The Needs of Bi-Vocational Ministry


Jan Edmiston recently wrote a blog post about bi-vocational ministry, which has really resonated with me and many colleagues. For those unfamiliar, bi-vocational (or multi-vocational) ministry is where a person pastoring a church is less than full-time, and works one or more non-church job in addition to their ministry responsibilities.

Jan’s post is speaking to churches that find themselves in a position where they have to go this route, and preps them for this reality. She reflects on potential candidate pool, fair compensation, and a few other things. Her main point, as I see it, is that a church newly considering a bi-vocational position should not expect anything to be the same as when they could afford a full-time minister.

Since beginning my time at the UCC National Setting, I’ve been paying even more attention to shifts and trends in what open ministry positions are available, how congregations and middle judicatories (we call them Conferences, but you may know them by something else) approach filling them, and the general pool of candidates who are searching. I’ve heard enough anecdotes and seen enough data to understand that finding pastors for positions is becoming more difficult every year, and these entities need to get more creative in seeking candidates.*

One such solution among others is seeking a bi-vocational minister. Jan’s post linked above was helpful, and now I’ll offer a few additional thoughts for ministry candidates and churches having this conversation:

  • Two questions to ask: What do you expect your pastor to do? How necessary is it that the pastor do that? A church used to a full-time pastor may still hold the full range of expectations for their bi-vocational minister: preaching and worship leadership, visitation, education, administration, community involvement, emergency response, maintaining denominational ties, etc. A part-time pastor will not have the same time or flexibility to do all of this. Ask what is essential given the constraints involved, and consider ways the church can take on responsibility for the rest. (These questions are borrowed from Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church by Robert LaRochelle.)
  • What are the pastor’s needs in this bi-vocational arrangement? This question encompasses several things. First, as above, the pastor may only have so many hours to devote to the ministry of the church, and will need the church to step up for other initiatives. Second, the pastor will have expectations from their other place(s) of employment, including hours when they’ll be working and unavailable for ministry. They’ll need understanding for this reality and perhaps greater flexibility in scheduling (e.g., holding funerals in the evening). Finally, the minister may have needs related to family such as a spouse, children, or an adult for whom they are a caregiver. They will need some flexibility and understanding for these important relationships.
  • The nature of bi-vocational ministry is that of a partnership. This is true of all ministry positions, but it takes on a unique character in bi-vocational ministry. As mentioned above, a part-time minister cannot possibly be responsible for every ministry program or task, so they’ll need churches to understand themselves as partners in the work. This especially applies to the governing board, committee leadership, members who are lay ministers, and any kind of caregiving ministry the church has. The bi-vocational minister will rely on these types of individuals and groups to be more of the hands and feet of the body of Christ than they can be by themselves.
  • A bi-vocational minister deserves fair and just compensation. Churches and ministers have a variety of resources, factors, and possibilities to consult when considering what this may be in your context. This may include any kind of national or regional guidelines, by-laws and past budgets that indicate what previous ministers were given, benefits from the minister’s other employment that may compensate for what the church cannot provide, and creative trade-offs (e.g., more time off to make up for less pay).

Bi-vocational ministry can be just as vibrant and creative as full-time ministry. It shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of congregational failure or of pastoral inferiority. So long as all involved are engaged in constant discernment, open communication, and enthusiastic partnership, bi-vocational positions may still hold great potential for ministry.

*This will be its own blog post sometime soon.

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