The Joy of Bi-Vocational Ministry

Not long ago, I was speaking with a deacon in our church and he asked me, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could afford to pay you to be a full-time pastor?” While any pastor would tell you that the pastorate is full-time gig regardless of whether you receive compensation from the church, I knew what he meant. I would certainly love to be able to spend my entire day serving the church by praying, reading Scripture, discipling, counseling, studying, writing sermons, and attending to the many other needs of the church. Many times I have prayed for this very thought to become a reality, but being such a young church plant, we are not quite ready for that type of financial commitment just yet. Regardless, I certainly do not find this to be disheartening. It is actually quite the contrary. I have found that having a full-time job outside the church has provided me with a multitude of opportunities to serve God and neighbor in ways that I probably would not have otherwise. This post, however, is not an argument for bi-vocational ministry, or against those who serve only in a “full-time” pastorate position, but merely a reflection on the great joys that God has afforded to me as a bi-vocational pastor.

When our deacon asked that question, it was not the first time the question had been posed to me and it more than likely will not be the last. While my initial answer is always “yes” (because this would mean that God is working in our church; that people are coming to faith in Christ and that the church is sacrificially giving in a way that it can support a paid pastorate), I always follow that answer with something like, “but I also have found that having a full-time job outside the church is a great blessing.”

As a high school teacher, I come into contact with hundreds of teenagers and dozens of coworkers on a daily basis. However, these are not mere acquaintances in a business directory, friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, or contacts that I keep in my phone. These are people I see and interact with on a daily basis, which affords me with a great opportunity to create and sustain lasting relationships with a substantial number of people and impact their lives over an extended period of time.

On a regular basis, students will stop by my room with questions about the Bible, for prayer, or to discuss the issues going on in their lives. Some of these students are professing Christians and some are not. Multiple students, having been largely influenced by the prevalence of pluralism and relativism in our culture, have come to me to simply ask questions about Christianity, and presenting me with a great opportunity to share the gospel. On a weekly basis, students stick around after our weekly Bible study (which is an elective enrichment study that is offered to our students) to ask questions and share testimonies. It is always a great blessing to have half a dozen teenagers stick around to talk about Jesus. And by God’s grace these opportunities do not always end when my students graduate. Many of these relationships last long after graduation day. Earlier this year I received a question on Facebook from a former student, who is away at college, about English Bible translations and hermeneutics. After exchanging a few lengthy messages on Facebook, we finally sat down and had an hour-long discussion on Skype. While I thought this was going to be a great opportunity to teach and disciple, I found that the conversation was just as, if not more, edifying for me. Additionally, these opportunities have not come only in the context of teaching and discipling, but also in serving the physical needs of my students and their families. Earlier this month, the mother of a former student contacted me seeking help for her son who has had a great deal of difficulty since graduation. This has resulted in not only an opportunity to provide physical help for this young man and his family, but to also minister to their spiritual needs as well.

I know that many of these stories and situations are very similar to the stories and situations that we all encounter as pastors. But my purpose in telling them is to express gratitude and acknowledge that these are opportunities that God has provided for me to serve the spiritual and physical needs of others that I most certainly would not have if I were not a bi-vocational pastor. In our rural locale of southern Ohio, very few of us walk into a building of five hundred plus teenagers on a daily basis, or even on a weekly basis at church. And, while serving in this capacity is not always easy and requires a great deal of discipline, time management, and trust and reliance on God’s sustaining power to persevere, I am extremely grateful for the situation in which God has providentially placed me. So while my prayer continues to be that God will work in our church in a way that will allow me to enter a “full-time” pastorate position, I am both content and satisfied in God’s call to labor for the mission of the kingdom in the context of a bi-vocational ministry. And for the pastor who has a desire to enter a full-time pastorate position, but has yet to have that door opened for them, my encouragement is to take heart by remembering the words of Jesus in Matthew 9: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (v. 37), and embrace the position in which God has providentially placed you.

Robie Day is the lead pastor at Grace Brethren Chapel in Piketon, OH, and also serves as the vice president of the Southern Ohio Pastors Coalition. He is a graduate of Shawnee State University (BA), Ohio State University (MA), and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MA).

2 Responses to “The Joy of Bi-Vocational Ministry”
  1. Barbara Pistone says:

    I enjoyed reading this Robie. It is wonderful you can witness and minister to the students at your high school. They live in complicated world that has little faith and passion for our Lord anymore.
    I pray for you and your church all the time and I am happy to see it growing. Barb (Pistone)

    • Barb, Thank you so much for reading. Yes, it is a very complicated world and teenagers are at a very crucial point in their lives. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to minister to them. We appreciate the prayers and encouragement for Grace Brethren Chapel and look forward to having you down for a visit soon.

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