Some choose to be a Bi-vocational pastor. I’m softening on the idea.

Photo credit: Celestine Chua / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Celestine Chua / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Who wants to go into a profession that will require you to have another job?  It means that you’ll have to be good enough in more than one area to make ends meet.  Working out vacation and other benefits is tricky too. Then, as a pastor, there’s the problem of fulfilling your obligation to your church community with half the time to do it in.

So when I heard a few years ago that some progressive pastors actually chose to be bi-vocational, it bugged me. First of all . . . what a luxury! I’m not a professional painter, successful salesman or someone else who has the capacity to earn what my family needs. Secondly, their point about how useful it would be to have pastors who work with people who don’t go to church made sense to me, and I felt a little guilty.

I’m not suggesting that every pastor should choose to be bi-vocational, but I’d like to share with you what happened last week that nudged me a bit further in this direction.

Out of necessity I started substitute teaching in September at three different locations for a charter school. A month ago an administrator at one of the schools asked me to be one of the guest speakers at their career day.  I said I would as long as I could tell them why I am a pastor, clarifying that I would be telling the kids and teachers about why I follow Jesus.

She said, “absolutely.”

Photo credit: tncountryfan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo credit: tncountryfan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The kids know me, but many of them didn’t know that I’m a pastor as well as a sub. All of the teachers knew. With 25 minutes for each of the six groups, I started with the Bill Hybels 100-words-or-less version of my testimony: I’m not a Christian because of my parents, but because I used to be the guy who knew everything, was very skeptical and very selfish. But Jesus showed me that I made mistakes, pretty bade ones, and that he still loves me and forgives me for them if I ask him to. So now I’m free from the pressure to measure up and am free to live the awesome life he’s made possible.

I’d never seen them so quiet and respectful.

Kids and teachers had questions about what I do, but one of the kids’ questions was brilliant: “You mean that Jesus forgives me no matter how bad I’ve been . . . no matter what I’ve done?”


It’s made for some nice conversations with teachers as well. One is even planning on going to the next meeting for Village Church, the one Vanda, I and a few of our friends are just getting going. Praise God!

Vanda and I have talked about what I’ll do when I won’t need to substitute teach anymore. My greatest obligation to my church community is to shepherd them, to lead that in the way they should go. It occurred to us that that’s exactly what’s been happening. I’ve been connecting with people in the marketplace, as Reggie McNeil puts it. It’s invigorating.

We’ve decided that I’ll hang around and work when I can as a sub, maybe even once a week, because choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor may not result in a lot of dollars, but it sure makes sense.


4 thoughts on “Some choose to be a Bi-vocational pastor. I’m softening on the idea.

  1. Awesome. I believe bivocational ministry is a beautiful calling. As a public school educator, I’ve wrestled recently a bit with a full time call vocational ministry call. I’d hate to forfeit my current position with young people. There may be a middle ground for both. I know God will bless your ministry endeavors as you work out His mission.

    • Bryan, I just read you blog about the student’s question to you at school. You make the point I’m making from the opposite direction: a teacher who also pastors. Thanks for your input, and I’m sure God will continue to bless your ministry at school, church and with your writing.

  2. It totally makes sense, Dave. A teacher at the school where I work is a pastor and one of his church members reported that his sermons have been deeper and more engaging since he took the second job. It seems to have thrust him into a place where he’s having to work through more real world situations and it’s really enriching his ministry. It sounds like God has placed you in a type of continued education class—something like, “Continued Ministry Ed 101” where you’re forced to walk out many of the things you study and write about. So exciting!

    • That’s exactly right, Willow. It has also helped me to learn how to coach people on how to be a witness by being a friend first and not beating someone over the head with the Gospel. At first I was a bit ashamed at the ones who didn’t know I was a pastor, but the I realized that their not knowing allowed them to act normal around me. Pretty cool. Thanks for your encouragement, Willow.

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