There’s no such thing as a part-time lead pastor.
However, many pastors begin their ministries, or continue for years trusting God as they draw their income from sources “outside” the church. Some people would consider these “bi-vocational pastors” to be half-pastors, or part-timers, because their time is, in part, taken up by a career or job that helps pay the bills. But we shouldn’t view a full-time pastor status as something successful pastors/churches arrive at. There’s at least three reasons why.
Certainly every church should review their budgetary abilities and not exhaust their resources in merelysalaries. God intends to bless the needy in our communities and many pastors have become cautionary tales in excess and consumerism. However, many bi-vocational pastors are exhausted and broke and are burning the candle at every end just to allow God to provide for their families. Here are three reasons why bi-vocational ministry is a win:
Every church should review overhead and always seek to be “fit” fiscally. We are called to be stewards of the people, the resources, and the vision of a localized congregation. Many churches are completely upside down in debt and cannot pursue the exciting opportunities the Lord may be opening up in the city because they have overspent in unnecessary buildings and staff. I hear these sob stories almost weekly.
Having a pastor who works outside of the church, even just part-time, allows the church to give to those in need. It also allows the staff to stay accountable in their own personal stewardship so that materialism, greed, and excess are avoided. One question I would consider however: If your pastor is working at a job elsewhere, is he making enough to support his family? He should be supported as well as your congregation can possibly maintain so he can be most effective to your flock.
I was told once when I was a youth pastor that the perception of our congregation was that pastors “sit in their office reading the Bible all day”. I was floored. And angry. The amount of counseling, prayer, visitation, administration, preparation, meetings, construction, and yes, studying that pastors do on a week-to-week basis is astounding. Many volunteers in your church may not understand that.
However, many volunteers in your church are showing up to volunteer on Tuesday nights after working 8 hours straight. They didn’t have some of the flexibility that a full-time pastor is afforded. They couldn’t “write off” a three-hour contemplation prayer time as work to their boss. Many pastors may not understand that either.
Working bi-vocationally allows people to relate to you. I can tell people in my church how difficult it is being in a tense and wicked work environment and they agree and relate to that. I can explain the fear of witnessing and sharing my faith and I’ve got immediate buy-in, not skepticism. I can relate to my congregation because I’m in the trenches with them.
Finally, and most importantly, working “outside” of the church allows pastors to be a greater witness in their community. Jesus said we are “salt” and “light” in the world (Matthew 5). We are to make disciples of all the nations beginning where we are at (Matthew 28:19-20). I am so privileged to work alongside unbelievers, skeptics, agnostics and atheists. And when they find out I’m a pastor, the conversations always take an exciting turn.
I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ for the first time, come back to their first love and return to Jesus, and weak Christ-followers draw closer. I’ve gotten jobs for people who needed work and watched their families flourish because of my referral. I’ve had coworkers watch my sermons “stoned” and eventually exchange their marijuana cookbooks for Bibles as Jesus makes their hearts new in Him.
It is a glorious good work, a work that reminds us that we need grace always.
Paul, the tent-making apostle, said it best in Acts 20:33-35:
I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”