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preaching article Is Modern Church Leadership Tilting Toward Bivocational Ministry?

Is Modern Church Leadership Tilting Toward Bivocational Ministry?

based on 9 ratings
Feb 26, 2014


You may have noticed the world of ministry has changed because the world has changed. No need for statistics and long, drawn-out ammo to persuade you. If you’ve been a concerned Christian or professional saint, you know things are shifting. Economically, the world is in turmoil and no one can balance a budget. Upward mobility is becoming a thing of the past, and those under the age of 40 will most likely be the first generation to fail at outearning their parents.

The economics of the world are deeply affecting the economics of the church in more ways that just money. Because of the desperate focus on having or maintaining jobs, people move on average almost every five years to keep pace. In Denver alone, the average metro or suburban citizen moves every 18 months, and thus churches have to operate based on the probability of losing many of their congregational members every few years, just like a college ministry.

Ministry therefore may not be able to be based on sustainability, but rather on pure blind faithfulness to make disciples one by one.

As people lose their sense of stability, security and sustainability, their tendency is to move from generosity to scarcity—they simply won’t give like they used to. At present, the average Christian gives to the church at the exact percentage non-believers give to charities—just fewer than three percent.

Culturally, those under 40 have shifted in their value sets. Fifty years ago, one of the highest virtues was “loyalty,” and people would give faithfully to the church, trusting the institution and the leaders to use the money wisely.

And even if they didn’t agree with a building fund or focus for the corporate finances, they would continue to give simply because they trusted the spiritual hierarchy.

Not anymore.

Today’s believers are not loyal or blindly trusting. One of their highest values is “meaning,” and they will only give to what they see is making a visible difference, or what they perceive will bring them meaning at a personal level. You may argue with this at a philosophical level, but you will not be able to fight it at the street level.

People, even those inside the church, are exhausted at giving to boxes or buildings whose influence is waning, and they simply won’t give to keep the lights on or pay the staff. They want to help real people with real needs.

These rough seas, brought about by the winds of global change, are going to keep blowing, and the collective unconscious and conscious atmosphere, values, and ethos for practical living and kingdom building have been forever changed. Black and white is now grey.

Generosity, faithfulness, kingdom impact and God’s design for building His church are now vast question marks with unlimited opportunities. Those who navigate well will not only survive but thrive in this new world.

The Downwardly Mobile Church

In 2013, the Carnival cruise ship The Triumph lost power off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The voyage for consumers who had hoped for a beautiful, restful and enjoyable cruise turned into a nightmare as they had to be towed over a week’s time back to Alabama.

The toilets stopped, the air conditioning failed, the food spoiled and the travelers realized that their dream vacation was not worth a penny, let alone the thousands they had spent.

This is a picture of the failing consumer church—large, medium and micro forms. Yes, there will always be churches that seem to be avoiding all these shifts—churches that show growth based on old measurements and who seem to be growing both numerically and financially—but don’t be fooled by these aberrations.

Wise leaders look beyond the occasional success story and instead stare honestly at the undeniable trends. In seasons of economic struggle, what always occurs is a growing chasm between the haves and the have nots.

As church attendance declines nationally, and as we fail on a global scale to see new disciples made, megachurches and growing churches are tasting what could be the last wave of transfer growth before the reality of the trends hit home.

Regardless of the size of the ship you serve in, calculating leaders must adjust to the trends.

The western church’s business model based on the expectation of growth, optimism and promise of financial blessing has proven to be a consumer nightmare.

We’ve tried to attract people with safety for our kids, hand sanitizers in every hallway, programs, preaching and worship that look more like a carnival theatre night, and what have we gotten for all our spiritual protection and provision?

A harbor full of drifting ships who have lost power and are quickly losing the return customers we thought would always stay with us.

Many churches are leveraged to the max, and the engines are decelerating at best or have totally shut down at worst. Like the tugboats that slowly pull the massive vessels back to port, God has not abandoned ship, but is pulling us back for a serious retrofit.

We need a new model of disciple making, a new model of doing church, a new vision for our lives and what our money and time can accomplish.

By the year 2025, America will be as unchurched as the rest of the western world. As a consultant to church plants, mega-churches, traditional churches, denominations, para-church and missions agencies, the most conservative advice I can give is to tell you that the old is now passing away.

Gone are the days when a young man or woman can graduate from Bible school or seminary and find a great church to go work for. Like a man caught on a catamaran in high winds, people are being hurled into the unknown without any vision or practical skills for how to follow God and lead people.

Will the real church please stand up?

But despite all this negativity, there is a silver lining. The church, at least the real one that God is building, is not just the buildings, the structures, programs or paradigms of ministry. The church is the people of God, and what that means is that all of us, both paid and unpaid, are feeling the pain together.

The questions for some are how do we keep our churches alive, sustainable, vibrant and open to God’s voice?

The questions for others are how am I to live, how can I live a life after God that my children will want to follow and emulate, how do I play a role in God’s kingdom when I can’t stand going to church?

I could go on with many more honest questions, but suffice it to say that everyone, at least those who truly care about Jesus and his kingdom movement, should care about The Church.

During my sabbatical in 2013, my 19-yearold daughter asked me what I was thinking about doing after 25 years of pastoring. I’ll admit, I was pooped out and would have loved to call for a sub or just tap out for a while, and she sensed it.

“So, Dad, you’re not thinking of leaving our church are you?”

“Well, babe, everything is on the table. So, maybe,” I responded.

To my surprise, she said angrily, “Dad, you have to keep pastoring and leading us. I’ve now seen other churches and I’m around other Christians all the time who hate their churches and are barely making it spiritually.”

Then she asked, “Do you know how different we are, how unique our people and our story is? Dad, any of my friends, both Christian and especially the ones that aren’t, would love Adullam. In fact, we need our type of church to take over the world.”

With that one ten minute conversation, I was hooked again.

But what does it mean for me, and maybe you, to work with God in building His church in a world that seems so unattracted to our churchy ways? If God were to shine bright through his people, his church, what would it cost me, or us?

Yes, there will always be churches that expand through transfer growth and that can keep their pastors paid and their churchy folks happy and safe, but what about the rest of us who are no longer content to simply exist in the religious zone?

What about those of us who can’t play the games anymore, who don’t want to keep consumer Christians happy? What will it truly cost if we take Jesus’ words seriously, and I mean all of his words? Is it possible that Jesus has a plan for us?

I would not only answer with a whole-hearted Yes! but I would also say that maybe Jesus is glad we are finally feeling enough pain to look up, ask hard questions and turn to him for his answers. I believe that currents of change are helping us drift back toward His design for our lives and the church. And true change always begins with some struggle before harmony settles in.

God’s mission is not dependent upon the things we think it is.

It never has been.

And once we acknowledge this and recalibrate, I believe we will find a creative new story that not only feels better at a life level, but also makes sense to people who are trying to find God and the good news of kingdom life.

Jesus meant to set us free, which also means he meant to free the church, but we must follow him as he challenges us at the level of the wallet.

As Jesus plainly said, “You cannot serve both God and money,” and thus every aspect of our faith, fears, plans and dreams will be challenged at this basic level. Currency is the control switch of both building his kingdom and building our own kingdoms, and the leaders of God’s evolving church will be those who can lean into the tension and find a pure path through it all.

If we don’t tack to the ways of his kingdom, if we don’t open our sails to the wind of the Holy Spirit, we will soon find ourselves dwindling under the hot sun in a quiet, drifting, fruitless void. It’s time to accept the change and have Jesus teach us anew how to lighten the loads of these other kingdoms and have him leverage us to the hilt.

Who will survive?

Those who have courage to think, look and function outside the box. Those who cast off pure dependence on others, blind dependence upon a church, or expect God to make ministry easy. Jesus has always led his missional saints into the tension of kingdom life and kingdom provision.

The gospel came to us through a church of barely paid and non-paid saints, and we can once again recover the beautiful freedom that will bring the gospel to the next epoch of history.

The bank, or our model of church isn’t the only thing broke.

But this isn’t just about the church or your ministry calling. It’s really about you. Beyond the dollars and cents of ministry are hundreds of thousands of faithful saints who really do want to serve the world, but who now struggle to stay afloat. Treading water isn’t just about financial survival. It’s also about spiritual survival.

As I’ve talked to waves of leaders both young and old, the pain of the church has gotten them close to shipwrecking their souls.

  • “How do I manage my true faith amidst the lies I’ve seen in the organized church?”
  • “How do I live faithfully after Christ without pandering to the consumer whims of the next cruise ship to go down?”

These and a hundred other deep questions cause the present and future leaders of the church to question their very calling. We were sold a bill of goods that told us if we could preach well, organize staff and run weekend programs, we would be honored, respected, followed and provided for.

But none of that is true.

The skills that once gave us meaning have left us yearning for more. But where do we go to learn the new skills and the new way of life for God’s legitimate leaders?

I may fail to deliver, but it is my heart to try to provide at least a start for you to rethink your vision, renew your faith, restore your heart and re-imagine a fruitful and even fun life of service to the King of Glory.

This article was adapted from Hugh’s new book, BiVo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints, Leveraging All Of Life Into One CallingCLICK HERE to get it. 

Hugh Halter is the national director of Missio, serving as a mentor to a global network of missional leaders and church planters. He is lead architect of Adullam, a congregational network of missional communities in Denver, Colorado, and is the coauthor of The Tangible Kingdom with Matt Smay.

Talk about it...

Horace  Wimpey avatar
Horace Wimpey
0 days ago
Good article. As a bi-vocational pastor, I have always felt that the model for ministry was Paul. Paul was the quintessential bi-vocational pastor. Not only does our economy dictate these things, so does the call. I have talked with so many vocational ministers who tell me that there hands get tied in what they think God wants them to do because of the fear of losing their job. The average Southern Baptist ministers tenure is 18 months. I truly believe that bi-vocational ministers have more freedom in their ministry that vocational ministers. May we all walk worthy of His calling today.
Lafern Cobb avatar
Lafern Cobb
0 days ago
Took the time to read this article and found out is was just an advertisement for a new book.........think I found the problem..........
Lafern Cobb avatar
Lafern Cobb
0 days ago
*it
Kevin Ross avatar
Kevin Ross
0 days ago
You honestly don't see the truth in what Hugh wrote? It's a hard message to receive (particularly for FT Pastors and members who want BAU types of churches) but I believe he's presenting an accurate picture. Like it or not.
Tim Secrist avatar
Tim Secrist
0 days ago
Right on target!
Joel Rutherford avatar
Joel Rutherford
0 days ago
My thoughts exactly, LaFern
Dr. Ronald Shultz avatar
Dr. Ronald Shultz
0 days ago
I've been bi-vocational for nearly all of my ministry. I had a brief stint as a FT pastor. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. Time is harder to manage as a BiVo, but there is more freedom since your livelihood is not dependent upon politics or fickle people. As congregations shrink and folks develop more aversion to paying for buildings instead of putting the funds in the mission, message and the masses we will see more opportunities for BiVos. In light of that, we need to go back to have solid Christian Universities for the secular skills a BiVo will need and making Seminary what it was back in the day albeit few can afford that unless it is online or there are apprenticeships available. Apprenticeship is what we started with and may need to return to it as the primary means of educating pastors.
Harold Andrew avatar
Harold Andrew
0 days ago
Lots of good thoughts both in and out of original article. We all know "church" is the believers not a building and id the hole If Christianity was just word definitions we would have it solved. So could it be that we are faced with the lack of prayer in services, crumby discipleship training, not really standing for much at all, a small percentage of people knowing what actually is the Gospel, , not enough unpaid people working for God, limited contact with Bible, lack of organizational transparency, untrained elders, maybe I should write a book haha just joking. the real list would bring Paul back into active duty with a big stick.
Chuck Brooks avatar
Chuck Brooks
0 days ago
The name of this article is, "Is Modern Church Leadership Tilting Toward Bivocational Ministry?" but the author didn't really answer the question. Am I supposed to read between the lines and conclude that if the church removes the pastor's salary as a line item in the budget everything's going to be OK? I've been on both sides of this issue as a bivocational pastor (twice) and paid full time (twice). As a church planter, our church grew under my ministry (and by God's grace and provision) to where we could support me and my family full time. I left my job of 22 years and after about six years of full time ministry and church growth our church experienced a split that forced me back into secular work as an IT consultant. After five years God grew our church back to where I could return to the office full time. I know there are different opinions as to whether a church needs a full time pastor but I am among those that say a pastor cannot serve two masters...working outside the church along with a full time commitment to "shepherd the flock of God" will have a negative and destructive impact on the church, the pastor, his marriage and family life...even his heath.
Suresh Manoharan avatar
Suresh Manoharan
0 days ago
Resorting to "tent-making" a la Paul is always good as long as it does not obstruct the original calling of the Servant of God.
Joel Rutherford avatar
Joel Rutherford
0 days ago
This strikes me as just an advertisement for a book. It's all finger-pointing and problem-describing, unless of course you buy the book. Most telling is how traditional churches, mega-churches, and all seminaries/Bible Colleges have gotten it wrong. The author - who uses his daughter's words to point it out - is the only one doing it right.
Kurt Wesolowski avatar
Kurt Wesolowski
0 days ago
The article is OK as far as it goes. The discussion of bi-vocational ministry is much deeper than could be presented here. For example, there are different types of bi-vocational ministers. Those that are part of a Christian ministry (such as appears here) often have more time and freedom from the workplace to be able to tend to some of the work of the ministry during some work hours (such as sermon preparation, visiting) because the company they work for is supportive of ministry in general and flexible. This may not be true for many bi-vocational ministers whose marketplace ministries are for secular organizations that do not allow some of the flexibility and freedom to tend to those tasks on work hours. Also, regarding economics, there are various levels of financial independence from the church. There are many bi-vocational ministers that receive just enough from the church in terms of housing allowance, parsonage, etc., that they may still feel that sense of dependency concerns that are alluded to. I think the article is a good place to launch further discussions about the nature of bi-vocational ministry moving forward.
Garfield Spencer avatar
Garfield Spencer
0 days ago
Whether this is an advertisement for a book or an effort a being too negative, the article poses some real questions that are pertinent to the continuance of the church. Without sustained leadership, even healthy, mature churches will begin to crumble after a while. I have been BV all my 16 years in ministry. But I stuck to the one church and we have maintained a membership over 60 all this time despite an average 1 1/2 deaths per year plus continuous rural to urban migration.
Garfield Spencer avatar
Garfield Spencer
0 days ago
Whether this is an advertisement for a book or an effort a being too negative, the article poses some real questions that are pertinent to the continuance of the church. Without sustained leadership, even healthy, mature churches will begin to crumble after a while. I have been BV all my 16 years in ministry. But I stuck to the one church and we have maintained a membership over 60 all this time despite an average 1 1/2 deaths per year plus continuous rural to urban migration.
Garfield Spencer avatar
Garfield Spencer
0 days ago
Whether this is an advertisement for a book or an effort a being too negative, the article poses some real questions that are pertinent to the continuance of the church. Without sustained leadership, even healthy, mature churches will begin to crumble after a while. I have been BV all my 16 years in ministry. But I stuck to the one church and we have maintained a membership over 60 all this time despite an average 1 1/2 deaths per year plus continuous rural to urban migration.
Ptr Dewi avatar
Ptr Dewi
0 days ago
What amazing timing? To have an article about pastors who have to engage in a secular job as well as christian ministry to make ends meet,and receive an article from Charisma about David Yonghi Cho convicted of $12m embezzlement. Could we say that the consumer church worships,serves, and promotes only one god - MAMMON?
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
So, what are YOU saying. That Bi-Vocational Pastors are money hungry mammon worshipers? I would like you to follow me around on my typical days of ministering, and working, so as to feed my family, and still be able to do God's work. Our little church has a large population of children, and a small population of unemployed, and retired adults, who simply cannot maintain a proper salary package for a Pastor. On the other hand, I love my congregation, and do the work of an evangelist. (Hmmm, seems to me that Paul had something to say about that, and he was a BI-VO too)! Comments?
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia avatar
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia
0 days ago
Whether this is an advertisement for a book or not is immaterial. What is said is true. There are not the committed disciples in sufficient congregations to keep them going and leadership has to be sought elsewhere. I preached in nearly 40 congregations last year in churches who had no minister and relied on Lay Preachers to keep them together. I am no saint but what I see out there is a serious concern. We need as he says a Jesus refit and it is difficult and hard to do.
James Whyte avatar
James Whyte
0 days ago
What an insightful article. I am bivocational and called to Pastor a church who had a bivocational Pastor for 37 years. I have felt that my calling at an advanced age is to bring them to the leval of being able to support a vocational Pastor. I believe it is advantageous to be able to focus solely on the needs of the flock. I personally feel that I have greater freedom to lead without the mindset of being"thrown out. Good dialogue!
Daniel Mckenney avatar
Daniel Mckenney
0 days ago
I just wore my jaws out reading this long article to my wife and we both came to the same conclusion. A man is trying to sell a book so we are told all about the problem with not one sentence of a solution without buying the book. I would like to add that pastors throughout our country are part of the problem. We preach a message of grace in everything except "tithing." We like to go to the law for that one. Most pastors know that that this is an Old Testament taxation system and that we are taught in 2 Cor 8 and 9 and 1 Cor 16:1-2 about grace giving. Instead of teaching people the grace model because they can't trust people to honor God in this way they teach something they know is wrong. Why do we tell people the "storehouse" is the local church anyway? Also, if we would get away from "big empire building" and go to a house church model like the early church, people would see value in where the money was going.
Barney Lewis avatar
Barney Lewis
0 days ago
I don't get it. Sorry but I just couldn't tie this to what the title said it would be about.
Michael Chidester avatar
Michael Chidester
0 days ago
Back to basics: Jesus stated He would build His church. He would build, He would build not dependant on money, people, circumstances. Now that does not negate the believer's responsibility to be faithful, but not out of obligation but of love to be part of His ministry of furthering the Kingdom. If we are unfaithful, God's plans will not be halted. Dedicated followers may be called to give a greater sacrifice, such as bivocational service. Man cannot serve two masters.
Benson Awhinawhi     Of The Redeemed Christian Church avatar
Benson Awhinawhi Of The Redeemed Christian Church
0 days ago
Remember His toughts towards us ,and that we walk by Faith.We are not unmindful of the wiles of the Devil.May God grant us the GRACE to remain focused and fully DEPENDENT on HIM no matter the circumstances He allows us to pass through.
Charles Williams avatar
Charles Williams
0 days ago
Maybe they should re-title this article. I was hoping to read about those who worked in the ministry plus had to work a non-ministry job to.
  avatar
0 days ago
'Right on the nail' every sentence in the article is a statement coming out as a warning just as Johns warning to the church in revelation. Indeed God is going to shape his people and his church through whatever pain it takes. As some one said 'God spares no pains that bring us lessons of eternal value' with just one aim: to help us return to him, to keep us from falling,to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

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Thank you.