I was reading a book on chess and came across a very interesting statement. The discussion was about ‘forking’, that is, attacking two pieces with a single piece. Such an attack means that one or the other of the attacked pieces can be saved and the other is captured. He stated, “In cases like this one you might compare a chess player to the author of a whodunit who starts his work by figuring out the solution which will come at the end of his book…the Knight’s forking check is the ‘solution’. Black’s task, once he sees this check is to search for the moves that make the check meaningful.” 1
It occurred to me that this same process is applicable to us in the church. First, it is a clear way to structure our spiritual life. What is our goal in our spiritual life? Every Christian should strive to become more Christlike disciples, to be closer to God. You know where you want to go, and where you are now, so how is that reasonably accomplished? Daily Bible reading and prayer, finding an accountability partner, finding and using your spiritual gifts are all excellent paths to this goal.
Secondly, we can apply this to other areas of our lives. If you want to achieve certain things in your life, then what do you need to do to get there? For instance, if you want to write a fiction novel, you need to sit down and start writing. If you want to get a Doctorate, then you need to work on your Master’s degree. If you want to be a motorcycle mechanic, then you need to buy a ‘beater’ and enroll in a course or buy some books.
Finally, in the collective church we have goals as well. The high-falutin’ church language calls this “casting a vision” and there are entire seminars and college classes about it, but it’s really simple. The first question should be, “What is our vision for this church?” Where do we want to end up? What do we see this church being or doing in five years, or ten years? So many times we go along with no goal, and then wonder why we don’t seem to get anywhere. There’s an old story about a flight of military planes flying through overcast skies just after World War 2. Their navigational instruments were out when the controller radioed them and asked where they were. The pilot in the lead plane answered, “Well, I really don’t know, but we’re making good time!”.
If we want to be known as a “Praying Church”, do we have prayer meetings and activities? If we want to be known as “Friendly”, how do we support that goal? If we want to be known as the church that has its hands in the local community, how are we striving to get there?
Being a bivocational minister means that we don’t have time and energy to waste on random activities. Don’t just dream about it and think God is going to drop things in your lap. Make a conscious choice to pray about where God wants you to go and what He wants you to do, then follow Him!
1 “How to be a winner at chess” by Fred Reinfeld: Fawcett, c1954, p65
Mentoring and accountability are two looming issues for any minister but especially for the bivocational, whether in an established church or in a church plant situation. Mentoring is the process by which one person builds into the life of another less experienced person, and accountability is the mechanism that keeps the minister honest and on the right path. Mentoring is essential for the growth of the minister professionally, and accountability is what can keep the minister from personal tragedy such as relationship problems, moral and ethical issues or even criminal activities. As such, the bivocational needs to have these elements built into their life in a way that works for them. The church as a whole needs to acknowledge this and provide the means for doing it.
Why is this such a problem for the bivocational minister? Simply put, they have little time for such activities and what time they do have is not usually during nine-to-five working hours. The typical bivocational needs to have accountability and mentoring on their own flexible schedule or it is just not going to be done. This is something many fully-funded pastors realize about their bivo brethren, but don’t have the means to address.
Many years ago I developed a relationship with one of my fellow ministry students on my District and we began to pray together and become accountable to one another by meeting at least once a month. Most often we would grab a coffee at the local burger joint and head over to the parking lot of the school where his church plant was operating. Eventually he moved to Vermont and took an established church. A few years after this my wife and I were assigned to a church plant effort in Vermont and we renewed the relationship. There were several key factors that made all of this work. We both had crazy schedules, both were bivocational, and both had the desire to make it work. We both had the backing and support of our wives. Most importantly, we trusted each other and gave each other the permission to ask the ‘hard questions’.
The relationship I had with my accountability partner was good, but in many ways it was not suitable for a mentoring relationship. For one thing we were too similar in experience levels. A mentoring relationship is more of a “Paul/Timothy” than a “Paul/Barnabas” thing. Paul and Barnabas were very similar in experience and functioned well as an accountability partnership. Paul and Timothy on the other hand were years apart in experience, so Paul took on a teaching role in Timothy’s life as a minister. Early in my ministry I sought a mentor (more on this process in another article!) and found an experienced and successful church planter with whom I had taken many classes. I asked him to pray about establishing a mentoring relationship and he accepted. We met once a month for prayer, catch-up and mentoring activities. The relationship did not end until he passed away a few years later, but mentoring relationships can be for a fixed time as well as open-ended. My main mentoring partner right now is my father-in-law who has forty-plus years of experience in the ministry.
Some ministers see little reason to have either a mentor (“I am already taking classes…”) or an accountability partner (“I am doing alright, I don’t need anyone keeping an eye on me!”) But for long term professional development and preventing moral ‘drift’ over time, they are worth all the effort.
The key thing to remember here is that bivocational ministers need both accountability and mentoring relationships, but they also have special requirements for those relationships because of their schedules and ability to connect. If you do not have these built into your life, please consider it seriously; you will not regret the decision!
In the last thirty years or so there has been an increase in the number of bivocational ministers in many, if not all, faith traditions and the Church of the Nazarene is no different. “Bivocational” is defined as follows: An assigned minister holding one or more secular, non-church-related jobs. I have been a champion of the bivocational minister for many years…at one time I was “quad-vocational”, holding down three secular positions totaling about 70 hours a week in addition to my ministry position.
Many times, but not always, a minister is bivocational because the church is too small to fully fund the minister’s salary and benefits. In other cases a church may have gotten into this mode of dealing with their pastors because they see it as being good stewardship, or simply started out this way and now have grown, but don’t want to devote additional funds to a pastor’s salary and benefits. At the time of this writing a family health insurance policy will be about $1,400 a month in Vermont. The number of pastors in this situation does not take into account the number of pastors who are not fully-funded, but who have a working spouse who provides additional salary and benefits. Many newer churches do not provide a parsonage, either, which increases the burden on the pastor.
There are many pastors who see this as their preferred mode of ministry, giving the pastor unprecedented independence and access to the world of secular work. You can’t intimidate a bivo pastor with threats on his paycheck by withdrawing your tithes!
Data quoted by Richard Houseal from the 1993 Annual Reports indicates that at that time there were 39% of Nazarene churches reporting 50 or less in average worship attendance and paying salaries below the poverty level. (source:http://www.nazarene.org/files/docs/Picture%20of%20Bivocational%20Pastors%20in%20the%20Church%20of%20the%20Nazarene.pdf) In another report by Ken Crow a survey of the churches in the US revealed that 29% of pastors are either part-time or have other employment outside the church.(source: http://www.nazarene.org/files/docs/factnazarenereport_2005.pdf)
The numbers speak for themselves. What doesn’t appear in the statistics though are the difficulties that being a bivocational pastor present. Our own District is struggling with a number of these issues. For instance, consider the following.
- Denominational or District events and programs scheduled during the work week are not likely to be well attended by bivos.
- Secular work time is prime ministry time (for instance, afterschool programs, Mom’s Bible Studies, etc..)
- Secular work allows limited time off; required ministry events during the year may leave no vacation time for the pastor’s family.
- Secular work and ministry may take up so much time in combination that family life could suffer.
- Secular work schedules may interfere with essential ministry time…for instance, retail work may insist on occasional holiday or weekend work.
- Denominational and District board seats are often not offered to bivocationals because of their real or perceived schedules and many meetings are scheduled during weekday working hours.
- Breaking away from bivocational ministry and into fully-funded ministry can be an economic leap for a church.
- And the final straw for many is that even though the church as a whole has bought into the bivocational model, there are still residual feelings that bivocational ministers are not ‘real’ clergy (by both laity and fully-funded clergy).
To quote Dennis Bickers, “Along with our family and church responsibilities, we have a second job that requires a certain amount of our time. The churches we lead are often smaller churches with few resources. Bivocational ministry is looked at by some as ‘second-class’ ministry performed by people who don’t have the gifts to serve a larger church.” (source:http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/h2ol/articleDisplay.jsp?mediaId=2365220)
Whether or not the church manages to deal effectively with these issues in relation to bivocationals will largely determine the shape of the church in the future. Solutions are available, we just need to be creative. At the very least we need to be aware of the special needs, limitations and schedules of the bivocational minister.
I have been considering over the last several years the value of education, and what might be termed the ‘return on investment’ it might provide, especially in regard to the bivocational minister to whom time and money are generally a scarcity. I read an article yesterday that dealt with the overwhelming cost of obtaining a law degree and the crippling effect it has on graduates. I can see this in my own daughter; she just completed a year in law school and I know what debt she carries. The article made the point that in most cases the debt is likely to take many years to get rid of, if at all. There is an overabundance of lawyers and the field is shrinking.
Then there are the theology majors. The so-called ‘entry-level’ degree is a Masters of Divinity. A traditional MDiv will take 3 years of full-time study and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. The typical graduate will join a field of graduates all vying for pastoral positions which pay in the vicinity of $25,000 in salary (other benefits MAY be included, but no guarantee). As a matter of fact, the average church in the United States has 75 people and the pastor is likely to be bi-vocational. Return on investment? I would say that there is very little.
This raises a question in my mind. If the return of investment is so low, why do it? Especially for a minister who is already ordained, what’s the point? There are only a couple reasons to pursue an advanced degree in ministry. One is to advance your skills or keep your skills sharp. Another is for the ‘prestige’ of an advanced degree. A third reason would be to allow the recipient to teach in a more formal setting (at a District educational center, for instance). A fourth reason, at least in our denomination, is that there is a requirement for ordained elders to participate in continuing education.
A better option might be to take advantage of free or low-cost educational opportunities according to a plan of education you draw up yourself. There are free courses available online from places like Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. Low cost courses are available from Nazarene Bible College and others. Why not look at a Master’s level program from a legitimate school and see if you can duplicate it, or come close to it, by using these kinds of resources? If you honestly pursue the plan and meet your goals, at the end you could even print yourself a certificate and hang it on your wall.
The typical response by many in our field is that this is simply not the same as earning an advanced degree from an accredited institution. Yet, if it brings the knowledge and skills that you need, who cares? Abraham Lincoln did not seem to find his self-education in law a problem either when practicing law or as a politician. Maybe we are becoming too caught up in the formalities to recognize what the end goal should be…ministry.
(Originally published by Ray Mann in “http://www.theviewfromvermont.blogspot.com”, 1/13/2011)