Twice as Bright?

The flame that burns Twice as bright
burns half as long.
Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching

a smoldering wick he will not snuff out
Isaiah 42.3b

So, to be honest, I'm not impartial when it comes to bi-vocational ministry. 

I have a bias. 

My bias is this: bi-vocational pastors have their candles burning at both ends, actually several wicks on each end. Work and family balance is doubled. Issues of job performance are doubled. Professional image or persona, doubled. Bosses, supervisors, accountability, doubled.  Calendars, doubled. Opportunities for spiritual renewal, continuing pastoral education, and pastoral peer-to-peer relationships, halved.   All this doubling and dividing can be exhausting, tiring, and can take a toll.

For over a decade I have served my congregation as a bi-vocational pastor.  Previously, I had served in congregations as a full-time pastor.  As a pastor, I have been in a multi-staff role and solo pastor.  I had served congregations from 100 people to over 400 (which, in our tradition is megachurch status!). But in my present role, in my congregation, I serve only part-time. 

In the larger congregations, there was a level of financial security.  However, there were also politics, endless processes, and an addiction to committee meetings.  When I began serving as a bi-vocational pastor in a small congregation, I was happy to be rid of the baggage of larger congregations.  Yet, the financial support, as well as other features of larger communities, was missed.  

Precarious and Vulnerable

As a bi-vocational pastor, I receive a minimal allowance each month that does not come close to, nor is it intended to be a half-time income.  Previous to 2008 and the Great Recession, this was fine.  My entrepreneurial persistence had paid off in the success of an independent consulting ministry that was growing and beginning to pay the bills, until the Great Recession depleted the accounts of most of my clients.  2009 forced me to find work that practically edged me out of ministry. 

Feeling like a smoldering wick.

This has led me to wonder how vulnerable do bi-vocational ministers feel?  Is our pastoral role the vulnerable aspect? Or, is the other job vulnerable? What choices is one forced to make when the employment outside the church may have a negative effect on pastoral ministry?

While the "faithful" answer to all the challenges bi-vocational pastors face is to say that God is gracious and provident, the experience for many is anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.  If a job changes or is eliminated, the bi-vocational pastor may not be able to carry on in the pastoral work either.  It can be a very small chain reaction of falling dominos.

When I had to go to work full-time after the Great Recession, my ministry changed.  I was not able to participate in weekday events due to my schedule.  Pastor's groups did not make time for people like me. In my own denomination, retreats, meetings, special assignments were not available.  Annual conferences for my region and bi-annual conventions for my denomination were out of the question.  My employer held control over my schedule.  My formal connections with my colleagues in ministry were gone.  Informal connections were tenuous.  I even had several pastors in my tradition assume that I had left the church.  The closer truth felt more like the church had left me. Not intentionally, but for all practical purposes, as a bi-vocational pastor, working full-time for an employer outside of the church, the church had little means of supporting or resourcing me. I was isolated.

Most, if not all, of the established denominations I have worked with are not in a position to support bi-vocational pastors.  Yet, there are many bi-vocational ministers who are in ideal jobs for balancing ministry and outside employment. 

Where there's smoke, there's fire.  But where there's only smoke....