Spring 2016

Another Disciplemaking Lane

Q&A about bivo within the EFCA

When the EFCA reaffirmed its commitment to disciplemaking in 2014, one leader in particular began dreaming about giving greater recognition to pastors serving as bivocational disciplemakers.

That was Joe Schimmels—EFCA pastor (former) and missional dreamer (always). “We are still in a discovery mode,” he says, “but there’s a bivo conversation going on across the country, and the EFCA is entering into it. Last August at Denver’s BiVO National Conference, for example, the EFCA had the greatest number of participants.”

Gain a bit of Joe’s passion for what might flourish in the EFCA movement as bivocational leaders are better recognized and supported.

Why are we talking about bivocational pastoring now? Hasn’t that model always been around?

Joe: Yes, bivo has been around since Pentecost. In my research, I have discovered that those denominations with the greatest emphasis on church planting have also had a pathway for the bivocational pastor. In the frontier movement of 1776-1850, for example, Methodists and Baptists flourished because they empowered farmers and teachers to plant churches, while other denominations insisted upon professional, theologically trained clergy. We’re not creating anything new; we’re just finally becoming intentional about it. According to Alex Mandes, EFCA director of Hispanic Ministries, nearly 75 percent of our own Latino pastors are bivocational.

In the EFCA, we are talking about it now because of our new vision statement: that God will raise up one million disciplemakers impacting millions with the gospel and transforming entire cities and regions globally.

We’ve also transitioned away from a Christendom culture, where the majority are Christian and get to set policies and laws. Now we are the minority, so we have fewer and fewer Christians who can actually give money to missionaries and church planters—the economic scarcity angle.

Bivo is simply another lane, of many lanes, to see this disciplemaking vision become a reality.

Bivocational pastors dislike the term part-time ministry because they think of their entire lives as full-time ministry.

Are you saying we should all be bivo?

Not at all. We need every laborer out there. And it’s definitely not for everybody; you have to have a knack for handling multiple worlds while seeing ministry flow from your family. I’ve noted that bivo pastors often have evangelistic gifts. They tend to be entrepreneurial with a capacity to multi-task. It’s not, however, “doing everything a fully funded person can in the limited time I have.” That’s not bivo done well. And it’s where I hear many of the failure stories—pastors trying to do too much.

By the way, bivocational pastors dislike the terms part-time ministry or full-time ministry to distinguish them from traditional pastors, because they think of their entire lives as full-time ministry. When referring to a pastor’s relationship with the church, they prefer the terms partially funded or fully funded.

How does the EFCA compare to other denominations in the prevalence of BiVO pastors?

I’m still researching this. I found statistics indicating that 50 percent of Southern Baptists were bivocational a decade ago. I’ve been amazed to learn how very many bivocational pastors are in the EFCA. They are going to lead us in this conversation. And there are those who receive income from a variety of sources but have never thought of themselves as bivo. So hard numbers at this point are difficult. Kevin Kompelien, EFCA president, says there are regions of the world where the only thing pastors know is bivocational ministry.

My hope is for the EFCA to offer greater support for bivocational pastors, to see how necessary they are for the gospel to go forth.

Is there one ideal model for the bivocational pastor?

No, it’s a very wide “lane.” There are those who stay bivocational only till a salary is available and those whose plan is to remain bivocational indefinitely; retired pastors serve bivocationally, even teams of bivo pastors at the same church. If there’s any one principle that applies to all, it’s this: Find work that offers some flexibility.

Where does the EFCA go from here?

My hope is for the EFCA to offer greater support for bivocational pastors, to see how necessary they are for the gospel to go forth.

Fully funded pastors and their elders can ask: What would church planting look like for us with a bivocational planter?

District and regional leaders can explore: How do we build a leadership pipeline for future bivocational pastors?

Business owners can ask: How might I take my business “on-mission”—like these bivocational pastors are doing—and not simply view it as a way to make money?

And the rest of us: Who in my area are pastoring bivocationally, and how can I offer some encouragement for their calling?

Any final thoughts?

In this post-Christendom era, pastors are viewed more suspiciously. I have neighbors who are culturally Buddhist. If I were a fully funded church planter, they might think I wanted to be friends just so I could get them to come to my church—the church that supports my salary. Bivo says, “We’re going to take away that obstacle to the gospel.” It’s really about starting disciplemaking communities in the marketplace. As you can imagine, some lay person is even now saying, “I have a job and an evangelistic gift, why can’t I do this too?” And I would reply, “Yep, that is the point of the bivo conversation.”

Joe Schimmels lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and has chosen to live the bivo life. He consults and trains others to do the same, and blogs about it at joeschimmels.wordpress.com.