What I Learned from Being a Bi-vocational Pastor
Bi-vocational pastors serve outside the spotlight. Though estimates vary, at Church Answers, we estimate there are around one million part-time pastors and staff in North America. They are many, but they get only a fraction of the attention given to pastors of larger churches. They receive little recognition, but they are the workhorses of churches who do much of the heavy lifting.
I served as a bi-vocational pastor of a tiny church in central Kentucky. We started with six people. It was my first pastorate, and I had no idea what I was doing. I drove two hours one way to get there. My preaching was awful, and I had to lead music with a karaoke machine. The church was dying. The people were tired. The building was falling apart. And there was no air-conditioning.
I loved that church. Still do.
The people forgave my less-than-spectacular sermons. I encouraged them to reach outward. And, truly by the grace of God, the little church grew. Not to 500. Or 250. Or even 100. More like 40. But we knew God was working. It was great.
God revealed much to me while I was their pastor. I know I learned more from them than they got out of my sermons. Let me share with you a few things I figured out during my time as a bi-vocational pastor.
Ministry is not about ideals. I had several ideals, a big vision, and grand hopes for the little church. My plans were not wrong. But the people had heard it all before from other short-term pastors. I learned that before a church family follows the grand vision of a new pastor, you must first love them where they are.
Ministry means working alongside people. One of our first projects was to paint the church and install air conditioning. If I hadn’t shown up with a paintbrush on our Saturday workday, I would have lost the respect of the people. At the end of the workday, the folks gave me the honor of painting the church bell red—it was a big deal.
Ministry requires you to laugh at yourself. I made more mistakes than I had successes as a younger pastor. And the people knew it. You can laugh at yourself and help everyone feel comfortable. Or you can pretend and make everyone feel awkward (or angry).
Ministry means loving people deeply. I will never forget the gifts people gave me when I transitioned to another ministry assignment. The church was poor, but the people lavished love on us. I didn’t deserve it, but they gave it anyway. The love between a church and its pastor should be like nothing else. The church demonstrated God’s love to me, and it still encourages me two decades later.
I wasn’t a great bi-vocational pastor (or even close), but most are incredible kingdom workers. Many have served faithfully for years. They love their churches. Their churches love them. And God’s kingdom is larger because of their faithfulness.
At Church Answers, we created two resources with bi-vocational church leaders in mind.
The first is Church Answers University (CAU), an affordable, accessible, and attainable way to train and equip church staff. Not only do we believe this ministry certification is perfect for bi-vocational and co-vocational church staff, but we also believe it works well for those in full-time ministry.
We also created a bi-vocational certification for those serving in these roles. With certification, you will be better equipped to understand the changing world of bi-vocational ministry and lead in a part-time capacity while keeping your family the priority.
Posted on November 23, 2022
As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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