Summary: We are all ministers so we need to rethink some traditional vocational concepts.
The Time Has Come For Bivocational Ministers and Staff
I have served in many churches over the last twenty-five years in a bivocational capacity. Only at the time I had not heard the terminology nor realized that it was what was needed in the churches. I had been saved and mentored under the ministry of fulltime or vocational pastors. Consequently, when I received my call to ministry, I naturally assumed that a pastorate meant a fulltime career. After all, did not God set up a full-time priesthood in the Old Testament? Did this not seem to be confirmed in the New Testament? Did it not seem to be the accepted practice throughout the history of the Church? With all those things being answered in the affirmative, I spent many years seeking a fulltime vocational ministry.
In those years, I have run across many things that tend to create more John Marks than create Pauls or Peters. I have had many questions and did not realize that I was creating a small database that would suddenly click when I ran into some folks who spoke of "key" churches and bivocational or part-time ministries. I am about to create some furor as I share some of my experiences and why I believe that the time of bivocational ministers and ministries has come.
Actually, bivocational ministries have always been around. Prophets often came and went only showing up when the God needed to straighten out priests and kings. They came in, did their job and we are not always told what they did after that. We know that Amos was a shepherd and a picker of sycamore fruit until God called him in for a specific mission. (Amos 7:14) We are not told that the king or the priests killed him though I am sure that crossed their minds. We can reasonably assume that he went back to his flocks and trees. Lord knows we could use a few good part-time prophets today!
The apostle Paul worked to provide a living for himself and others while he ministered when his support levels were low or to accept support from others when the situation seemed best to not accept support from whom he was ministering to. (Acts 20:33,34; 2 Cor 11:7-9) Did he quit preaching during those times? Hardly! He became a bivocational missionary/evangelist. There are currently many countries where no vocational missionary can enter with missionary on his passport. There are organizations that assist people in obtaining secular jobs in those countries. They are then trained to evangelize and start churches, disciple and train national pastors. The day may come soon when that will be the only way to answer the call to the mission field.
You can also find throughout history many preachers that were part-time. In fact, many of the fulltime ones tried to have these preachers part from time completely since they were not fond of the part-time preacher’s sermons. Some of the Anabaptist groups still exist. Many, if not all, of the Amish and Mennonite pastors are fulltime farmers and pastors part-time.
Among the Black and Hispanic groups that I have had the pleasure of ministering to and being ministered to by them many have bivocational pastors. One Black pastor that I know is not only a supervisor for a Government agency, but has a funeral parlor. I asked him how he manages that and he told me that he had good elders and deacons. In other words, he had a good part-time staff.
Some white churches have part-time pastors. Many others have part-time pastors, but do not know it because they call them interim pastors. Now, if the interim is retired he may seem more like a fulltime pastor, but depending on health and other variables, he may only be functioning as a part-time pastor. One area church has an interim pastor that retired from a church after forty years of service. He told them that he did not want a permanent position. He has been there two and a half years. That his more permanent than many fulltime pastors. The average stay of a vocational pastor is three years and a youth pastor a year and a half. Of course, since the average member is only staying two years in any church those tours of duty for the ministers seem long in comparison.
Most churches that I have ministered in have never used the interim pastor approach. They did call in some supply preachers during the search, but the Deacons/part-time staff maintained the fort until they called a pastor. An interim pastor can be a good thing. I have taken some training myself to be an interim. The problem arises when an interim stays too long. Of the pastorless churches, that I have visited the average length of stay for an interim is eighteen months. That is at least a year too long and some have had an interim for far longer. One church has been using an interim/supply pastor for over three and half years.