When a congregation calls a pastor, the formal document includes these words: “That you may be free from worldly cares and avocations, we hereby promise and oblige ourselves to pay you …,” followed by the compensation package’s specifics: salary, benefits, vacation time, and perhaps study leave, and, on occasion, a manse. “Free from worldly cares and avocations” is another way of saying “we want you to serve our church full time.” That has long been the expectation for pastors in the PCA and many other denominations.
But it’s never been the universal expectation. As PCA pastor Scott Davis points out in his article “Should You Go Bivo?” for Lifeway’s Facts and Trends, “Bi-vocational ministry has been around as long as Paul the tentmaker.” And there is good reason to believe it will extend long into the future. According to Biblically Balanced Ministries founder/executive director Gary R. Becker, 100 to 200 churches close every week, primarily because of finances. He notes that 40% of the churches in the United States have fewer than 50 committed members — not enough to support a full-time pastor in the current economy. A 2012 study by The Association of Religious Data Archives found that 28.6% of pastors serve part time. In some denominations, the percentage is higher; one Southern Baptist author has estimated that at least half its ministers are bivocational.
The competing demands of personal life, family, and church are a challenge for every minister, but Davis suspects they are particularly complicated for those who serve bivocationally.
While the PCA norm has been to hire full-time pastors, this is changing. In 2014, 100 PCA churches paid part-time pastor salaries; by 2019, the number had increased to 145, representing 9% of our 1,572 churches. To better understand this kind of ministry, byFaith asked several bivocational pastors to share their experiences.
Scott Davis, quoted above, has traveled to elementary schools with a corporate-sponsored educational magic show for the past 20 years. He also has been a member of Hope Church, a small PCA church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Davis had been at the church for about 10 years when Hope’s pastor resigned. The session asked Davis if he, a Sunday school teacher and thoroughly active member, would preach monthly while the session put together a plan. Several weeks later it asked if he might scale back his business and serve Hope as a bivocational pastor. Davis had the flexibility. He had heard God’s call, and he has been serving the church bivocationally for four years.
Davis is quick to acknowledge that the competing demands of personal life, family, and church are a challenge for every minister. But he suspects they are particularly complicated for those who serve bivocationally. The “other” vocation must allow the flexibility and time off for the combination to work, he says, which makes time management an essential skill. Additionally, Davis says, the pastor and session must agree on exactly what is (and isn’t) expected.
For Davis, pastoral ministry comes first. But he finds his other vocation, and the financial help it brings, is still rewarding.
Missionary to Small Towns
Chris Accardy sees himself as a missionary to small towns, and he’s found that most churches in them can’t afford to care for a full-time pastor. “In the past, my family suffered tremendously for the sake of me being in full-time ministry,” he says. He’s seen firsthand that when a small church supports a full-time pastor and maintains a building, it lacks the resources to engage the community.
These concerns have led Accardy to adopt the bivocational model. He currently serves as supervisor of in-patient services at Mississippi State Penitentiary Hospital and as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Grenada, Mississippi. The biggest reward? “My family is more supportive and more positive about ministry when we are not struggling financially.”
The challenge? “I haven’t yet figured out how to do both jobs in less than 70 hours a week,” he says. Besides becoming comfortable with a level of “chaos” (Accardy’s word), he says the bivocational pastor has to be comfortable with leaving some things undone.
“Bivocational ministry is better for those who have studied the Bible long enough to be able to put sermons and lessons together without extensive preparation,” he says. “Perfectionism undermines this kind of ministry.” Accardy focuses on what he identifies as key priorities: developing the ministry of his members and being committed to evangelism.
Devising a Life Strategy
Cody Brobst also chose to serve bivocationally, but for a different reason. Though he could have pursued a full-time opportunity when he graduated from Covenant Seminary, he and his wife, Courtney, wanted to stay close to friends and family. Cody hoped to learn from a seasoned pastor who needed help. And he felt called to be active in the community.
Living Branch, a church plant in the Indianapolis suburb of Noblesville, seemed like a perfect fit. But the call was for a part-time position. So for the two years that Brobst served 10 to 12 hours per week in this ministry, the family’s main source of income was his full-time work as a technical expert with Apple Retail. He discovered that his work at the Apple Store gave him another avenue for helping people — providing support for customers, fixing their iPhones, and mentoring younger technicians. Having access to people from all walks of life helped him understand what makes people “tick” and gave him a better window into his parishioners’ lives, he said.
“You gain a unique relatability to minister to the concerns and experiences of your congregants who also work outside the church 40 hours a week.”
In 2014, 100 PCA churches paid part-time pastor salaries; by 2019, the number had increased to 145, representing 9% of our 1,572 churches.
Like Accardy and Davis, Brobst struggled with work/life balance. “I often had late nights and so sacrificed many family dinners and our young girls’ bedtimes,” he says. “We all have the same 168 hours in a week, so having two jobs requires a life strategy.” Brobst had to brainstorm creative ways to be more intentional about his use of time, tending to family and two demanding jobs. He leaned on friends for prayer and took up running to improve his health.
Gaining a Clearer Perspective
Unlike Accardy and Brobst, Ethan Redmon (not his real name) stumbled into bivocational ministry. His current call included use of the church manse, so he decided to rent out the family’s existing home. During the next five years, Redmon acquired additional rental properties, hoping to supplement his income, but he soon found the business was an asset to the ministry.
The church is small, about 40 attending on an average Sunday. The business has provided Redmon with more relationships and actually reduced stress in his life and marriage. What’s more, his interaction with tenants, workers, investors, bankers, judges, and lawyers has put his pastoral ministry in clearer perspective.
Still, he has found that running a thriving business while pastoring presents challenges. Time management requires self-discipline, he says, and “laziness is the unforgivable sin of a bivocational pastor.” Bills have to be paid, tax deductions have to be recorded, phone calls — from tenants and parishioners — require immediate attention. At the same time, Bible study, sermon prep, visitation — the life of the church — must take priority.
The Destructive Power of Stress
For Brent Easton, the stress of bivocational ministry became destructive. For four years Easton was the full-time publisher of a county newspaper in southern Illinois, where he pastored a small church. He found joy in the pastorate, which he considered his calling, but the workload drained him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It kept him from being fully present for his wife and family, even when he was home. He stayed up all night preparing sermons. And at one point, he became so exhausted he was taken to the emergency room with a panic attack. With his marriage near collapse, he had to make a choice. “And my choice,” Easton said, “was my family.”
He resigned, swearing he would never again attempt bivocational ministry. But today, 15 years later, he is serving as a hospice chaplain and as pastor of a church he believes is a better fit for his wife and two teenage daughters. “Season of life has a lot to do with when a man ought to serve bivocationally,” he says. “Before considering a bivocational call, a man should seek the counsel of those who have served in that way, and especially consider the way bivocational ministry might affect his family.”
Even with all its challenges, these men believe there is an important future for bivocational ministry. In an increasingly post-Christian culture, Redmon believes that fewer churches will be able to support a full-time pastor. Accardy sees it as the means of helping small churches in stable communities remain viable. Brobst believes that serving bivocationally requires pastors to follow Jesus’ example of meeting people “on their own turf.” “Good pastors have one eye on the sheep and one eye on the lost,” he says. “Bivocational service could be the most practical way to be in the world and not of it.”
Illustration by Priya Mistry