A good friend of mine who lives between Lacey and Yelm owns, operates, and manages two local restaurants, teaches in classes in the evenings on weekdays, volunteers for the fire department, makes plentiful quality time for family, rides motorcycles, works hard in his yard, schedules in some hobbies, and still finds time for church.
The guy amazes me. It’s surprising me he has any time for our friendship, but he does.
He is of Mexican descent. That matters because one day as I was telling him what I was doing, he said, “Don’t work to much. People will think you’re Mexican.” Both of us busted out laughing. Deep inside, though, I was honored to have him joke with me like that. After all, I truly admire how much he consistently works and balances life.
Over the years I’ve learned to admire an even rarer kind of person most refer to as the “bivocational pastor.” I didn’t start out admiring them. No, I started out like most people, judging them.
As a young seminarian, I contacted a former pastor and mentor of mine, who had taken on a ministry in the Oklahoma City area. I was encouraged to hear how well his church ministry was going, though shocked when he told me he drove a school bus as well.
I thought to myself, “Noooo! How could this great preacher stoop so low as to become a bus driver? What happened?” Later, I would meet many outstanding pastors who were simultaneously fantastic school bus drivers. I’ve actually learned most school bus drivers are very remarkable, kind, and exemplary people who deserve our respect and admiration. I learned this as I drove for the Yelm School District for more than 8 years. Those were great years, learning from fantastic mentors.
Yes, I’ve absolutely changed my mind about bivocational pastors. One of the first awakenings was when I met Dr. George Faull, president of Summit Theological Seminary. He is a captivating and powerful speaker, extraordinarily knowledgeable teacher, and a sincere man of God. It blew my mind when I learned this pillar of the faith was also running his own business, and was the lead pastor of a local church. He was excellent in everything he did, and nobody judged him for being a bivocational pastor.
Years later I met a professor from Northwest College of the Bible, Portland, Oregon, named Mike Kennedy. While he’s a great seminary professor, he’s simultaneously a proven and effective lead pastor of a church in Vancouver. Besides that, he’s a longtime outstanding school bus driver.
While still spending time with family, riding motorcycles, doing short-term mission trips, etc., he obtained his doctors degree and wrote a book -- due out later this year. The guy is truly impressive.
Another bivocational pastor in the Thurston County area is a proven lead at a solid church, who simultaneously functions as a real estate broker and runs a very successful coffee-restaurant business.
I could go on and on. Needless to say, these bivocational pastors are noteworthy at the very least.
It is my belief that few in the ministry can pull off bivocational ministry. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Most who do it don’t sleep much, but that’s okay. Most don’t need as much as the rest of us. And I’ve yet to meet a bivocational pastor who neglects his or her church.
Unfortunately, instead of esteeming these pastors, some of us tend to judge and criticize them. We like to imagine they’re neglecting their congregations because it’s so hard for us to wrap our heads around doing the many things they do. Most of us couldn’t do it if we tried but there are rare people in this world who can do bivocational ministry and do it well. In my opinion they are worthy of esteem.
Sure, some do bivocational ministry by default because they serve churches which cannot afford a full salary with benefits. Doesn’t that speak even more for the bivocational pastors? How humble they must be to honorably serve a church which cannot pay them their worth How kind they are to supplement their own income, and not expect the local church to struggle to pay them more. Small churches are valuable, too, and I think it’s great that pastors are willing to serve small churches, too. So, I commend them!
While I believe it is wise and good to value, admire, and respect all kinds of Christian pastors, I think it behooves us to take note of the special ones who excel in bivocational ministry. I think it’s fantastic we have pastors out there, working other jobs, shining the light of Jesus in places and ways other pastors can’t.
We don’t have to go far in the New Testament to see a great Biblical example of bivocational ministry. The Apostle Paul continued to supplement his income as a tentmaker – even though he was a fully capable preacher, teacher, author and Apostle (Acts 18:1-3). While he was known to be supported by churches, when he knew it would hinder his ministry, he chose not to receive funds from a particular local church he served (2 Corinthians 11:7-11). Even as he did receive funding from churches, he supplemented his income by working. We certainly don’t judge him for it. Do we?
Please join me in lifting up all pastors, but especially the bivocational ones. To me, and I suspect to God, they’re special. I am thankful I’ve known some, and I hope to continue to learn from their impressive examples.
Pastor Jeff Adams is a professional Christian counselor who travels the world teaching but serves our community. His column appears weekly. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.