What’s the difference between “bivocational” and “covocational”?
A bivocational church planter is one who works a second job to supplement the salary the church provides. Their hope is that the church eventually will be in a position to provide the financial support needed for the planter to leave their bivocational job to focus full-time on the church plant.
A covocational church planter is one whose primary vocation is in the marketplace and at the same time is called to start a church. A “covo” planter has a clear calling in the marketplace and never intends to leave. They know God has called them to be a teacher, mechanic, graphic designer or doctor and they desire to weave that calling into the plan to plant a church.
There are at least five distinct reasons to consider being a covocational leader as you plant a church.
Perhaps the most significant reason for planting as a covocational leader is that it gives the church planter greater opportunities to connect relationally with people in the community. Their vocation gives them access to a mission field that is not readily available to a pastor employed full-time by a local church. Many traditional pastors find themselves working inside a church bubble, spending most of their time with church people. For a covocational planter, their marketplace job isn’t a hindrance to what God is doing; it’s an advantage to engaging God’s mission.
Covocational planting helps to diminish the sacred-secular divide in respect to vocation. The congregation can see the church planter model the fact that all work matters. Regardless of what God has called a person to do, it is a sacred calling. As a result, the benefits of being in the marketplace are multiplied exponentially as every member recognizes how their vocation fits into God’s redemptive mission. Further, when the planter has a vocation in the marketplace, the congregation knows the leader has a better understanding of what others experience during a work week.
However, working in the marketplace not only builds credibility with those inside the church, but it also provides greater respectability outside the church. In a post-Christian context, where people are skeptical of the church, it is important for non-Christians to see that church leaders have jobs like everyone else. In a time when Christianity doesn’t have the best reputation, it can provide significant “street cred” with those outside the church.
Another reason for being covocational relates to the financial stability it provides in three different areas.
The church planter: When the primary financial support comes from a marketplace source rather than the church plant, there usually is less financial strain on a family. This is especially true when the planter is employed full-time in a vocation that provides benefits like insurance, vacation and retirement.
The new church: A church led by covocational leaders usually finds its financial base is much stronger. Without the need to provide full-time salaries and benefits, the church can direct more of its financial resources toward mission and ministry.
The church planting entity: Many denominations have made the commitment to plant hundreds, if not thousands of churches over the next several years. However, there simply aren’t enough finances to plant the churches needed with the current funding model. Covocational planting provides the opportunity for funding entities to embrace more sustainable church planting practices. This is especially necessary for planters who are engaging diverse socioeconomic contexts made up of the very poor or immigrant populations.
Many traditional church plants start with a large annual budget supported by multiple funding streams, including partnering churches and denominational entities. Because most funding models are structured over a three- to five-year period, it puts pressure on a church planter to grow the church quickly so it can become self-sustaining before funding runs out. The unfortunate reality is that a planter often is forced to attract financial givers, rather than engaging the brokenness in their community. Covocational church planting, on the other hand, provides a more viable and strategic financial model that allows the planter to focus primarily on mission.
Covocational church planting creates opportunities for leaders in the congregation to use their God-given talents to create a culture of participation, rather than one of spectatorship. When the church planter has a full-time vocation, the congregation understands that the planter can’t do it all. Therefore, more church members, out of necessity, become involved in the mission of the church. Covocational leadership helps to diminish the clergy-laity divide and highlight the necessity of empowering all the people of God.
At times, a church leader needs to speak boldly about difficult issues, both inside and outside the church. However, the possibility of offending those who provide financial support, can weaken the leader’s voice. But when the primary support for the church planter comes from the marketplace, the planter often is freed to speak prophetically about the mission and ministry of the church.
- Which of the reasons for being covocational do you identify with most?
- How can you maximize each of these five reasons in your ministry?
- How might you communicate these reasons to other leaders?
Published February 1, 2023