A Case for Bivocationality

What if there isn’t enough “grain to tread,” in the specific way our proverbial ox-hoof was designed by God?

2009 was the year the stock market crashed. It was also the year I and a few other folks planted The City Church. We started with 20 people in a living room, and even with the generous support of friends, families, and organizations, there was no way I could pull a full-time salary. When I got the chance to teach public speaking part-time at the local university, I jumped at it—primarily as a means of support but also because I had already spent four years ministering to that campus. Today our church is a few hundred adults strong, financially stable, with multiple elders and deacons—some paid, others not. I recently transitioned out of the university job, to help lead a nationwide church planting organization. But for at least the past four years, our church could have paid me full time—and even did for a brief season. But consistently, I’ve been bivocational. And—don’t fall out of your chair—I hope that’s always the case.

Dollars and Common Sense

In most of the pre- and post-Christendom world[1] the reality of a full-time paid minister is a non-reality. Even if that weren’t the case, lean close and let’s have a hushed conversation: I’ve heard leaders at many Christian organizations quote 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” But I’ve only heard it quoted to justify a raise. While that is the context Paul writes the words, the equal and opposite reaction must be considered: What if, in a specific season of our ministries and/or our specific gift mix, we’re not worth our wage? What if there isn’t enough “grain to tread,” in the specific way our proverbial ox-hoof was designed by God?

A Case for Bivocation

I’m not claiming it’s wrong to minister full-time; merely that it’s not always right. And at times, our ministry even distracts us from the mission God wants to send us on. So maybe God wants to redeem our view of bivocationality, just like he wants to redeem all things under the sun. As such, even if you’re rolling your eyes at the very idea, I’d invite you to consider the following benefits of bivocational ministry:

  • Stewarding God’s money: By working at a university for six years, our church was able to put money toward more things than we otherwise could. We gave more to missions; more to hurting couples who couldn’t afford professional counseling; more financial support to other part-time folks so they could use their gifting for the good of the body.[2]
  • Building credibility: A stereotype of ministers is that we live in a bubble, surrounded by books, prayer journals, ancient languages, and only other Christians. In some folks’ eyes, we couldn’t hack it elsewhere. (Sometimes folks aren’t too far off) By working and doing life outside the church walls, I have normal work/boss/employee experiences and connect with those in my church who do the same. Living in the “real world” and finding points of connection has allowed me to become “all things to all people,” engaging those far from God like everyone else in my church does—on that level, bivocationality built my credibility.
  • Setting expectations: Before The City Church turned one year old, my wife and I welcomed our first baby into the world. As amazing as Charlotte was, as well as Maggie and Travis after her, she couldn’t provide for me. She couldn’t feed me; she couldn’t clothe me. Nor would anyone expect her to. But often, people expect small ministries to be fully developed or for a single leader alone to make it all happen! Bivocationality removes these expectations and pressures from both our church and my family. That’s a good thing: Biblically, it takes everyone to do the work of ministry. Because I’m like them, and busy like they are, I don’t have time to “do” all the ministry! I serve and equip in the areas that I’m gifted, other leaders serve and equip in areas they are, and our people serve and do “the work of ministry.”
  • Battling idols: The greatest benefit to bivocationality hit my soul—somewhere I didn’t expect. Most leaders I know are control freaks. I am too! By giving several hours of my week to non-church work, God reminds me daily that it’s his church, not mine; they’re his people, not mine. As I put aside the common idea that every waking hour is given to “my ministry” and that nothing can happen without my involvement, beautiful things have happened. I’ve learned to delegate, to walk away from work at the end of the day, and to actually trust God more. Control is still an idol: I pray and work against it internally, but it’s helpful to have this buttress against this area of sin, pride, self-sufficiency, and other idols. Bivocationality is a practical, humbling, and sanctifying reality!
  • Making disciples: I’m a pastor. I love the local church. But for six years through my second job, I prayerfully pursued the Great Commission on the campus that Playboy ranked 2012’s #9 party school in the nation. My officemates, the professors in my department, and my students were from different backgrounds and beliefs. I once got an email from a former student: “I don’t have anyone to turn to for advice, but I think you told us you were a priest or something?” Now I get to lead by example, as I help other leaders start new churches in places across our nation and beyond—because many of those mission fields necessitate ministry leaders working a second job. By God’s grace, bivocationality opens doors for us to make disciples.

Adapted from Ben Connelly’s A Pastor’s Guide to Everyday Mission (GCD Books, Summer 2016).

[1] The former of which is the reality in many nations and the latter of which we’re all entering into if not already fully immersed in, whether we admit or even realize it or not

[2] At the time of writing, while my “second job” is leading church planting for the Soma Family of Churches, it’s still a job in the “Christian world,” financial and other resources that I’d otherwise take if I was employed full-time by our church, instead support other leaders, with giftings different than my own that our church needs.


Published May 31, 2016

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