A View from the Pew: Bivocational Church Staff

The model of local church staff members having other forms of employment is a trending topic in my life these days.

I met a young couple visiting our church recently and learned that we knew someone in common—a former college friend of mine served as the pastor of their former church. The interesting twist was that I also knew him as assistant director of a department at the university where I work.

It just so happens that with the exception of our senior pastor and administrative assistant, all of the other members of my church’s staff are bivocational or part-time. For smaller congregations such as ours, this has become the norm. Not only does it allow our church to meet its budgetary obligations, this arrangement recognizes that God calls people to serve in ways that complement or supplement their means of earning a living.

Recent reports and studies show the employment of bivocational ministers is on the rise. You can read more about it in Christianity Today, The Christian Post, and the Christ to All newsletter.

I really began thinking about this concept in depth last summer when I wrote a unit of Formations Bible study curriculum focusing on the Apostle Paul’s ministry helpers. One of the lessons focused on Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple who, like Paul, made and repaired tents to earn a living. Their story is where we get the phrase “tentmaker” to describe a minister whose ministry is funded by their job in another field.

Congregations who are employing more of their ministers on a part-time basis must keep a few things in mind. First, we have a responsibility to care for these ministers regardless of how many hours a week they are working for the church. The spiritual and emotional toll on ministers is not lessened just because they may not be “full-time.” They deserve time off, including regular days off during the week, and should be allowed to access conferences, retreats, and other forms of professional and spiritual development that would be typically reserved for full-time staff members.

Second, as members, we have to do more work. We cannot leave ministry tasks to the paid staff thinking that, because we provide their livelihood, they are subject to our every whim and need. In order for bivocational ministers to fulfill their calling, they need us to fulfill our calling as church members, showing up and helping out even if it means running some activities on our own.

Third, we have to be careful not to treat them as “half a minister” or show a disparity between full-time and part-time staff members in how we appreciate them, recognize their service anniversaries, or celebrate their ministries in general. This is more difficult if your bivocational staff members aren’t the senior pastor. Respect for the traditional role of the senior pastor ensures that even bivocational pastors receive recognition for their years of service and special gifts, but part-time staff among the associate pastors, ministers of music, youth and children’s ministers—among other roles—can sometimes be overlooked. Don’t let that happen in your church.

Finally, remember, whether full-time or part-time, these ministers are called by God to serve. You and your fellow church members recognized their gifts and gave them responsibilities for a reason. Help them achieve their purpose and help your church achieve its mission by supporting them as people, as ministers, and as siblings in Christ.

A sincere “thank you for all you do” from time-to-time goes a long way, particularly if it’s accompanied by a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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