On Bi-vocational Ministry
I want to comment again on Dave Fitch's post, "Bi-vocational—or—go on staff at a large church: Suddenly bi-vocational ministry doesn't look so bad?"
Back and forth I go: To plant a church or not to plant a church? That is the question that I've been wrestling with for the last five years.
I answered it four years ago when my wife and I joined Ryan and Christina Wiksell in founding the missional community, The Core, in center city Springfield, Missouri. Then God called us away to Trinity in August of 2006, and we relocated to Chicago the following January. Since then I've been studying my tail off, and all along I've been asking, "What's next, Lord?" Church planting has rarely left my mind, though I've had doubts about the timeliness of it for us right out of seminary.
Now the time has come for the rubber to meet the road. I'm finishing seminary (all but one class) in just over a month, and am making some tough decisions: where to go, what to do, how to make ends meet when I get there. As an idealist (I'm certain I've made this concession to you here before), i.e., a leader, I am motivated by possibilities and demotivated by what I perceive as excessive constraints. I need structures within which to work, but I need workable and flexible structures. Apart from church planting and some of the recent missional movements, such environments are extremely rare in local churches.
Now, Dave asserts that "tent-making" is an increasingly vital component of pastoral leadership in our postmodern, post-Christendom era, and I'm beginning to agree. In his post, he lists three major benefits, to which I will add a fourth: being bi-vocational, if done right, frees the pastor-leader from dependence upon, and thus subjection to, the limits of a particular congregation or ministry context.
Financial dependence has a way of clouding our vision and restraining what we consider as possible. I know this, for my "ministry job search" has kept shoving this fact in my face, again and again. When I think about developing a "trade" by which I could support myself and my family, suddenly ministry in contexts where church cash flow is likely to be limited becomes very feasible. And in a day in which churches are consolidating more and more into mega-churches, tent-making makes smaller, neighborhood-based churches a viable option. Instead of funneling all their resources to staffing and facilities, churches can invest more in community outreach, development, and church planting.
What does this mean for the 21st century pastor who wants to lead his congregation into mission? It means that, in addition to biblical-theological-pastoral training, an integral part of preparation for ministry is going to be learning a trade that will meet the basic requirements of a "job" that is conducive to bi-vocational ministry. Dave argues that this is no more time consuming than climbing the ministry ladder from poor-wage positions, and dragging one's family back and forth across the country, before finally getting into a position that will be a good all-around fit and provide for one's needs—a scenario all too common for beginning pastors. Furthermore, it allows a pastor to locate and put down roots in an area where he believes he will be optimally effective in the mission God has given him, which has numerous obvious benefits.
Now, there are still plenty of good full-time salaried ministry opportunities out there for those whom God is calling in that direction. The church needs them, and the church should remain committed to funding the unique work to which God has called them. But there is other territory that will not be broken into by the gospel without bi-vocational pastor-leaders. Whether I am one of these remains to be known, but this is the direction I'm headed at the moment.
What a ride! I can't wait to see where God takes us.