Double Life: Bi-Vocational Pastors

November 10th, 2011

"A Double Life"

A few years ago, I thought I knew where I would be today.

I had answered the call to be a pastor, and had enrolled in seminary. I was headed down the road of full time "vocational ministry." My seminary classes were full of guys with similar ambitions.

Strangely enough, oftentimes when I meet an old classmate of mine, our plans didn’t quite pan out. Our "callings" had not blossomed into the careers we had anticipated. Many of us today find ourselves working two jobs, living as bi-vocational pastors.

And despite all of our goals to the contrary, we’re not lamenting how things have turned out. We’ve found out there are a lot of benefits to bi-vocational ministry, enough benefits that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Status Quo is in Trouble

The United States Postal Service is in trouble. Thanks to email and Amazon, it’s been bleeding money for years, and now finds itself on the verge of collapse, and in need of a major bailout, shutting down many branches and trimming the workforce. Of course the postal workers’ union is demanding that things stay exactly status quo, the buildings stay open and the workers keep getting paid the same wages and benefits.

The church today finds itself in a similar situation. The statistics reveal that church attendance and participation continues to decline. Christianity is not a growth industry at the moment. And thousands of churches and pastors want to keep things status quo. Keep the half-empty buildings open. Keep the staff paid. Eventually, maintaining the status quo will not just bankrupt big churches like the Crystal Cathedral. Like a banking crisis, it will spread through thousands of ordinary churches.

Who Is Your Financial Planner?

It’s in this foreboding religious economy that young guys like me, who are building families and dreams, are saying that we want to shepherd God’s people, but we just don’t want to stake our families’ well-being on the church. Maybe you call that a lack of faith. I call it being prudent.

There may come a day when being bi-vocational is not a choice for many pastors, if they wish to remain pastors. The demand for pastors just might not be able to support the supply. And when guys who have been in full time ministry for ten or twenty years suddenly have to make a choice about their family’s welfare, they may find that they don’t actually know how to do anything else except preach on Sundays.

What Is My Calling?

When I answered the call to ministry, I confused a "calling" with a "career." I thought that if I went to seminary, it would mean that I would have to collect my paychecks from a church.

I thought that was true. And I was encouraged in my studies with well-wishers who told me that becoming a pastor was the "highest" calling. But that thinking diminishes all of the ministry that can be done outside of the church. It discounts all of the ways I can show Christ to so many more people, than if I confined my ministry to a sanctuary.

Most guys considering bi-vocationalism think your "other" job has to be some terrible job you hate, like cleaning toilets. That’s only true if you never train yourself to do anything. But I’ve worked at my "other" job so that I can minister through it. I know pastors who work for banks and in management. You can be a pastor and a professional.

How Will the Church Survive?

Most full time pastors can’t fathom how their church would ever function if their attention was divided.

My answer to them: just try it and see.

Pastors, just stop doing stuff. Stop doing all the things that someone else can do. Trim your schedule to the bare essentials that only you can do. If something is important to the people in your church, it will get taken care of. If it isn’t, then it’s either not important, or it illustrates the kind of people you’re shepherding.

We live in a time when the pastor’s job description has expanded so much that hundreds of pastors burn out every year. And most of them burn out on doing stuff they never answered a "calling" to do in the first place. Pastors, stop burning yourselves out. If you aren’t called to do something, then don’t do it. The people in your church will always act like little children and never take responsibility and use their spiritual gifts if you are hovering around, waiting to do everything for them like an over-protective parent.

If you make a discipline of doing less in your church, you may find that you actually have enough leftover time and energy to do something else, something that charges you up for ministry and makes you more effective than you imagined.

Pastors, tell us about it. Are you full time or bi-vocational? Full timers, is your schedule full of things you are totally called to do, or are there other things you ought to be doing?

Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.  He blogs at

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