How to Make It as a Bi-Vocational Pastor

Paul was a tentmaker. James and John, Peter and Andrew were all fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector.

Were they bi-vocational in their service for Christ? Did they support themselves by working for a living while they spread the Word?

More and more, I hear pastors say that bi-vocational is the way to go. By supporting themselves they can start a church from scratch without having to solicit funds from supporting congregations until they become self-sustaining. By supporting himself, a pastor cannot be held hostage by a church bully—or a committee of controllers—who insist that he do things their way to keep from losing his job and throwing his family into financial crisis.

What are the skills a bi-vocational pastor would need most? Most, I expect, are the same abilities and strengths he would need in a full-time pastorate. For instance …

1. He needs a strong sense of God’s call to this kind of ministry.

2. He needs the support of his family. Many a pastor’s wife has told me her husband now has two full-time jobs.

3. He needs strong preaching skills. This means he should have a love for the Word and a working knowledge of its contents, from one end to the other. He should know how to find a text, recognize it for what it is, and build a sermon from it.

4. He needs good people skills. Every pastor does. He is not just a preacher, but a pastor. A pastor is a shepherd. A shepherd loves the flock to the point that he can “lay down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

5. He needs humility and confidence, that remarkable blend which God’s Spirit gives and blesses and uses.

6. He needs to be a learner. No one knows it all, particularly in the early decades. (He won’t know it all later either, but he will know more than he did.) He needs to learn from studying God’s Word, as well as from a lifelong commitment to his own education, and from other people, ministers as well as laypeople. Many a church member who has never taught a class or preached a sermon knows a hundred lessons about human nature, leadership, and such. A wise pastor will listen to them.

7. He needs to be active in his denominational gatherings, both for his church and for his own growth.

However, a bi-vocational pastor will need an additional set of skills. Among them are these:

1. He needs the ability and willingness to train lay people to do ministry since he will not always be available. The problem with training disciples is it is hard, it is time-consuming, frustrating, and it’s just easier to do a job yourself. But this has to be done if the bi-vocational pastor is going to succeed.

2. He needs the determination to work out a schedule that will satisfy his church and suit his family.

3. He needs to be willing to sacrifice a lot of things “normal” people participate in. He simply does not have the time or energy.

4. He needs to develop the ability to turn it all off when his head hits the pillow at night. In both jobs, he will have people needing him, criticizing him, making demands on him. If he cannot handle this, he will not last.

5. He needs to make his wife his confidante. She needs to buy into this dual ministry of his, otherwise a lot of unhappy things are going to result.

6. He needs to know how to do both jobs at the same time, how to do neither (it’s called rest!), and know when the time has come to stop one of the jobs/ministries in order to devote himself full-time to the other.

A bi-vocational minister absolutely must find a group of peers, people doing what he is doing, and connect with them. For his own sanity, for his affirmation and for his future direction.

A phone call came last night from a longtime friend who is in his fifth year of pastoring, while at the same time he has worked at a nearby correctional facility. He said, “I’m going to have to give up one or the other. The stress is killing me.” So, what’s the problem? “The problem is I love both. My church is doing well, we’re having people saved and baptized. And I love the opportunity I have to touch people’s lives in prison and make a difference.”

I suggested he consider a sabbatical from the church for a few weeks. An absence for four Sundays, let’s say, should be sufficient to tell him if he is ready to lay aside the pastoral ministry for a time. “Bear in mind,” I said, “even if you give it up, there’s no reason in the world you can’t resume pastoring in a few years.”

Being bi-vocational gives him that option other pastors might not have.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever

Joe McKeever spent 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist churches and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications for more than 40 years.