10 Suggestions for Bi-Vocational Pastors

Minority pastor set on a white background

I spent my first few years of ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. For those who may not know the term, I sought other work to supplement my income I received as a pastor.

I still have a heart for those who hold down two jobs – sometimes both of them approaching full-time. Additionally, I think more pastors are going to have to consider bi-vocational ministry in the years ahead as economies change and the level of committed givers in the local church. (A great book on this change – and change to come potentially – is a book by a friend of mine, John Dickerson titled “The Great Evangelical Recession“.

I love assisting pastors and especially want to help these dedicated servants. Let me share a few things I learned and have observed from working with other bi-vocational pastors.

I’m going to share 5 suggestions of things you should do, followed by 5 suggestions of things you should not.

Things you should do

Be accountable – Let people speak into your life. You may feel more independent if you’re not dependent on the church for your total income, but you still need accountability – like we all do.

Be disciplined – You have to stay healthy in all areas of your life. We all do, but you have more pressure on you to do so.

Be organized – Have someone help you if needed, but develop systems to do everything you have to do in a week. I find the busier I am and the more I am doing, the more structure I need to provide myself. There will always be interruptions, but you’re better prepared for them when you start your week with a plan.

Be intentional – It’s hard work, but you have to keep both business and church worlds running well – and still be a good family man. It will require intentionality on your part.

Be diligent – In all areas of your life, you must do your best. Your witness is at stake.

Things you shouldn’t do

Complain to the church – It’s tempting, because the work is hard. They should know you do – and hopefully they will give you consideration for it. But, it’s not fair to them to hear you complain about it all the time.

Lose sight of vision – The reason you are doing what you are doing is to complete the call God has on your life. And, what you do is valuable. Life-changing. Eternal.

Let yourself burnout – Stay healthy physically, relationally, and emotionally. Again, let people speak into your life who recognize when you are stretching yourself too far.

Allow one world to outshine the other – This is the hard part, but you have to be good in all your worlds if you’re going to continue. Yu’ll need God’s strength, but, again, it’s your witness.

Neglect your family – Here’s another hard one, but they are your first commitment. They will be there after either vocation.

I’m pulling for you, but one key to your success long-term will be to continually improve personally, so you can do more professionally. Ask God to help you with that.

Have you ever had to balance dual careers? What advice would you give?

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27 thoughts on “10 Suggestions for Bi-Vocational Pastors

  1. Avoiding burnout is definitely good advice though I have to say that it is not in our hands always control the situations that lead to burnout. Even we we are on the watch to recognize these situations sometimes it just does not work. The urgency of response, the personality of the pastor may lead to burnout.
    I would really love to read more about actually how to avoid burnout as a bi-vocational pastor. I have been doing occasionally several ministry works that can be qualified as being bi-vocational and I always struggle with controlling my involvement.
    thanks, Ron. Good reminder.

  2. Thanks Ron. We don't know each other… I'm a brazilian pastor, and in a Third World Country even though might be called "emerging" country. To a be a full time pastor, many times implies in not planting churches. One advise I'd give get a not exhausting job. 3 years ago all my jobs were too exhasuting. I couldn't balance being a professional with a pastor simultaneously.

    • A question for either of you, Alex or Ron. How on earth do you plant a church (in a rural area, no less) when you have to have a bi-vocational ministry?

      There is plenty of information for church planting for dedicated pastors in areas that actually have a large population, but little to nothing for someone in my situation.

      • If you're not familiar, check out The Sticks Network.http://thesticks.tvThey specialize in the rural areas. But, in my experience, even in the large metropolitan areas many planters are having to be bi vocational
        Twitter: Ronedmondson

  3. Great post Ron, I think sometimes bi-vocational Pastors are lost in the mix of church planting. The hardest thing for me has been the connecting with other pastors as I'm never available when they are due to me working throughout the day. The decision for me to go bi-vocational was perfect for my situation and our church, the only thing I would say is for pastors to not become disheartened as it will take longer to grow, develop leaders and put good ministries in place, but you will learn to do it by using people not paid staff.

  4. Great points. The key for me right now as a bi-vocational seminary student, if you will, is to prioritize and set up strong boundaries. Work well when I'm at work, study well when it's time to study.

  5. I forgot to give my one piece of advice: don’t your number one aspect of your ministry and work. Your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Without it, nothing else matters.

  6. Ron – thanks again for your post. I am a bi-vocational and I some times struggle with the don’t. Thank you for your encouragement.