Traditionally, “bivocational” is defined as a pastor whose livelihood depends upon two streams of income: one from a ministry and one from the marketplace. In the EFCA movement and elsewhere, the majority of bivocational pastors have historically lived in the world of the smaller church and/or the church plant.
The many-layered lives of bivocational pastors
Diane J. McDougall
In some ways that’s still true. But in other ways it’s changing: More and more leaders are choosing to be bivocational. So if their convictions hold true over the long haul, they’ll stay bivo even as their churches grow and full funding becomes available.
The stigma that has tended to follow the bivocational pastor is changing too—a sense of being judged “not good enough” to draw in the people needed to pay that full-time salary. After all, in a world where church giving continues to dwindle, how better to fund the new transformational churches that are needed?
Even the EFCA’s fully funded pastors are agreeing: “I can’t picture a future of church planting in America where bivo strategies aren’t seriously considered, if not the new normal,” says Jeff Foote, pastor of Grace EFC in Longmont, Colorado, and a two-time church planter himself.
Missiologist and speaker Ed Stetzer agrees too: “The bi-vocational option needs to be seen as an opportunity, not as a penalty. It needs to be seen as a preferred option for planters.”
In August 2015, a few dozen EFCA leaders gathered at a bivocational conference in Colorado to talk about how to turn the tide and give greater honor to those who are ministering in both church and marketplace. In that gathering, an apology was even extended—by Fritz Dale, executive director of EFCA ReachNational.
“For many years we have mistreated, misunderstood and undervalued our bivocational leaders, especially our ethnic brothers and sisters,” Fritz says now. “It is time we realize this, own it and create a new day of recognition, empowerment and co-laboring to fulfill the mission of Jesus to make disciples who make disciples.”
A different way of doing church
Although the number of bivocational pastors across the country is approaching one-third of all pastors, according to the February 19, 2015, Christian Media Magazine, the bivocational pastorate isn’t for everyone. As one pastor admitted, after trying to minister bivocationally: “I know there are some guys who can juggle multiple responsibilities better than other guys. I’ve come to accept that I am not one of those guys.”
Indeed, an ability to juggle is essential. Other qualities of an effective bivo pastor include: financial contentment, business acumen, commitment to the priesthood of believers, job flexibility and sense of calling to a new way of doing church.
Christians in other cultures have long recognized this “new way of doing church.” In Latin America, for example, bivo is a reality because the Catholic culture doesn’t view the Protestant pastor’s role as “a real job,” according to Manuel Abarca Saez, church planter for the Spanish-speaking ministries of Northwest Community Church (EFCA) in San Antonio, Texas. So there’s little financial support for a full-time shepherd.
Across the ocean, postmodern Europeans find evangelical pastors similarly puzzling, according to Todd Hiltibran, EFCA ReachGlobal international leader for Europe. “So the bivocational model seems to create a more healthy dynamic. We encourage our staff to be involved in multiple churches/church plants so they can’t do everything and are forced to give ministry away. Bivocational pastors have to focus on the essentials of developing people rather than administrating programs or caring for buildings.”
“The bi-vocational option needs to be seen as an opportunity, not as a penalty.” — Ed Stetzer
Is bivo the way of the future? Some are saying so. In “Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The vanishing of the middle-class clergy” (July 22, 2014), theatlantic.com reported on an increase in bivocational ministry across all Protestant denominations. (Because EFCA bivocational pastors have long labored in the shadows, few statistics exist to confirm if growth in their numbers is indeed occurring.)
Perhaps most significant to note is the fact that, in the healthiest bivocational churches, pastors are merely modeling what their on-mission congregants have been doing all their lives: living out the gospel at work and at home and in church-ministry activities.
Indeed, points out Bruce Redmond, EFCA church-planting coach for the Southeast District, it’s the lay leader who has always done bivo best. Perhaps, in this era of increased bivocational ministry, the greatest gain will be a return to living out the priesthood of the believer: the saints in our churches being more fully equipped to make disciplemakers, and more of their pastors serving in the trenches alongside them.
Rollo Casiple puts it well. (Read more of his story at “Making Bivo Better.”)
As a pastor in Miami, Rollo began seeking additional income in 2008 following some harsh budgetary realities at True Vine Christian Church (EFCA). Within two years, however, he says he “was embracing bivo as an ecclesiology, an idealogy and a disciplemaking strategy, rather than just a means of financial supplement.”
Even after the economy recovered and church giving increased, he chose to stay bivocational, committed to Paul’s tentmaking passion in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10:
“This one phrase anchors my bivo choice,” Rollo explains: “‘We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate’ (verse 9).
“I have a right to be fully funded, but I don’t want it. I would rather have the opportunity to model what it looks like to lead a church and live like Jesus in a context that resembles how most of my people live. It’s less about how to make money and more about how I can leverage my life to disciple people in how to live for Jesus every day.”
Continue reading this issue of EFCA Today and join the robust conversation about the role of bivocational ministry.