I have great respect for those who are bi — especially pastors. In fact, some of the most godly and effective pastors I have ever known are bi.
Bivocational, that is.
Bivocational pastors are those who work a “tent making” job (either part time or full time) and then also pastor a church (either on a part time salary, small stipend, or as a volunteer). The term “tent making” comes from the Apostle Paul, who financed his ministry primarily through his “day job” of making tents.
I was bivocational by need early in my ministry career. While serving as a full time youth minister/missionary for a parachurch organization right out of college, there was not enough money coming in monthly to pay my salary. So I picked up a job cooking at a local fine dining restaurant. On Fridays, for example, I would start my day at 5:30 AM brewing coffee and setting up for our 6 AM bible study/discipleship group with high school students that met before school. Some weeks, as many as 30 kids would pile into our living room!
Then I would spend my morning in the office working on fundraising, donor care, writing talks, praying for kids, etc. At lunch I would head up to the school, meet up with our college volunteer leaders, and then hang out with kids at the local sandwich or coffee shop (the seniors had an “open campus” and were allowed to go off campus at lunch). From there I would go hang out at the soccer game and connect with some more kids. After that… to my night job working as a line cook. I would usually get there around 4PM (after the first half of the soccer game) and work till midnight. A couple of high school students I knew were dishwashers at the restaurant, so it was also an opportunity to hang with them. This was life as a bivocational youth pastor.
Eventually, I was able to get a full salary from ministry and didn’t need the tent-making job.
But many bivocational pastors feel called to be bivocational. They believe in it.
And increasingly I am intrigued by the model.
Some weeks this past fall have felt to me almost like I was bivocational. Whether working on a wedding, premarital counseling, preparing for a funeral, meeting for a consultation with a pastor, working with the local homeless shelter, preparing a sermon for a guest preaching opportunity, or just offering some discipleship/wisdom/prayer to a friend at Starbucks, there was a lot of ministry opportunities — plus a 40 hour a week job.
And some of my best ministry opportunities — the unplanned kind, the simple conversations and opportunities to share or pray — come at work (my real job) or school.
And one of the things I have discovered is that, to be honest, when I was a pastor I was sometimes naive about the pressures most people dealt with every day. Working side-by-side with folks reminds me every day of the reality of life — good, bad, ugly.
When I was a pastor, I could often go an entire day (week?) with little or no contact with unchurched folks. Today, I am surrounded by them — and love it.
My guess is that full time paid ministry is not in my future again — but maybe being bivocational is. You see, I really like my job now. I like the people I work with and I like what I do. But my heart longs for ministry. And so how do you bring those together?
Maybe you have to be bi.