As the Acts 29 network director for Latin America, I have the privilege of walking alongside pastors who are starting a church, as well as coaching pastors who’ve planted some time ago. One of the most recurring topics I’m asked about is money—funding, resources, and pastoral compensation.
Planters understand there will be seasons when funds are scarce, especially in the beginning, requiring us to retain other employment while pastoring a local church. However, most pastors desire to transition into full-time ministry, which is a good, godly desire. Pastoring is a worthy endeavor and deserves to be remunerated (1 Tim. 5:18). The apostle Paul even declares it a pastor’s right (1 Cor. 9:4–8; 18), a right he willingly refused to claim at times (1 Cor. 9:12). His example demonstrates there may be seasons when we will need to look for provision outside the church.
To be sure, bi-vocational pastoring can be risky. We risk losing focus while being spread too thin, ultimately resulting in burnout. Left unchecked, we’re in danger of sacrificing our families on the altar of ministry. We can neglect to teach our churches to honor and appreciate their pastors. We risk falling into a vicious cycle where the church shows little growth resulting in limited resources. This causes the pastor to become or remain bi-vocational, which means the church has a pastor with little time to invest in the church.
For the many bi-vocational church planters who are discouraged because they can’t transition into full-time ministry, let me encourage you to consider the advantages of your occupational status. Here are five benefits of bi-vocational ministry.
1. HELPS THE CHURCH’S ECONOMY
This one is the most obvious. While the pastor remains bi-vocational, the church can use what little resources they have elsewhere. Perhaps the church can add some part-time staff members to oversee areas of ministry. Maybe your church can support a missionary in another country or provide valuable resources to a struggling church plant. This could be a time to provide training for lay leaders to help your mission advance. Use your extra funds to invest in worthy ministry opportunities.
2. PROVIDES MISSIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Many Christians only surround themselves with other believers, so when it comes to sharing the gospel, they don’t know anyone who needs it. Pastors are no different. Remaining bi-vocational positions us to evangelize unbelievers and model a missional lifestyle for our churches. Pastors also have a high risk of not being able to relate to the culture. We can easily become isolated from non-church life. We might start to disconnect from conversations and dismiss the questions our neighbors are asking. Remaining bi-vocational allows us to be submerged in—and not disconnected from—our culture for the sake of the gospel.
3. CREATES EMPATHY FOR OUR PEOPLE
Burnout is a reality among church volunteers, partly because pastors have forgotten what it’s like to hold a regular job. We forget how tired most people are at the end of their workdays and expect them always to be available for church activities. Bi-vocational ministry helps us to feel empathy for our flock and hold a sustainable pace. Yes, sacrifices and extraordinary efforts will be made, but you’ll be making them alongside your congregation.
4. MODELS GENEROSITY AND SACRIFICE
Bi-vocational pastors get the privilege of showing their flock the generosity expected of every believer and the sacrifice that comes with taking on church responsibilities amid demanding jobs and schedules. People learn best by example. As we teach others to sacrificially give for the sake of the kingdom, our actions amplify our words. Leading our churches to join us in giving up precious free time to pursue kingdom growth validates our message and inspires others into Christlike living as a community.
5. BUILDS UP THE BODY
Since we can’t do everything, we need good leaders to help carry the load. So we must disciple and equip men and women to do ministry (Eph. 4:12). This is a blessing! Too many pastors are cursed with enough time to do everything themselves, and therefore feel like they don’t need others. Or, they have just enough time to do everything but then have no time left to develop leaders. Every pastor needs to learn how to delegate well for the good of the church. Bi-vocational leaders are blessed because they don’t have a choice. They must delegate tasks, and this is good for the health of the church.
Pastor, if you’re bi-vocational, either by choice or by necessity, I want you to know that God sustains those he calls. Consider the benefits of remaining bi-vocational. Find a job that allows the time and flexibility you need to invest in your church. But as you work hard, remember that rest is not a suggestion but a commandment (Deut. 5:12–14). Someone always pays the price when you neglect rest (health, family, church). Know that you can do this. You can do all things through him who strengthens you.