March 7, 2016 — by Len Tang


Benefits Of Bi-Vocational Church Planting

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.  The economic realities of the church and church planting today are necessitating bi-vocational church planting. The Apostle Paul, of course, was the original tentmaker!  In many ethnic churches and smaller churches, bi-vocational ministry has always been the norm rather than the exception. Today, there are even conferences for bivocational planters and pastors

I am currently in the early stages of planting Missio Community Church in Pasadena, CA while working full-time at Fuller Seminary. This means that I am squeezing ministry-related meetings, phone calls, emails, and tasks into my lunch hours, after work, and on weekends. It won’t be this way for long, since this summer I will shift to a part-time role at Fuller, but even then I will remain bi-vocational.

Being bi-vocational is always about weighing a series of tradeoffs: less time for ministry vs. less financial burden on the church; more connections in your community vs. less time to focus on developing leaders; less ability to focus on doing one thing well vs. more freedom to do a variety of things. But overall I actually feel excited rather than limited by this arrangement, because I think being bi-vocational has at least four benefits.  Bi-vovational ministry:

  • Shifts the financial dynamic - Because the planter/pastor is generating income outside of ministry, the obvious implication is that his or her salary is less of a burden on the church itself. But more broadly, Neil Cole has pointed out that our current preoccupation with an attractional worship service is driven (subtly or not-so-subtly) by the need to take an offering, which in turn is needed primarily to support a full-time pastor. Bi-vocational ministry may actually allow us to focus more on mission and  less on the centralized offering plate. I’m not saying tithing doesn’t matter, it’s just a matter of where those tithe dollars are going.
  • Creates solidarity between the planter and the congregation - When the planter is working a “regular” job, he or she is more able to directly relate to the daily challenges of much of the congregation: frustrations with co-workers, organizational dysfunction, etc. (Of course these same dynamics also exist on church staffs...oh, the shock of it!). This understanding leads to stronger connections to the congregation, more relevant sermon illustrations, and so forth.
  • Reclaims the priesthood of all believers and motivates the equipping of lay people - When the congregation knows that the pastor is also working another job, it means that the pastor cannot be the one who does all the ministry. So a bi-vocational arrangement forces the equipping of the saints, the sharing of the pulpit, and other healthy facets of maturity described in Ephesians 4.
  • Causes us to think through our theology of work - Ultimately, for a believer, all work is God’s work. If we can help our people understand their work as inherently valuable to God (not simply for the sake of friendship evangelism and tithing), to see their work as the place God has called them, to see Jesus as their true boss, and to work for organizational justice, then work will become a place of discipleship rather than a second-rate place to spend your time next to being in “full-time ministry.” 

Alan Hirsch writes that in order for a spiritual movement to occur among God’s people, two things must happen: 1) There must an apostolic releasing - usually meaning a wave of apostolic church planters being sent out, and 2) There must also be a releasing of the whole people of God - meaning that lay people must be taught and equipped to rightfully reclaim their role being minister and missionaries in and through their work as well as their lay leadership roles in the church and community. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may those of us who are bi-vocational help unleash both aspects of a renewal movement!