For many pastors, being a pastor is their only job. The demands of church ministry—sermon preparation, teaching, outreach, hospital visitation, counseling, administration, etc.—fill up their days and leave scarce room for anything else. Other pastors, however, find that they must take an outside job to supplement their livelihood and make ends meet. These are the bi-vocational pastors.
A bi-vocational (“dual-occupation”) pastor is usually shepherding a church of smaller size or serving in an area with a depressed economy. The fact that his congregation is unable to provide him a living wage is what forces him to be a bi-vocational pastor. The call to the ministry is still there, and the pastor heeds the call; it’s just that practical concerns, such as putting food on the table, require him to take a second job and serve the congregation as a bi-vocational pastor.
Some might see an argument against becoming a bi-vocational pastor in the example of the early church. In Jerusalem, as the church was growing rapidly, the apostles found themselves caught up in the daily tasks involving the feeding of the needy in their congregation. They made a decision, calling the people together and saying, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2–4). This passage reveals the apostolic priorities in ministry (prayer and teaching the Word), and it emphasizes the need for pastors to share the ministerial burden with others, but it contains no prohibition against being a bi-vocational pastor.
The apostle Paul may not have been a bi-vocational pastor, but he was a bi-vocational missionary on occasion. When Paul was in Corinth, “because he was a tentmaker as [Priscilla and Aquila] were, he stayed and worked with them” (Acts 18:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1–15). Paul also worked another job when in Ephesus: “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions” (Acts 20:34). Rather than be a burden to the churches where he ministered, Paul plied his trade and provided for his own needs. This is much the same arrangement as the bi-vocational pastor has with his church.
A pastor must prioritize the preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:2), and a bi-vocational pastor must ensure his priorities remain intact, even when working a job outside of the church. The bi-vocational pastor faces the challenge of fulfilling his responsibilities to the church as well as to his other job. It is essential for the church deacons and other church members to help bear the burden borne by the bi-vocational pastor.
The bi-vocational pastor often finds that his time spent in the community at his other job lends itself to further ministry opportunities. As he participates in the workforce, he will meet new people, and the unchurched will have the chance to see a follower of Christ in action. The pastor can use his second job as a platform for outreach and evangelism.
There is nothing wrong with being a bi-vocational pastor. It may not be the ideal situation, but, in some cases, it is unavoidable. The pastoral ministry is hard work, and the bi-vocational ministry brings an extra amount of work and complexities in scheduling and prioritizing. Churches with a bi-vocational pastor should extend grace to him and his family, support him in his work, and, as the church grows and re-examines its budget, consider bringing the pastor on full-time.