Pastor, Go Get a Job

September 15, 2010

Monday, in my letter to the North American church, I ever so briefly mentioned a big part of my life.

I’m a bi-vocational pastor.  I pastor a small church, and I’m a teacher.

Most guys don’t feel “called” to having two jobs.  In fact, most of us aspire to “graduate” to full time ministry.  That’s how people know you’re a real man of God.  Move out of Mom’s basement, graduate from Bible college, grow a sweet beard, and spend all your free time in church.  It wasn’t until seminary when a professor told us how being bi-vocational had blessed him that my eyes were opened: I wanted to be a teacher as well as a pastor.

I have to admit, being paid to show up to church is pretty sweet.  But in tough economic times when the future of the church is uncertain, churches want to try every radical option…except something really radical, like give up some cash.  A few weeks ago, I read that all the members of the Schuller family are taking a 50% pay cut from the the Crystal Cathedral.  Woah, look out!..until you realize how many Schullers don’t work at the Crystal Cathedral, or even live in California. 

Today, I’m calling on pastors and church leaders to do something really radical, like put your money where your mouths are.

Four Reasons Your Church Leadership Should be Bi-Vocational 

You Want to Be Relevant, Right?

That’s the word, isn’t it?  Relevant?  You want to relate to the common peasants out there who are having hard times?  Well, most people don’t spend every waking moment in the safe confines of a church building.  Most people are working stiffs with callouses on their hands, or butts, if they work in an office.  Ever since Old Testament days, pastors and priests have been paid something.  And as a pastor, I’ve said before that we should be compensated fairly.  But there is something to be said for having calloused hands and butts, and contributing to your community more than words on Sundays that make you a bit more relevant.  Do you think pastors in Africa or China get to quit working in the salt mines just because they’ve been ordained?

Right about now, a bunch of pastors are about to angrily comment that they have too much work to within the church already, and to that I say this…

Half of What You Do Probably Isn’t Ministry

Ask pastors what they hate about the ministry.  Very little of it has to do with actual ministry.  Pastors don’t say they hate visiting people, or praying with people in the hospital.  They hate the other garbage that wastes time and drains them mentally and emotionally.  I suspect they spend way more time than they’d like in meetings, for one thing. 

The pastor’s job has changed dramatically as it has become more and more of a “profession.”  Much of what a pastor is expected to do reads more like a job description for soulless corporate boss, meant to just keep the company perpetuated.  Meanwhile, people increasingly don’t want the pastor to do what he would’ve done a few decades ago, like show up at your house unannounced for a piece of pie, which you would’ve definately made, just in case you had company.

Carlos Whittaker pointed out yesterday that churches are continually building offices for their staff inside the church, while hundreds of offices out in the real world do not have contact with your church.  He made the awesome suggestion of moving 15 hours of a church staff’s work week outside the church.

I think that’s a great, and I’m going to up the ante.  A lot of pastors shouldn’t even be spending 40 hours in the church in the first place.  A pastor who spends that much time in church is probably not giving enough responsibility to others, is afraid of giving up a little control, or has not taught his people to make good decisions in his absence.

Pastors, you’re already doing a lot of jobs you don’t like, which you aren’t called to do.  So stop doing them.  Give those jobs to someone else who should do it for free.  Pastors who are truly gifted at everything today’s church wants from them are very rare, and in the meantime, we have pastors trying to be half-baked businessmen, or businessmen trying to be half-baked pastors.

We’re in a Recession, if You Haven’t Noticed

While the pastor tries to do all the jobs he wasn’t meant to do, the church happily pays 80% of what they take in to pay the pastor to be a corporate boss, and give him a nice office to do it all in (plus, send some cash to denominational HQ to keep those guys no one knows in their offices.)  If the church were meant to, I don’t know, help people, then the church is one of the least financially efficient ways to do that ever concieved.

When a church spends that much cash on itself, it’s because the people don’t give enough.  But you already know that.  The average American gives something like 3% of their income to the church.  And what is the church’s response?  To give the pastor a raise, and continue to build bigger buildings.  Makes sense.

Where Are the Men?

It’s no secret that the church has struggled with attracting and keeping men in the seats.  That’s funny, since most churches are run by men.  Maybe it’s something about men not wanting to be told what to do.  Maybe it’s the kind of men that they percieve pastors to be.

While the church is continually destroyed by money-grabbing charlatans, some real pastors are going to find they have to make radical sacrifices in order to prove they’re legit, to undo the damage that is done every day by pastors who promise a blessing in return for a love offering.  They might have to give up their jobs. 

To some guys, all pastors look the same.  They look like phoneys in suits, asking old ladies for money in exchange for salvation, living off of the charity of others.  And a man who doesn’t know Jesus probably can’t respect that kind of man.

Don’t believe for a minute that just because Peter and the others became disciples that they suddenly were independently wealthy from all those tithes and could quit their jobs.  Why were Peter and the others fishing all night right after Jesus was crucified?  Because they were still broke-off-their-butts  fishermen.  When they “left everything and followed,” it doesn’t mean they turned in their letters of resignation to the boss.

I’m not saying every pastor should be bi-vocational.  But it’s a path that many more should be willing to take.  Are you or your pastor bi-vocational?  Do you think this is the future of the church, or do pastors belong in the church all week?  What percent of its income should a church be spending to keep itself afloat?

33 responses to Pastor, Go Get a Job

  1. Ministry?

    When a pastor asks me to do something “as a ministry”, that means he wants me to do something for free that he is getting paid to do.

    (And yes, I am nothing but a bitter, resentful, pew-warmer).

  2. During an extended interim period a number of years ago, someone in my church pointed out that there are way too many pastors out there who don’t have a clue what the real world is like, and as a result, they can’t relate to the rest of us. At the time, I thought it’s probably because they spend way too much time within the confines of the church walls, but never developed the thought beyond that.

    Having a bivocational pastor won’t work for every church, but you make a strong case that more should consider it. Great post.

  3. Well, you have cracked the egg of religion and poured it out on a hot skillet. My kind of blog.

    – First, the problem with the pulpit-centric church is that it is not really Bible. Ephesians 4:11 is very, very, very clear that it takes more than pastor to make a church healthy.

    – Second, the Bible simply says that a worker is worthy of his hire, not a regular salary. Certainly there are cases of bi-vocational ministers (I am one) – but I would not make that the precedent – how about we follow the Bible and get led by the Spirit? – just a thought. But your point well taken.

    – We can’t be relative, just top be relative. That is like being weird just to call yourself an artist.

    – Though we are in a recession, God is not.

    – What we need to do is preach the Gospel of salvation and repentance; accompanied by the power of God, and show love to the unlovable using both our service gifts, and our spiritual gifts.

    – And while we are at it – let’s get rid of boards, voting, trustees, membership, and anything else that keeps elders and deacons from serving the poor, praying for the sick, and teaching disciples.

    • I think I understand most of you points, David, and they are positive ones. Like I said, I’m not saying all pastors should be bi-vocational. But too many pastors don’t even consider that route because they don’t think they are qualified to do anything else, or are afraid of giving up control in their churches. So they are stuck doing a lot of work they don’t necessarily enjoy, or work that doesn’t especially advance the Kingdom.

      • I totally agree, Matt. I was only trying to say, let’s not make bi-vocational-ity a requirement. It is absolutely viable, and maybe even could be the norm!

        I think it would be good if the “church” could agree that salaries are not biblical. How would things change if the pastor got an offering each week, and no salary check? The bean counters take out the expenses monthly, designate something for the poor, and the pastor and worship team get the rest. They would work if they had to; as you admirably do.

        Everyone is pretty much qualified to work at 7-11 and load hotdogs in the rotary cooker.

        My experience is that God takes care of everything when we let him. I currently make more money than I ever have – but my heart is still in ministry – and you can find me giving it 100% whenever God opens a door.

  4. “Maybe it’s something about men not wanting to be told what to do.” Holy crap you nailed it man. Epic post.

  5. I think you make a valid point, but when my husband worked bi-vocationally for a camping ministry it left him feeling like he wasn’t doing a great job at either. Granted, the pastorate is different, but there is still a huge advantage to having a single focus in your ministry – whether that be in a church or as a part of the church that is employed by a business. Doing both is difficult.

  6. Matt, I appreciate your blog and like your point of view.

    Have you considered Acts 18:1-5 in your thoughts here? In that passage, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla in verse 2 in Corinth and makes tents with them. He works all day and ministers all night! There is your model of bi-vocational ministry and your biblical example of a bi-vocational “pastor.”

    However, in verse 5 Silas and Timothy show up and at that point Paul devotes himself full time to ministry. It seems that there was enough financial security for him to quit making tents in Corinth and instead focus on “the word.” That was certainly not 40 hours a week of Bible study (or certainly not golf!) but he definitely wasn’t bi-vocational at that point.

    So it seems that Paul’s method was to be willing and able to be bi-vocational but to work full time for Christ when he could afford to do so. That seems to be a pretty good path.

    This comes from a guy whose first 8 years of adult life were spent in the military, and first 4 years of pastoring were bi-vocational. I now pastor a church full time and teach part-time at a local college, so I am a bit of both I suppose.

    • Sure, there are times when full time ministry is good, and times when it works in tandem with other occupations. My concern is that too many pastors have been stuck for years on end doing jobs they hate, but aren’t taking the initiative to delegate some of those responsibilities, and free up some time to pursue other interests.

    • @John – I need to disagree on the Paul as a pastor role – he was an apostle, he was “sent” to the church for a season. Again, the idea of a pastor-centric church model, where apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers are pushed aside (or don’t exist at all), is part of the problem that Matt is talking about. It’s not only delegation, but biblical.

      But your point on being bi-vocational, as I stated earlier, is spot on… and they may have been your only point here.

  7. I agree with a lot of what you are saying. And I would echo the problems others have stated.

    Many of our churches have become accustom to having pastors who are available at all times and do all ministry. To add another job on top of church expectations would be difficult so a re-defining of pastoral roles and laity roles would be necessary.

    There are also denominations which do not allow pastors to work full time in ministry and hold an outside job. While people are trying to change this practice, it is still part of their disciplines. In those denominations a redefining of the ministry is also in order.

  8. a pastor should work with the people – not as a business manager or performance organizer. I question if there even needs to be a church office at all.

  9. Do full-time pastors have to have another vocation in order to get out of the office?

    I’m speaking from 15 years of bi-vocational ministry. The first ten were easy when I was single. But I would also spend my two weeks “vacation” from my “other job” “working” in ministry contexts, so I am not sure how healthy that was.

    The next two as a married man were easier because I had a partner to work alongside of me. The last three have been a real struggle, because I am now a father with children who need me at home. Working 60-70 hours a week at two jobs robs me of my time with them, and of my ability to be the father God asks of me.

    It seems like so many who are calling for bi-vocational work seem to be making the assumption that ministry is only for the single and childless. But that could just be my frustration speaking.

    • Ray, I’m totally with you. Actually, I’m speaking from a point of sympathy for guys like you who manage to squeak by, while other guys, no more deserving, rake in more than a healthy living while their church tanks financially. There are churches that need to step up and help their pastors more. There are pastors who need to downsize their work week, and there are pastors who need to humble themselves and get a little extra work on the side.

  10. Kind of sounds like the Sanhedrin, where the men in power want to keep their power.

  11. Reading your comments to the comments, I feel like I have a better idea where you’re coming from. The post itself seemed to say that all pastors should be bi-voc. I actually wrote a post for today that talks about God asking me to be ‘full-time’ in ministry (I’m already full-time, but that’s the easiest way to explain it). I have a great second job, but I know where God is leading and I have to take a step of faith. Of course, I’m also not expecting the church to foot the entire bill either so I guess that’s different too.

    Anyway, I agree that we shouldn’t rule anything out and bi-voc is wonderful (while also plenty hard in some ways). I just think God often has something to say about these things and we benefit greatly from listening. Thanks Matt.

  12. My wife and I decided that the “right thing” to do at our church was for me to decline my salary and work full time. The church was struggling financially, and the people were being hit hard by the economy. It’s not what I really wanted to do, but I knew it had to be done.

    What I’ve come to realize since that time, is that there really is a lot to gain from being bi-vocational. The biggest thing is the sense that I am “one of us,” as our people say to me. They know that when I preach about the hope of Christ in tough situations that I know what it’s like to be at the edge of hope, squeezing out a living like every one else.

    The biggest negative I’ve faced is the sense of loneliness I sometimes feel in the company of fellow pastors at “pastor” events. Sometimes I cannot even make the events because they are scheduled during times when a working pastor could not attend.

    The other challenge was rethinking what a pastor should focus energy on and what he should allow others to take care of.

    In the end, I think we are a better community.

  13. Great thoughts,
    It’s been a thought I’ve been strongly working on as I’ve been working full time at a camping ministry and part time with a church plant. I’ve often enjoyed one local church’s solution to this. They’ve hired 2 part time ministers for the price of (a little more than)1 full time salary. It was an intentional move by the 1st pastor and congregation to allow the ministers to be part of the community as well as give them a partner to share the ministry load. It’s worked out very well for them.

  14. Dang. That was an awesome post.

    “The average American gives something like 3% of their income to the church. And what is the church’s response? To give the pastor a raise, and continue to build bigger buildings. Makes sense.” Yeah. Dang.

  15. Fantastic points, nothing really to add to this one as I agree on all points. Just dropping a supportive comment.

  16. I like your points and especially want to see traditions in the North American context (like my own) increase the degree to which they value bi-vocational ministries. I had a couple of other thoughts though which I think are important for the discussion.

    1. I believe the majority of pastors worldwide AND in North America are bivocational. The most visible pastors are not, but I think the majority are.

    2. Most church planting families are bivocational even if one of the adults is working full time planting a church.

    3. Some of what moves pastors into “full time” ministry are market forces, issues of economy of scale and specialization not all of which are bad things. Throughout history the church has benefited from professional clergy that contribute to the kingdom in lots of different ways.

    4. Behind a lot of this discussion is the cultural assumption of what constitutes a “job”. Our system of employment and conception of vocation are very much tied to our context. In many places of the world things aren’t quite like they are here. Assumptions about private property are also behind this question. In other places where goods are held more communally issues of whether church leadership is a “job” are quite a bit different. I doubt very much whether the elders in Rome wrestled whether or not Peter should have exempt or non-exempt status. :)

    For our specific context here of many churches coming from a European Christendom model, your points are well taken. pvk

  17. I definitely understand where you’re coming from but to be honest, unless you have a relationship with these pastors you are calling out, it only comes across as criticism. How much weight do you put behind criticism that you receive from people that don’t know you and your situation personally?

    It’s easy to take pot shots at nameless faces in the name of true Christianity, but it’s more powerful when it comes with a tone of love and encouragement. For example, if you share your story and how you do it, it comes across a lot more effectively than hearing “You’re doing it wrong and you are wasting people’s money”. Your tone will only get “amen”s from the choir.

    Just my two pennies. I know it won’t be popular.

  18. Matt,

    I’ve been out of Christian college for 6 years and have now spent 3 1/2 years as a bi-vocational pastor. I was really scared at first to do that – but it also really relieved me. I was no longer afraid to speak my mind as a pastor or be afraid of a downswing in the economy.

    Currently, I just moved to Norfolk, VA to begin the process of planting a church. While here, I’m going to get my masters so that I can work a job and not have to put the pressure on a church plant off the bat. Would I love to be a full time pastor? Sure! But, until the time comes where it is impossible for me to work and take care of the church – I’ll keep working in the workplace.

    Thanks for this post! I think many pastors should at least consider it.

  19. Can’t speak for the U.S but in the U.K there’s a lack of decent pastors, especially with regard to competent and relevant preaching. Paying lots of crap pastors to empty the churches makes a terminal situation into a terminal AND rapidly declining situation. However, making the Pastoral Ministry of the churches even less educated in the intellectual content and methods necessary to reach the missing generations does nothing to address about the biggest problems/challenges facing our churches today.

    Yes, there are many people in the churches who are gifted worship leaders and pastoral visitors but they don’t know theology, and despite its bad name in churches theology really matters. Reducing the ranks of paid pastors further, or telling churches that they can get by long-term with out pastoral leadership from a pastor who is competent in theology and preaching, is a recipe for even greater disaster than that currently facing churches.

    Personally I think the big issue is where do the churches get their pastors from, and what do they teach them (and at what level) to prepare them for ministry in churches. Over here it seems to be the case that most pastors are identical in terms of class/cultural background to the sort of people that make up the overwhelming majority of churchgoers. If you resemble the non-church going hordes in any significant way you are most unlikely to be encouraged into ministry, if you put yourself forward you are likely to be excluded. And it takes two years more full-time study to become a classroom teacher than it does a pastor – that can’t be right, can it?

  20. Thanks Matt,

    I have been a bi-vocational pastor for years and I totally agree with everything you said. Eph 4 tells us that the pastor and teacher are given to the church to equip the saints for ministry…that Jesus’ body can be built up. They aren’t given to the church to do all the ministering themselves, why the congregation can throw their 3% into the offering plate to pacify their consciences.

    I find that when the pastor gets “full time” pay then many peoples mindset is that of John, your first commenter. The pastor gets paid for that…its his job. That is a sad mindset…but many pew sitters hold it. The gospel motivation has been lost for many pastors and congregations. Jesus didn’t leave the glories of heaven for a pay check, He gave it all up, in order to give to those who had nothing. Sorry for preaching. Good word! Keep up the encouragements.

  21. I overwhelmingly agree with the premise of ministry being done by people who also have other means of sustenance, but I would like to offer a few points for further consideration: 1. To the issue of ministers needed seminary education in order to be competent, I would suggest that the training of those “ministers” is in fact the role of the church body itself. Part of the problem with a head pastor doing all of the big jobs in a congregation, is that he has little to no time to transfer seminary-level education to the other men and women in the congregation to any significant degree. I would suggest that the solution is not to send congregants to seminary, but rather to bring seminary to the congregants. But where does the church find these competent teachers? This brings me to my second point… 2. There is a lot of talk about “pastors”, but not a lot of talk about “elders.” When the discussion is crouched in terms of pastors, there is an implication of a Baptist or Episcopal form of polity whereby one or two (or a relative few) leaders are paid/sustained to perform all the big jobs within a congregation. In contrast, if we crouch the discussion in terms of elders (plural), who are less likely to be paid a full-time salary, there is higher likelihood that readers will get the point that several competent men and women may the lead ministers in a congregation in different areas of effectiveness, not simply a small group of paid pastors who are implicitly required to do all of the big jobs. 3. And just to set the record straight, I am a seminary-schooled individual, from a Bible-believing background, who assists the local congregation with pulpit teaching, counseling, and cooking (yes, I said cooking)–all free of charge. And no, I am not the head pastor, but my wife and I do have 4 small children.

    • Why are there seminaries in the first place? Are you called by the LORD or not?
      Seminaries maybe for teachers.

  22. I agree. I did a BA in theology and found out it was not fully accredited. I want to do ministry but I respect people who work out in the world and do ministry like an Amos. I found ministry to be this dramatic show where some pastors waited around for money. I worked at a place and that was the case. I attend a church where my pastors are a married couple. They are the senior pastor. The husband does substitute teaching, public speaking, is an author and other stuff. The wife is a counselor, speaker, author. They both do real estate and get a very good income from those jobs. The church is not what gives them the income. They also have 7 kids but make time for them which is interesting because I discovered that some pastors work at a church only working 60-80 hours a week doing stuff at the church they don’t need to and their families fall apart. I knew some pastors who saw burnout as a badge of honor. I had a burnout at 20 and it was horrible. So I respect the pastors who are bi-vocational and have balance. Doing the work of God is not an excuse to neglect. People with ordinary jobs are in ministry too. I find that ministry is powerful. I am not judging and I do respect full time pastors. God provides abundance and finances through action along with prayer

  23. I agree that bi-vocation may not be every pastors call

  24. I am now going to be getting a bachleor of social work, then a masters in counselling, eventually a PHD and hopefully become a psychologist. Because of the deception of the college I went to non of my courses transfer. That is one thing that saddens me. Christian schools going around the truth. I will be bi vocational.

  25. Thanks for this page,l have seen it as an eye opener.Talking from experience l have seen many pastors doing the work of God with bitter hearts,blaming the congregation for the financial problems they face in their families.And all this has affected their reputation as well as their ministry.l think considering all this information will help many pastors.thanks

    • I am a bi-vocational pastor. I have pastored a church for 7 years and I work 40 hours a week outside the church. Though I would give anything to be full time, working outside the church has showed me that most full time pastors are clueless about life outside the walls of the church and don’t know what it is like in the secular workplace. It would be good for many pastors to get out into the “real” world and see what it is like for his church members.