books and/or doing in-depth research for sermons. I try to limit my time watching TV and I’ve pretty well entirely cut out playing computer games. I still find myself spending too much time on-line though.
Your church/ministry will be impacted: I argued before that some of the impacts on the church of bi-vocational ministry are positive. But, having less time and less focus doesn’t just impact you on a professional level – it impacts your church as well.
There are a lot of factors when choosing to enter bi-vocational or full-time ministry. A lot depends on your goals, the goals of the church, the context of your church (financially and otherwise), and your ministry team.