Sunday, September 23, 2007

In praise of bivocational pastors

In eternity, when the full story is finally known, the significant work of bivocational preachers will finally be appreciated. Though it is common to think of pastoral ministry primarily or even exclusively in terms of "full time" (or "fully funded") positions, much faithful service has been rendered to Christ's Church by men who serve as pastors while also being employed in other vocations. Today it is estimated that 60-65% of Southern Baptist churches are served by bivocational pastors.

In his Lectures on the History of Preaching (50-51), John Broadus quotes a passage from John Chrysostom "in which he bestows generous and exuberant eulogy on the country preachers around Antioch" in the late 4th century. From his Homilies on the Statutes (XIX), Broadus quotes the following:
You might see each of them now yoking oxen to the plow, and cutting a deep furrow in the ground, at another time with their word cleaning out sins from men's souls. They are not ashamed of work, but ashamed of idleness, knowing that idleness is a teacher of all wickedness. And while the philosophers walk about with conspicuous cloak and staff and beard, these plain men are far truer philosophers, for they teach immortality and judgment to come, and conform all their life to these hopes, being instructed by the divine writings.
Such "good and useful men," Broadus notes, "have every period, country and persuasion in which Christianity was making any real and rapid progress."


Tony Kummer said...

Have you known any young pastors who make it their ambition to freely serve the church - opting to take a very small or no salary?

I think the prevailing attitude (myself included) is that we deserve a good salary because we've been to seminary. But why not manage your personal finances in such a way that you can take less money from the flock?

Tom said...


I have known a few young guys who were willing to do that. I have known a few more experienced guys doing it. One good friend just recently resigned his church in order to go into full time church planting, having developed a way to provide income through a "tent making" enterprise. His goal is to move wherever the Lord leads to help churches start churches. I admire him very much and hope that his example will inspire many others to think creatively about doing something similar.

I have also read about something of a small movement that encourages men to stay connected in their secular employments as they seek to serve churches as pastors. This is an idea worth considering, though I don't think one can prescribe it universally.

Thanks for bringing this up. Great question.


James Thompson said...

I have thought for some time that when I complete seminary, if I were to be called into the pastorate I would likely serve bivocationally. There are far too many churches that can not afford to have a fully funded pastor who are no less needy of a trained minister of the Gospel.

I served for a time in the rural country of eastern Kentucky at the Oneida Baptist Institute and saw the way many churches needed but could not find willing men to serve them. Many of these churches then turned to those within their ranks who, while intelligent and well-meaning, were ill-equipped to shoulder the responsibilities they took on as pastors.

I believe that there needs to be more men willing to do the hard work of laboring in the church, while still laboring outside it, so that every church might possess a pastor equipped properly for the ministry of the Word.

That being said I also think there needs to be more pastors willing to transfer the knowledge of seminary into their congregations. So that we might see future ministers raised up from within the local ranks who are not ill-equipped but who are fully equipped, even without the benefit of seminary education. This is another great prayer of mine: that the seminary might be made obsolete in the face of a renewed commitment in the local church to the Word and the training of its ministers.

J. K. Jones said...

I am an SBC layman who has a different take on this. Why should I leave the Lord’s work to ministry professionals? My salary can not only pay part of our pastor’s salary, but also support me in my work on behalf of Christ’s church.

I was blessed when my first marriage ended in divorce. It kept me out of ordained ministry. It forced me to earn a living through other means. It by no means ended my ministry or my efforts.

Michael said...

I am a bi-vocational pastor. I have Bible college and seminary degrees. I struggle so hard not to be jealous of pastors nearby that make great salaries, yet preach "lame" sermons and do little loving on their flocks (so I hear and sometimes experience). I am not saying that I have mastered either ministry myself, but I would love to have more "leisure" time to study and spend time with my people. I would love to not feel guilty when my time is gone or I'm tired when someone still needs some counseling or something. I would love to have time to be able to read all the books I wish I had the financial resources to buy, like many of my full-time pastor friends do. I would love have one day a week to "casually" work on the music (did I say that I am the worship/music pastor too?). Oh well.

I don't really mind being bi-vocational. It is God's purpose for my life (at least for now). But, some days--I hate plumbing; I hate cutting down trees; I hate doing general home repairs.

God is gracious and merciful. We must praise him. I don't deserve anything good anyway. I am glad that he uses as he does. He always provides--ALWAYS. He is good. It encourages my heart that you posted this. Thank you.

Much grace to you,

Mike King

Tom said...


Good words. Thanks.


Where would we be without the grace of our Lord! He rules and overrules for our good and His glory.


Praise God for your faithfulness to Christ and His church! You are in a long line of noble ministers of the Gospels whose lives and work have been blessed to advance the cause of our Lord.


Ivan said...

I became a bi-vocational pastor for the first time about a year ago. It is a struggle sometimes. I resonate with the sentiments expressed here.

Thankfully the LORD has given me a better paying job closer to the church field. That will help a great deal.

There were four people at Maranatha church in Poplar Grove, IL (far northern Illinois) when I got there. We average about 25 now. We are planning to build the first building in the short history of the church next year.

God is blessing and I am thankful.

Pastor Michael Huffman said...


I serve as a Bi-vocational pastor. There are times in my minitry when I am OK with being that way and other times when I am not. There is so much that I need to do and want to you that the other job takes away from. I use to hear all the time in my younger days in the ministry that "God has called you to supply for your family, brother", usually from fully-funded preachers, and I must admit, I did not like to hear that. I know that God has called me to be the supplier, yet I KNOW that I am also called to Pastor and I believe the Apostle Paul to say in the book of 1 Tim. 5 that the Church, in order to be fully blessed by God, needs to take care of the Pastor. I am the second-man in a Church yet I preach every Sunday at our evening service. I preached through the book of 1 Timothy and when I preached on chapter 5 the Church became very convicted about not doing more and was reaady to support me, yet the Senior Pastor stopped it. Yet he was the one who always told me when the Lord wants to do it, He will convict the hearts of the people. Yet when the Lord did, he stopped it. I believe it will be a long time before I get over that. I pray and ask the Lord to keep my mind pure and free from bitterness. I just do not feel like I am doing much for the Lord. I want to write books and so many other works that I want to do that I just cant.
Yet our Sovereign God is good and I thank Him for the opportunity to serve when and how I can. Please pray for me.

Biblically Reforming said...

Brother Tom, as a young professional soon to start seminary (Lord willing), your words are encouraging. When I expressed a desire for the ministry to the older pastors and elders I know (you included, if I'm not mistaken), they all encouraged me to get a marketable degree so that bivocational ministry could be done, in a way that still provides well. I'm now very glad for such counsel, and excited to see where the Lord leads.

I hope you and your family is doing well. We'll miss you at the SBFCSW!

Biblically Reforming said...

oops, that should be "are doing well". he he he

Tom said...


Yes, that is counsel I regularly give. We are well. Have a great conference and tell your folks hello for me.

Dr. Terry Dorsett said...

Just read your posts on bivocational ministry. I serve as the Director of Missions for the Southern Baptists in Vermont. Thought you may well be interested in in checking out my new book entitled Developing Leadership Teams in Bivocational Churches. It is published by Crossbooks, a division of Lifeway.
Check it out at link below

or you can go to and click on the picture of the book.