I recently attended an event at my seminary alma mater for bi-vocational pastors. The event included panelists who had years of bi-vocational ministry experience. One of the panelists said something that struck a chord with me:
“There are no part-time pastors.”
As a bi-vocational pastor I work about 20-25 hours/week “for the church.” I average a bit more hours/week for my job as a project manager in the aviation industry. My “church work” is split between attending services and meetings, teaching preparation and prayer, planning, communication, and a slew of other miscellaneous activities. Since I don’t spend 40+ hours a week doing these tasks it would make sense to call me a part-time pastor, just as it would also be fair to say that I’m a part-time project manager.
This panelist would disagree.
The language “part-time pastor” and, to a lesser degree, even “bi-vocational” ministry, implies that our lives fit into neatly discrete categories. Yesterday at church I was a pastor. When I go into work this morning, I’ll be a project manager. On Tuesday night, I’m a father. In fact, my identity as a pastor/father/project manager, is far more integrated than that.
In pastoring, I’m a father and a project manager. My wife and kids (and anyone else in my home: that’s another post) are my first line of ministry, not separate from it. The lessons I learn from project management help me become a better leader. My experience at my job informs how I read Scripture and preach sermons.
In project management, I’m a pastor and a father. I don’t mean that I preach sermons at work. It does mean that I seek to live out my Christian witness by working hard with honesty, kindness, and calm. It means that I see my job as a way to supplement my income in order to free up the church to pay others or participate in other ministries. Neither is my project management separate from my duties as a husband and father. On its most basic level, my job enables me to provide for the needs of my family.
I allocate my hours in a “part-time” way but not my identity.* So long as I am called to these roles then, I am always a pastor even if I’m not doing traditionally pastoral tasks. My bi-vocational ministry role is simply one of the ways in which I pastor.
(* At its deepest level, my identity exists completely apart from these roles. My identity is in Christ, a truth that endures long after these particular roles will have ceased.)
Not how, but who?
Over the years people have approached me to ask me about my bi-vocational role. Some have expressed interest in entering into bi-vocational ministry. Some are already in a secular field and are interested in adding a ministry role. Some are preparing for ministry but see the benefits of bi-vocational ministry. How, I asked the panelists, should I counsel others to discern their call?
One of the panelists offered me this: Instead of asking if you’re called to bi-vocational ministry or not, ask who you are being called to serve. This is the story of my call. I did not, at the beginning of my ministry, feel called to bi-vocational ministry as such. But I was called to serve at my current church and that meant, initially by necessity, that I was called to serve in a bi-vocational role.
Right now, our church probably has the budget for a single “full-time” pastor should we choose, but we believe it is more strategic for gospel ministry to have a leadership team made up of multiple “part-timers” and then rely heavily on a church family all pulling together on the same gospel mission.
There are a number of reasons for this strategic approach, and it might not always make sense for our church, but it does right now. And, more importantly, it’s an example of how the “who” comes before the “how.” As a pastor, I am called to serve my church and the best way I know how to do that, is through bi-vocational ministry.