Bivocational Ministry, Part 5:
Bivocational Ministry Is More Common
Than Most People Realize

April 11, 2012

Dr. Dorsett is a bivocational pastor and church planting missionary in Vermont. He is the author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church and Bible Brain Teasers: Fun Adventures through the Bible. He also serves as a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has a passion for helping the next generation discover a meaningful faith and become leaders in sharing that faith with others.

This series looks at the importance of bivocational ministry and bivocational ministers in today’s church. The previous articles in this series are:
Part 1: Bivocational Ministry is a Growing Method for Ministry.
Part 2: Lay People Are Willing to Help Pastors – But Only If They Are Trained.
Part 3: Rethinking Our Perception of Bivocational Ministry.
Part 4: Bivocational Ministry is Normal.

In part 3, I wrote about the need to rethink our perceptions of bivocational ministry; and in part 4, I followed that up with a post on why bivocationalism is actually the normal, though not the only, way to do ministry. Today, I want to expand that discussion just a bit more and discuss the reality that bivocational ministry is becoming more common in our culture, whether we like it or not.

Though some ministers serving larger churches do quite well financially, a growing number of pastors have to work a second job in order to provide for their families. Though this is becoming more common every year, very few people entering the ministry want to be bivocational. Let’s be honest, it is hard to work two jobs. Add to that the reality that many bivocational pastors are looked down upon by ministers who serve more affluent congregations. Add to that the reality that many denominational meetings are held at times that make it difficult for bivocational pastors to attend. All of that adds up to making bivocational ministry far more challenging that fully funded ministry. But this is the reality that many people entering the ministry will face, so we might as well start talking about it.

Regardless of how pastors and/or church attendees may feel about bivocational ministry, it is a growing practice in North American church life. Patricia Chang is a research professor at Boston College and has studied many denominations and written extensively about clergy issues. Chang has done extensive research on how bivocational ministry is impacting American denominations of all sizes and theological persuasions. In a major study published in the Pulpit and Pew journal of Duke University, Chang concludes that “the majority of congregations in the United States are small, with fewer than 100 regular members and cannot typically afford their own pastor.” This results in a growing need for more bivocational pastors every year.

Patricia Chang’s findings demonstrate that “the current religious landscape is skewed towards a very large number of small congregations and a small number of large congregations” ( Most of those small congregations are unable to fully-fund their pastors, resulting in those churches seeking bivocational pastors to guide them.

If denominations, seminaries and other religious organizations discussed this issue more often, it might help new ministers better prepare for the realities they will face. If new ministers, as well as those currently serving in bivocational positions, really understood how common their situation is, it might help remove some of the negative feelings about this essential form of ministry. Dennis Bickers, in The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry, reminds the bivocational pastors that he works with to “never let the misconceptions others may have about your ministry cause you to question your call and your value to the work of the kingdom of God” (40). Bivocational pastors are not second-class ministers. They are not “part-time” ministers. They are not even the minority of ministers. They are an important and growing segment of American church life.

Those who are considering ministry should dream big, but also accept the reality that they will probably need to work two jobs. That is okay. The apostle Paul did it. The majority of ministers around the nation are doing it now. Just accept this reality as part of the cost of serving the Lord in the 21st century.

The above material is adapted from the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, which was written to help bivocational pastors train their lay people to assist  them in ministry so they do not become burned out. It is highly practical and is being used by nearly 3,000 pastors across North America.

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John W Carlton

I served as a bivocational Minister of Music/Associate Pastor from 1985-2004. In 2004 I was called as a bivocational Pastor of an SBC church in Blackshear, GA. My church and I were featured in the CHRISTIAN INDEX in October of 2010. I agree with Dr. Dorsett. He is working in an area that is not church friendly. Thanks for your insight and guidance. I have had to retire due to health reasons, but I hope to be able to resume my bivo status in the near future.

Randy Everist

I am extremely interested to find out how many of those churches really *can* afford a full-time pastor, but simply don’t bother. I believe there are many churches that cannot afford to pay a pastor. On the flip side, of those who pay their pastor too little, I wonder how many of those churches average a low amount of giving. A church of 100 regular members of normal demographic proportions should be able to support a pastor full-time.

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