When folks in ministry circles learn that I serve bi-vocationally in the contexts of a local church and a theological school, they inevitably ask, “Did you choose bi-vocational ministry?” Implied in the query perhaps are the assumptions that I was incapable of landing a full-time ministry gig and thus settled for the second-class option. Neither rings true for me. I am completely confident that I have the skills and gifts required to score a full-time position, but at the same time I do not regard bi-vocation as below me. In fact, I never sought a solo pastorate, instead choosing from the beginning to be a member of a ministry team.
While some ministers voice their beliefs in a specific call “to” bi-vocational ministry, I was called “by” bi-vocational ministry. It beckoned me by speaking to my passions and gifts, which are diverse and useful in a variety of settings. Bi-vocational ministry affords me the unique opportunity to serve in two communities, to learn from two communities, and to grow with two communities.
I was chosen by this ministry model, and to be effective I must also make the following choices which offer insight into bivocational ministry for those who might be considering this approach.
1) I choose to communicate. The need for clear and frequent communication cannot be overstated. Certainly, I must employ excellent communication skills to be an effective minister and project director, but even more importantly, I must clearly delineate my work schedule and availability to each vocational context. Both church and seminary need me to help them understand the nature of this balancing act called bi-vocation. Communicating well facilitates understanding for all parties connected to and touched by my ministry.
2) I choose to commute. My particular positions of service are located in different cities about an hour’s drive one-way, and I live in the city where my congregation resides. Living near one vocation necessitates commuting to the other. While glad that I am not required to fulfill rigid office hours at the seminary, I enjoy the time spent on campus, and I relish the one-hour drive. Time in the car is time well-spent preparing for the day to come and reflecting on the day just passed. Driving allows me much-needed quiet, alone space to decompress and then gear up for evening family commitments.
3) I choose to compromise. The art of compromise is perhaps the primary skill needed to serve bi-vocationally. On occasion, my two positions (thus, my passions) clash with one another. Schedules sometimes overlap, and considering the distance I must choose between the seminary and the church. Most of the time these choices are simply a matter of where I want to be present; sometimes I have congregational functions on days when I’d really like to attend an event at the school and vice versa. In these instances, I choose thoughtfully, and then I communicate.
4) I choose to connect. Community is at the heart of the Gospel, so connecting with others must be a priority. Making connections is challenging for bi-vocational ministers. Pulled in multiple directions, compelled to make difficult choices regarding time and resources, and stretched to the limits by others’ relational needs, it would appear that bi-vocation precludes connection. I disagree. I recognize the the necessity in my own life to be a part of meaningful, authentic community, so I choose to cultivate relationships within congregation and seminary. Because I have strong connections in each context, I am healthier and better able to fulfill my call.
I am bi-vocational by choice and believe it is an important approach to ministry that others should consider choosing.