Bivocational teams are effective at equipping the church, freeing up funds for missions and empowering pastors in their gifts.
Three (or Four) Are Better Than One
How pastoral teams are sweetening the journey
What do you get when you join a nurse anesthetist, network security analyst and director of a software company with a passion for shepherding God’s church? For Salina Street Church in East Austin, Texas, the result is a pastoral team with complementary strengths, busy lives and a joy in equipping their church.
Salina Street Church is pastored by a team of three men: Jon Hurley, Jeff Ronk and Taylor Wagen. For eight years, each has worked a full-time secular job and volunteered his spare time (without pay) to pastor the church. There’s no senior pastor; instead, the three men oversee teams responsible for different ministry areas and rotate preaching on Sundays. With no building of its own, no salaries to pay and minimal programming, the church is free to devote more resources to global missions and the local community.
Redemption Church in Wichita, Kansas, is trying a similar model. The church just replanted a year ago, with Caleb Hastings as solo bivocational pastor. However, the church has since added three other bivocational pastor-elders who, based on their spiritual gifts, focus on equipping the church to do ministry. Redemption’s vision is to continue raising up pastor-elders until there is a surplus of leadership with which to plant a new church—without needing to fundraise for salaries.
Both churches have found bivocational pastoral teams to be effective at equipping the church for ministry, freeing up funds for missions and empowering pastors to operate within their gifts. While it’s not the only ministry model that can accomplish these outcomes, those who’ve tried it say they wouldn’t change it—not only because of the outcomes but also for the joy of shepherding a church alongside teammates and friends.
Equipping the church
Pastors who work 40-50 hours a week in the marketplace can’t do everything that needs to be done for a church. In actuality, no pastors can do it all themselves, and no pastors should. But in a healthy bivocational environment, church members more quickly recognize that the pastor isn’t paid to do all the church work and thus is equipping the saints for service.
“Salina Street Church members understand that everyone is a minister,” says Jon Hurley, a network security analyst in the Austin school district and SSC’s pastor of community development, “and they are encouraged by the fact that their pastors experience the same challenges in life, job and family as they do. It has set a nice culture of willingness to serve the church.”
Each church experiences more variety in teaching and preaching styles, and there’s no dependence on one pastor as the face or voice of the church.
Working their own full-time jobs in the workplace gives these pastors a better understanding of the lives, schedules and sacrifices of their volunteers.
“I’m not thinking about church 50 hours a week and wondering why other people aren’t caught up,” agrees Caleb Hastings, Redemption Church’s pastor and self-employed handyman, whose wife helps supplement their income with a thriving food truck business. “Now it seems selfish to ask people to sit in a meeting for four hours on an evening. But it causes more people to step up because they know I’m not full-time. I’m not asking anyone to do anything I’m not doing.”
This can also take the awkwardness out of preaching on topics like giving or serving. “We never hear, ‘You have no idea what it feels like to be me,’” says Brooke Wagen, Taylor’s wife. “They watch us struggle to get it all done, work hard, be tired, make mistakes. I like that.”
In the process, the church functions as it was designed to. “Your ministry degree and experience is not for doing the ministry,” Caleb says, “but for equipping people to do the work of the ministry [Ephesians 4:12].”
Both churches split the pulpit among their team of pastor-elders, who are primarily (or completely, in the case of SSC) volunteers. Each church experiences more variety in teaching and preaching styles, and there’s no dependence on one pastor as the face or voice of the church. The rest of the church body serves in other ways, ranging from leading the youth ministries or worship team, to setting up and tearing down for the service.
This reliance on lay leaders definitely makes some things more difficult—such as administrative tasks and marketing. In these churches, though, both with a little under 100 congregants, the goal is to keep programming light and services simple, so that members can focus on connecting as a family and then being the Church in all of life.
The less formal structure works well for now, although each team wonders if it might have to shift if their churches grow significantly. “If we’re just looking for the best way to grow a church, this probably isn’t it,” Caleb admits. “If we’re looking to multiply disciples, this might be it. It might not be what God has called you to do; for us, this is being faithful.”
In the long run, both Redemption and SSC hope this model will allow them to multiply not just leaders but churches. As they equip more people (who already have steady incomes) to lead the church, they hope to grow a surplus of leaders to be sent out as a church plant. This model would involve little start-up cost, a built-in team and other pastors to share the load, making it easy to replicate.
Freeing up funding
In addition to releasing people for ministry, bivocational churches tend to release more funds for missions. Because church budgets aren’t tied to significant salaries, more funds can be funneled outward.
Redemption Church gives 10 percent of its income to India Gospel League, its primary global partner. On top of that, several church members created Loving Learners, a ministry to support local children with school supplies, glasses and other material needs to thrive in their learning environments. Redemption provides 50 percent of the ministry’s budget and 90 percent of its volunteers.
Salina Street leadership had to send multiple documents to the IRS one year to prove that it was in fact a church.
Salina Street Church, which gives more than a third of its income to global missions, has a commitment that any missionaries it supports regularly will also receive daily prayer and regular check-ins from church members. These enhanced personal connections have led to a congregation not only eager to give to missions but also excited about the church budget overall, because they see the money going toward things they believe to be significant.
The nontraditional model also necessitates a willingness to occasionally educate others. That education could be directed toward church members or fellow pastors—those who ask the pastors of Salina Street and Redemption when they’ll be full time—or even outsiders. In fact, Salina Street leadership had to send multiple documents and testimonials to the IRS one year to prove that it was in fact a church, in spite of having no building and no salaries and, essentially, taking in money only to give it away.
Still, the skepticism and the crazy hours don’t dissuade these men. They love the bivocational path as well as how teamwork sweetens the journey.
“These joys—you couldn’t give me a big enough office and fancy enough building and big enough paycheck,” Caleb says. “I wouldn’t trade it.”
Focusing on gifting
Finally, a great strength of bivocational pastors serving in teams is that they are more powerfully released to work within their strengths and spiritual gifts.
Each member of Redemption’s pastor-elder team equips the church in a different way, so that Caleb (as senior pastor, who views his gift set as that of apostle, or “sent one”)* doesn’t carry it alone. One of his teammates has the gift of shepherd (and computer developer) who utilizes his tech skills and also keeps Redemption focused on caring for the entire church. Another is an evangelist (and retired/serial entrepreneur) who keeps the church focused on the outward spread of the gospel. The third is a prophet (and real-estate appraiser) who leads in worship and keeps the church family focused on the heart of God. They are currently asking God to send them someone gifted as a teacher.
Redemption Church’s leaders are a group of friends who commit to build the Kingdom of God together.
“We don’t have a church staff feel,” Caleb admits. “It’s a group of friends who commit to build the Kingdom of God together. The friendship is glue for the work of ministry, and the work of ministry is friendship with God and others.”
The Salina Street team also began first as friends who shared the same vision. They started out trying to share roles equally and found that it was inefficient. Now, they’ve divided their roles based on strengths and each lead different teams. “We spend less time working for consensus on everything,” says Jeff, a nurse anesthetist and SSC’s pastor of spiritual development. “We have given each other the freedom to run with things that we are individually excited about. It feels less like a job and more like friends/family ministry.”
“We are definitely friends,” agrees Taylor, pastor of worship and education and a director at a software company. “And we work hard to remain so, because it’s easy to lose that in the work and stress. But our differences are hugely valuable to us.”
The variety of strengths, personalities, experiences and spiritual gifts make the team stronger and sharper. Jordan Jolly, a longtime SSC member, sees the pastoral team as a great benefit for the church. “The roles and responsibilities of ‘pastor’ are so broad as to practically necessitate sharing,” he says. “Pastors need help covering for their lack of time and/or ability to do each thing that must be done in order to lead the church. And we are better taken care of as a result.”
Of course, this emphasis on working within your strengths isn’t just for pastors. Both sets of pastor-elders focus on equipping others for ministry within their areas of gifting. “I try to equip other people not just to go but to be senders,” Caleb says. “We always ask, ‘Who are you going to train to do what I’m training you to do?’”
The biggest challenge these pastors note is one that all bivocational pastors face: managing multiple priorities in the church/home/job mix. As Brooke Wagen puts it, “None of us have lawns that are carefully mowed every week.”
Yet after eight years of the unending rhythm of work, study, pray, minister, Brooke and Taylor claim it’s their preferred lifestyle, pointing to 1 Thessalonians 2:9. “This working day and night on their behalf—it’s an honor,” Taylor says. “All of us feel very emotional about that.”
Above all, the team model allows for more flexibility. “I don’t think we could do bivocational ministry without a strong team,” says Kerin Hurley, Jon’s wife. “All three of our families have been committed to working hard together and living life together with a lot of grace and gentleness.”
The friendship and mutual sharpening is part of what makes bivocational teams not only effective at equipping leaders, freeing up funds and focusing pastors’ time, but also so much fun.
*Caleb Hastings clarifies: “We see Ephesians 4:11-16 as teaching that God gives people as gifts to the church. It’s not simply that people might have an apostolic gifting or a prophetic gifting or an evangelistic gifting, etc., but some believers might be gifted to the local body of believers to be within that body a passion for that aspect of ministry.”
Jennifer M. Kvamme is a bivocational student ministries coordinator (at Centennial EFC in Forest Lake, Minnesota) and stay-at-home mom of two daughters, ages 3 and 1. She is thankful for her husband, Greg, and her volunteer leaders, who enable her to do both jobs as part of a team. And she will always wish she had more time for road trips and reading books.