Does dual role mean dual purpose? - the debate on bivocational ministry

Earlier this month, there was an outbreak of online conversation on the possibilities and challenges of bi-vocationalism in church leadership. FIEC published an article here suggesting its benefit in spurring the revitalisation of existing churches in Scotland, and it has been argued elsewhere as part of a church planting strategy.

At its heart, the question comes down to: can we be effective in church leadership if we take on another workplace role (or perhaps any other role)? Are we being pulled in different directions by different purposes? And does this differ in terms of context – does it only work for “middle-class” jobs and opportunities?

Can we be effective in church leadership if we take on another workplace role?

Concerned voices exclaim that the job of a pastor or shepherd of the church is hard enough as it is. Reference is made to a “worker being worth their wages”, and Paul only taking on work so that he wasn’t a burden to the nascent church. We aim for a model of fully employed clergy / ministers even in church planting, and any bi-vocational role can be seen as temporary.

This is all valid. Many who find themselves in two vocations do so unwillingly, out of necessity for providing an income for the family as much as a desire to be doing two roles. The secondary workplace role can be seen as a millstone or burden to be borne until God provides enough resources for a full salary to be taken. This can turn into resentment that the church isn’t providing, either locally or nationally.


But is there another side to the story?

Being engaged in a workplace can be beneficial to your presence in a community, building authentic relationships and being a ministry in its own right. We need to be intentional about this purpose. It isn’t just about providing an income for a pastor with a family. Too often, we miss the potential for effective gospel ministry.

I believe we need to be setting up our church structures to enable these authentic relationships to happen more. A high percentage of “new people” at our churches have merely moved from another church. How are we building more bridges with those outside the church (rather than waiting for them to come to us)?

We all know about “the whole church with the whole Word to the whole world”, and discipleship initiatives ensuring church is not a Sunday thing. But could leaders model this more? What would that look like?

Specifically, instead of a subordinate role to church ministry, could we see the workplace role as part of the purpose of our existing church or church plant? Perhaps the lessons from Paul would extend to the modelling of faithful service and not being a burden to the communities he was entering, holding this in tension with his desire to be fully resourced?

Could we see our workplace role as part of the purpose...?

I have real empathy with the argument that one person cannot do everything. Pastoring – equipping God’s people for works of service – is very hard at times.

But why not think more about how overseers (elders) could work together in churches in hard areas, multi-cultural areas or pioneering areas?

I’m talking about setting up a church plant, from the start, to be a team ministry with three elders sharing out roles. Some or all would also work 2-3 days per week, ideally in strategic roles in the local community enabling relationships to be developed.

This is not a group of people supporting the pastor, praying with them, and forming the membership of the new church (and becoming “giving units”). This is a leadership group, sharing responsibilities for the new plant. It’s a group of people who fit the description of 1 Tim 3.

The benefits of this could include:

  1. A mix of gifts and skills being bought to bear on the church ministry (which works anyway, as one person rarely excels in everything!)
  2. Authentic relationships built with people in the local area, not waiting for them to come through the church’s front door (at Easter and Christmas?)
  3. Ability to support each other in the hard times, and bring various views to bear on issues
  4. Stable financial provision for the key cost of the new church set-up (leaders’ income)
  5. Bi-vocationalism becomes aligned to the church’s vision and purposes. The workplace is a ministry, an opportunity for ministry, and a provider of finance.

Difficulties

  1. It may take more time to find a group of three people/families with the right skills willing to go into a particular community. Impatience (correct when faced with the urgency of people knowing Christ) may spur on a decision to get on with it.
  2. This is exacerbated when dealing with crossing barriers with the new church… fewer people want to go somewhere less comfortable, meaning it takes longer to fill opportunities. This is true of church planting, but also of mission opportunities in pioneering locations. The number of open opportunities waiting for workers is strikingly large – the field is ripe for harvest. Our first task is therefore to pray to the Lord of the harvest for those workers.
  3. Do the jobs exist when crossing barriers, for example into deprived communities in the UK? This isn’t a given – we can talk about community work, social work, small scale business, etc, but will this pay enough for the family. Maybe the Council has a job, but does this give the flexibility required?
  4. I would love to explore global models more here (but not in this blog, which is already way too long!). Would some of the small enterprise models followed by pastors and leaders in other countries work in the UK? Are they transferable? Could more be done to help set up sustainable initiatives/jobs in hard to reach places to work alongside church plants?
  5. Working and leading as a team may not suit all. Some people (and ecclesiological structures) prefer the “CEO” model rather than a more distributed leadership and responsibility. That’s OK, and works. But it may not be the only solution.
  6. What happens if a part of the team leaves?

This is not a one-size-fits-all discussion. We need a toolbox of models and processes for various contexts, all the more so where we need to cross barriers to reach people for Christ.

I hear the cry that wealth should be more evenly distributed, enabling the church in deprived areas to develop stably. Part of that will be creating closer networks with those churches, with joint leadership. But this is not the only answer. And indeed, only addresses one part of the purpose of bi-vocational living.

 

If you’re interested in pursuing this discussion, we’d love to talk more. In particular, at MtB we want to be inspiring people in business and the trades, who fit 1 Tim 3, into getting involved and taking responsibility in church leadership, discipleship and bi-vocationalism… praying that this leads to many more in the UK and abroad hearing of Christ and seeing how good he is.

Ben – Mission through Business