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The Bi-vocational Pastor

Misconceptions about "bi-vocational" pastors

Increasingly pastors find themselves having to work part-time in a secular profession. They have to do so either for financial reasons or by choice. Unfortunately these "bi-vocational" pastors are sometimes – but not always – considered as "secondary citizens" among "full time" pastors. Why is that so?

The reasons are many. For example, bi-vocational pastors are regarded as having less "real" pastoral experience, because they spend less time in ministry. Granted. But their life experience in the "real" world should not be discounted at all!

The quality of bi-vocational pastors is thought to be lower than the average full time pastor, because otherwise they would have found a full time position somewhere else. This way of thinking is simplistic and neglects the fact that many of these pastors are "bi-vocational" only by choice or necessity. And it should not be forgotten that the apostle Paul was a tent-maker.

The other reason why bi-vocational pastors are not honoured is that usually they do not hold a high position in a large church, or that they are the sole pastor of a very small church. Those who "rank" pastors in this way will have to re-read Jesus’ teaching regarding "true greatness" (e.g. Luke 9:46-48). Jesus’ value system is simply not the same as ours.

Advantages of being "bi-vocational"

There are in fact many advantages of being "bi-vocational." First of all, bi-vocational pastors are in touch with non-Christians. A full time pastor can be occupied by so many responsibilities that they do not have time to relate to non-Christians. They may have opportunities to talk to unbelievers as ministers of religion, but they have less chance to develop friendships with them.

A bi-vocational pastor, on the other hand, has plenty of time to listen to the hearts of non-Christians. In fact, they work with them and experience the same kind of problems and toils of life that unbelievers encounter on a daily basis. The life of a bi-vocational pastor speaks louder than the best evangelistic sermon of a full time pastor.

Secondly, a bi-vocational pastor has the advantage of living in the "real" world, so to speak. It is easy for a busy full time pastor to lose touch of the reality of life that both Christians and non-Christians face. The world is changing rapidly, and it is getting harder each day for a full time pastor to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the world outside of the four walls of the church.

Some pastors, for example, have the impression that they are the busiest people in the world. Hence they find it difficult to come to terms with why Christians do not attend all the wonderful meetings that they organise. The reality is that it is not uncommon nowadays for people to work close to 60 hours per week, and that often involves after hours and weekend work. A Christian with a young family who actively involves in a local church is possibly busier than the full time pastor.

Bi-vocational pastors are, however, in a better position to understand the "average bloke" down the street. These pastors themselves suffer from unstable income, lack of job security, and long working hours — long hours in both ministry and their second job! Just like any other Christian or non-Christian, they know how it feels to be juggling with family, work and church responsibilities. In short, bi-vocational pastors are living in the real world working with real people.

Thirdly, bi-vocational pastors follow the incarnational model that Jesus adopted. This is not to say that full time pastors are not or cannot be incarnational. However, the fact that bi-vocational pastors are constantly living and working with people in the world gives them more opportunities to share their lives with others, both Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Creator of heavens and earth humbled himself and became a human being, showing the world that he did not just say that he cared, but was willing to share the toils and trials of life, even to the point of dying on the cross. Bi-vocational pastors demonstrate a similar kind of servanthood. Jesus’ incarnational life is the testimony that God genuinely loves the world, and bi-vocational pastors are today’s witnesses to that fact.

What should we do

There are of course undoubtedly many advantages of being full time pastors. However, the roles of bi-vocational pastors should never be neglected. They should not be considered as "secondary citizens." Instead, they deserve more loving care, encouragement, and most of all, respect, from their peers. In fact, there is much to be learned from them. They are the best people to teach us how to minister to this hurting world, for they know what it means to be hurting.

Pray for our bi-vocational peers!

Pastor Siu Fung Wu <wus@wva.org.au>

Reprinted from Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 0-033. The Clergy/Leaders’ Mailing List is open to all Christians via Internet e-mail. To subscribe, send e-mail to clergy-request@pastornet.net.auwith SUBJECT reading SUBSCRIBE

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