Bivocational Ministry, Part 7:
Bivocational Pastors Sharing Leadership
Results in Healthier Churches

April 25, 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.
Part 5: Bivocational Ministry Is More Common Than Most People Realize.
Part 6: Bivocational Pastors Must Learn to Delegate.

Many small churches have become accustomed to a single-pastor model of church leadership. Though this model can be effective, it does limit the size of the church because one leader can only accomplish so much regardless of how great a leader that person may be. In larger churches this model may be modified somewhat because there may be a staff of pastors who serve under a senior pastor, but the basic concept is still that the senior pastor has a great deal of authority over the church.

This single-pastor model is especially evident in the preaching and pastoral care ministries of the church. In a small church the pastor is often expected to do almost all of the preaching and pastoral care. Since most pastors enjoy those ministries, they do not mind doing them. But in situations when the pastor is bivocational and has to work a second job, having all of the preaching and pastoral care duties can be challenging.

Not only can preaching and pastoral care be overwhelming for bivocational pastors; but if the pastor does all of these ministries on his own, it creates the impression that the pastor has more authority than the New Testament grants. Once the congregation perceives that the pastor has all the authority, it follows that the pastor also bears all the responsibility for getting everything done. This tension between authority and responsibility can be significant. Yet this is exactly what many bivocational pastors face in their churches. The church expects them to provide most of the leadership in the church as well as to accept most of the blame for any faults in the church. This is not how the church was led in the New Testament; and it often puts bivocational pastors in unrealistic situations.

In the life of the New Testament church there was an equal sharing of leadership by a group of people. One example of this multiple leadership approach is found in Acts 13:1-3:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.


This passage demonstrates that five people were serving together as the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. There is no distinction made between the leaders, which indicates a joint sharing of duties and responsibilities between these five individuals.

This plurality shows that the church should not rise and fall on the leadership of just one person. When pastors find themselves in churches that do not have multiple leaders, developing leaders should be one of the first priorities. Paul’s young protégé Timothy found himself in such a situation while he was serving as pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy instructing him in how to lead the church. Part of those instructions is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2:

Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.


In this passage Paul instructs Timothy to teach other individuals the truth of the gospel. But they were not just any individuals; they were individuals who must be able to share in the teaching ministry of the church. They were to be trustworthy people who would pass the truth of the gospel on to others. The emphasis was on Timothy training others who would join him in his teaching, preaching, and leading ministries in the church. This should be a goal of all pastors, especially those serving in bivocational roles.

Ministry is never easy. And training leaders to help lead is a lot of work. But in the end it is worth it because more laborers in the field will produce greater results. Pastors should look for people who they can develop into deacons, or elders, or pastoral staff members, or whatever other structure the church is comfortable with. The titles are not as important as the concept, which is that churches that use a multiple leader approach will be healthier than churches with only one leader.

Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, written by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and being used in nearly 3000 churches across North America.

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Randy Everist

I’ve really been enjoying this series.

Would you say these men occupied the role similar to the office of elder?

Terry Dorsett

Yes, I would say that these men held the same role as elders. Though many Southern Baptists are uncomfortable with that term, there is simply no denying that New Testament churches were led by elders. In my experience, many SBC churches are using their deacons in more of an “elder” role. Each church has to decide for themselves what terms to use, and what those terms will mean. But the terms used are less important than the concept that God never intended for pastors to do it all themselves.

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