In one of my last classes at Bethel Seminary, I stumbled onto a discussion board dialogue that left me thinking. Thinking deeply, in fact.
Two of my friends were discussing burn out in the North American church. More specifically the heavy demands put on pastors. While the conversation initially held my attention because of burnout, it ended up leaving me wondering about the future role of pastors in the church.
My friends went back and forth on a few exchanges in this thread. Then one of them–a man who is characteristically reserved about his personal life–let us in a little bit to where he was at personally. It was telling … and quite refreshing. He said:
I’m getting to a point where I’m wondering exactly what my vocational future will be. I know my limitations, and I’m simply uninterested in assuming the mantle of perfect, superhero to lead a bunch of Christians down some imaginary journey to their own perfection. If I find a church that wants a messed up dude like myself and feels like paying me to be their pastor and offer them what I have to offer, that sounds great to me. I’ll do my best to earn their generosity. But I also want to keep my fingers in the officiating world because I’ve developed some great relationships there that I want to maintain (and I think I’m good at it, and I enjoy it). So, if that means that I’ll be doing the sort of bi-vocational thing that you’re doing, that’s on the table for me.
His thinking was echoed by many in the class. Keep in mind, the people I go to school with are already in ministry, leading churches and ministries on a daily basis. They’re the pastors, deacons, elders and board members that make up your church. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either.
Another wise friend of mine weighed in on the issue. This is a man who’s been around ministry his whole life. He’s a PK (preacher’s kid) and he gets it. When discussing the future of the North American church he stated that “very few” churches will be able to afford full-time pastors in the future. “Just watching the trends,” he said, “most churches won’t have the money to afford full-time staff. Pastors will most likely need to be bi-vocational.” Another eye-opener for me, as he’s someone whose opinion I value greatly.
I’m beginning to wonder if bi-vocationalism is going to be a necessary part of the pastorate for the 21st century? I wonder if we’ve created a role in the “superhero” pastor that is, to borrow a business term, not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being. Bi-vocationalism will provide a healthy distance for pastors and their congregations while alleviating growing economic concerns in many (not all) North American churches.
- Paul seemed to be down with bi-vocationalism.
- Jesus was a carpenter.
- I know of one church that requires (yes requires–as in, “you have to do this”) their pastoral staff to be bi-vocational. Love that. It forces them as a staff to get out into the community.
What are your thoughts? How would you feel about your pastor being bi-vocational? Pastors, do you see this as something you’d be willing to try? What are some potential pitfalls? Benefits?