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 a 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 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:
1. Stewarding God’s Money
By me 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.
3. 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.”