“My job as a postal worker has become a place of kingdom influence and ministry.” — Rollo Casiple
Making Bivo Better
Exploring ways to beat the odds for bivocational pastors
For decades, despite the history and prevalence of the role, bivocational pastors have fought misperceptions that they are somehow second-class pastors or less-committed shepherds. That misperception seems to be disappearing; it needs to disappear. Not only because of the honor due these fellow believers but also because of the reality of cultural changes.
“The fully salaried pastor is becoming less and less realistic with the rising cost of living, the proposed legislation restricting clergy benefits and the decrease in giving of the church,” says EFCA bivocational pastor Rollo Casiple, former member of the EFCA board of directors. “The role is exponentially more unrealistic in churches planted in lower social economic neighborhoods and/or where the discipleship of giving/generosity is in its infancy.”
Rollo knows what he’s talking about. After 21 years as a fully funded pastor, he chose to cut back to 30-40 hours a week. For the last seven years, his role as senior pastor of True Vine Christian Church in Miami, Florida, has been paired with 30-40 hours as a postal clerk in Tavernier, Florida. On top of that, he’s a regional facilitator for GATEWAY Theological Institute—a course designed for those who lack the time and resources to access traditional seminary education.
“I am a postal worker not because it was the best-paying job I could get,” he clarifies, “but because it allowed me flexibility for my priorities in ministry; it increased my devotional life (that’s a long story); and it has become a place of kingdom influence and ministry. It pays me just enough to live out my call to pastor and lead.”
So how do we make bivo better for those called to this lifestyle? Both those called to start churches and those called to dive deeply into an on-mission lifestyle that might—one day, who knows—become a church.
We pray for them and help network them. We offer avenues for spiritual equipping that fit their schedules. We consider how we might strengthen their financial base.
Unless they serve as part of a team, bivocational pastors can find themselves isolated from the camaraderie and spiritual sharpening that their EFCA pastoral counterparts enjoy at conferences and regional pastoral “clusters.” Getting time off work to attend isn’t always possible.
“One of the biggest liabilities to being bivocational is the lack of time,” agrees Duke Winser, who served as a bivocational pastor himself for 10 years and now attends Remembrance Community Church (EFCA) in Lomita, California, where the pastor is a full-time firefighter who volunteers his time as pastor.
When the mix of job and church fill a pastor’s plate to overflowing, where is the time for seminary?
“It limits our opportunities to just hang out with other pastors and talk about ministry. That’s a luxury that can’t be indulged in very often.”
Fortunately, EFCA district leaders consider pastoral fellowship and sharpening to be more than merely a luxury. More and more are arranging for “virtual” cluster gatherings and other ways to keep their bivocational shepherds enfolded with the rest of their district team.
Spiritual sharpening and nourishment is a must for every believer, but especially those called to handle the Word of God accurately as they instruct others. Yet when the full-time/part-time mix of job and church fill a pastor’s plate to overflowing, where is the time for seminary?
Or as one EFCA pastor put it: “This is what I believe God has called me to do: Work in the marketplace and serve in the church. I would like to be called a legit pastor. I would like a path to some kind of ordination. I don’t know how to get there.”
Bivocational pastors need work that offers adequate financial compensation as well as flexibility for ministry.
As early as 1988, the EFCA began offering an alternative credential for pastors like this, via the establishment of a lay ministry license. Then in 2006, the EFCA launched GATEWAY Theological Institute—intensive, practical training that would serve both lay leaders (for theological growth) and vocational/bivocational pastors (to prepare for the credentialing process, leading to ordination).
“We start everybody at GATEWAY,” says Bruce Redmond, director of church planting for the Southeast District. Bruce asks all new church planters to sign a covenant stating that, within the first two years, they will start to prepare themselves for licensing via GATEWAY.
“We don’t have a problem with someone not being formally trained; it’s about recognizing, Is God calling someone and do they have the competency to handle the Word of God?”
The greatest need for a bivocational pastor is work that offers adequate financial compensation as well as flexibility for ministry. In the on-mission mindset of bivocational pastors, the secular workplace is as much “ministry” as is the church. Still another subset of pastors have deliberately chosen that bifurcation for the long term—not simply until their church can pay them more. Their ministry blurs the lines of sacred and secular.
“There is no sacred/secular divide,” Rollo Casiple insists. “Everything has always been sacred. A job in the city is a sacred opportunity to ease the financial burden of the church and a sacred platform to lead in nontraditional methods of practicing leadership by influence.”
Regardless of a pastor’s intentionality, what if a great work-fit remains elusive?
“We want next-generation leaders to function well in the workplace and demonstrate that they are on-mission all the time.” — Ves Sheely
Consider the honesty of Mitchell Perez, who served as a bivocational pastor for three years before closing The Heights Church. He’s now part of a church-planting cohort through Ambassador Church (EFCA) in Brea, California, with hopes of trying again—this time with fundraising to supplement his secular salary.
“Some bivocational pastors have the necessary degrees to work for companies that can provide adequate salaries while not consuming all their time,” he says. “The types of vocations I could realistically apply for were warehouse/hard manual labor.
“So when I was lead pastor of a small church of 25 people and worked a full-time job (50 hours/week), I would come home exhausted and have to choose between spending time with the family or working on my sermon or discipleship opportunities, etc. I felt I was always in a position of choosing between family or ministry.
“I’ve read many books about being a ‘family on-mission’ and not looking at it as an ‘either/or.’ But the reality is, that is what it always felt like.
“My story is that I chose to do my family well, and that left the ministry with my scrap time and energy. I ultimately decided to fold the church and re-evaluate. I have to figure out how to make this work, because I feel a call to plant a church, but I don’t think I can do the bivocational model unless God opens a dream job scenario that provides a lot of flexibility.”
What if our EFCA districts helped make connections between bivocational pastors and skilled lay leaders—those who could offer apprenticeships in specific fields or training in small-business startups? What if there were a path to greater vocational flourishing? What if more churches sent out bivocational church-planting teams, to share the ministry responsibilities and the financial load, and if our districts helped potential teams find each other? (See “Three (or Four) Are Better Than One.”)
Renato Jimenez sees that as part of the Church’s job—to make sure that God’s people are equipped to do God’s work. Renato serves as a pastoral intern at Summit EFC in Alta, Iowa, while studying full time at Moody Bible Institute. “I’m committed to finding pastors who are called,” he says, “and helping them figure out how to make it work financially. People who have great experience in business could coach others.”
Across the EFCA, some district leaders are only beginning to consider how the bivocational model has a place, while others are eagerly asking, “How can we do bivo better?” In New England, the skill of ministering well on the job is an essential criteria in leadership evaluation. “We want next-generation leaders to be those who have functioned well in the workplace and demonstrated that they are on-mission all the time,” says Ves Sheely, superintendent of the New England District Association.
In addition, many NEDA church planters who started out in a bivocational role are choosing to remain bivo, “simply to better demonstrate for lay leaders that this type of dual ministry is possible,” Ves adds.
Alternate sources of income will help accomplish the mission outside of our white, suburban environs.
The Great Lakes District is planning a Faith, Work and Economics conference for summer 2016 where, among other things, participants will explore “how to integrate our faith in creative ways as we do business in the marketplace,” says Ricardo Palmerin, GLD director of Hispanic ministries.
If nothing else, EFCA pastors trust that the effectiveness of their ministry will speak for the bivo model. “This conversation is helping me to more fully acknowledge the incredible commitment and personal investment to the Lord’s work that these families are making—my amazing district teammates,” agrees Glen Schrieber, superintendent of the Southeast District. “I don’t want to take them for granted.
“As a younger, pioneering district, we attract and even invite new approaches to doing church,” he adds. “Our country’s traditional-church culture is leaving many de-churched and unchurched, so we’re celebrating those that want to take a risk with new approaches.
“Often, one or more bivocational streams of dollars are especially necessary in accomplishing our mission outside of our white, suburban environs.”
Equipping our pastors to do bivo better: a call for all who long to see our gospel mission accomplished.