Throwing Out the (Poor) Baby with the Bath Water: Bi-vocational Ministry

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Baby bath

What a terrible statement, but I get the point. We shouldn’t over-react or pendulum swing to extremes. But often many of us do. We see something utterly abhorrent, unjust, or plain wrong, and it just happens. From now on, this becomes our posture.

One night during my senior year of high school I drank an entire gallon of grape flavored Mad Dog 20/20, which I would never recommend for countless reasons (kinda proving my own point). To this day eighteen years later I cannot even stomach the idea of drinking grape anything (except the Eucharist, thank goodness). One bad experience with a grape flavored drink caused me to despise all grape flavor drinks. Forever.

The over-reactionary-swing-to-the-extreme-other-side posture is especially found in Christianity. You see it played out in Christian history and you can see it today.

The church (tragically) wounds me, so I throw the whole notion of “organized” church or institutional church, out the door. (Seriously, I almost did.)

A pastor allows ego to rule the day and takes the role of CEO of a church, so I slam the vocation of pastor in general. Indeed we are a people of extremes.

Before I share some wanderings that I hope will begin a meaningful conversation, I would like to disclose a five quick things:

1. I am a bi-vocational pastor and have been for 6 of 12 years of “paid” vocational ministry. Currently I serve as a pastor at Williamsburg Christian Church full-time and work part-time as the Social Media Marketing Strategist for a large executive search firm. Technically you might even say I am actually tri-vocational as I serve as the Mid-Atlantic Network Coordinator for Mission Alive. And before I entered into “paid” vocational ministry, I had the joy of planting and working in youth ministry while working full-time as a stock broker and banker. I take great joy in serving God’s people in my current way, and am honored to do so.

2. I am an avid reader and enjoy the specific conferences and networks to which I am committed. I have learned a lot and have been challenged more than I can share by the many men and women who lead, write and speak in these venues.

3. Despite all her bumps and bruises, I love the Church in all her forms and expressions: house, simple, missional, institutional, mega, small, country, urban, western, eastern, high, low,  etc. I have experienced the joy of personally being a part of a house church, traditional “low” church contexts (small and mid-sizes) and a “mega-church” context. Though I believe some expressions are healthier than others (for a variety of reasons), I appreciate her ongoing diversity and believe that the same HolySpirit that has worked through her the last 2000 years is still at it today. He knows what is up better than I.

4. I am head-long into social activism and justice issues where I live both in organic and organized ways. So I believe strongly in our call to join God in making right what has been broken by sin in the places we live–neighborhoods, networks, cities–within the context of the local church and faith community.

5. I believe in the royal-priesthood of all believers. 

Okay, I think that’s it. Hopefully that’ll clear up any perceived agenda.

Here is my concern and the reason for this post.

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I’ve noticed a surging trend of leaders who think little (and often belittle) “paid” vocational pastors while “pastoring” (certainly ministering) vocationally (or bi-vocationally) in a “paid” way via the platforms of writer, consultant, coach, speaker, or something else. Is it the belief that the paid vocation of pastor at best diminishes, and at worst robs, the people of God of ministry as they live on mission together? (For better treatment of this read here, here or here.

Perhaps it should not be assumed that all paid vocational pastors seek to diminish or create an ecclesial caste system within God’s people or perpetuate Constantinian christianity any more than the writers, consultants, coaches, conference speakers, network facilitator, thought-leaders seek to do. Actually, many pastors, writers, consultants, coaches, conference speakers, network facilitators, thought-leaders I know seek to do the opposite: to empower and equip God’s people to make disciples who make disciples as they live on mission in a mutually edifying and communal way.

To be transparent, I’ve known gifted writers, speakers and thinkers in the Church who could serve very well as a “paid” vocational (or bi-vocational) writer, consultant, coach, speaker, or network facilitator, but do not have the same platform or network connections. Some of these long to do so. Perhaps it is a calling? And to be increasingly transparent, I’ve known gifted pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists who could serve very well in a paid vocational (of bi-vocational) local church context. It just hasn’t “worked out” for a number of reasons. Perhaps this is a calling, too?

Is it the source of the pastor’s paycheck? It seems to me that the money the writers, consultants, coaches, conference speakers, network facilitator, thought-leaders receive for the service to the Church comes from the same source: christians and/or the local church. At least this is my experience and I am sure there are probable exceptions. Aren’t we creating an illusive position and false dichotomy between a vocational pastor’s financial support and the other folks financial support?

I know some folks (good folks) who often rail against a particular expression of local church, yet their financial support comes from the very same churches they rail against. I even know some who rail against “church marketing” in the name of this-is-the-problem with-the-American-church, yet they work as fee-based social media marketing strategists/consultants for churches. Am I the only one that finds this position odd?

And for the record, I appreciate all the sincere pastors, writers, consultants, coaches, speakers, network facilitators, thought-leaders, or anyone who gives their life away to the glory of God for the sake of His mission and the good of others, whether paid or unpaid.

Oh, and I am not suggesting you or I avoid taking a stand on a particular side of an issue. I am only suggesting that we honestly examine our tendency toward an either/or, over-reactionary posture.

I could go on but I must brace myself for your comments. What are your thoughts? And please, let’s be gracious to one another.please

About Fred

I am a follower of Jesus, the husband to Alison Glenn, daddy to my little man Ian and one day soon our adoptive child as we await his or her arrival. I am a son, brother, friend, multi-vocational pastor of Williamsburg Christian Church, ethnographer, activist and justice seeker, founder and president of 3e Restoration Inc, Mid-Atlantic Coordinator for Mission Alive, and prematurely balding. I received my B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and my Masters of Religious Education in Missional Leadership (MREML) from Rochester College.
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7 Responses to Throwing Out the (Poor) Baby with the Bath Water: Bi-vocational Ministry

  1. Fred! You highlighted something that’s been on my mind for a while – the tendency in missional circles to diss vocational ministry while raising/earning institutional church income outside a local congregation. Such a strange contradiction! Thanks so much for highlighting that (and making me feel less crazy).

  2. Fred says:

    Thanks bro. And yeah, I think there is something to what you are feeling. I think some of this mind-set it what often lies behind the posturing against paid vocational ministers and leads to advocating a bivo status as a badge of honor. I could be wrong but it has come up in several conversations I’ve been privy to in the past. Thanks for commenting bro.

  3. Doug Bursch says:

    You hit the nail on the head, repeatedly! Thank you for writing about an inconsistency or strange irony I’ve noticed as a pastor and talk show host. Peace.

  4. Erik says:

    Great stuff here brother! I must admit you drew me in with the statement, “And to be increasingly transparent, I’ve known gifted pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists who could serve very well in a paid vocational (of bi-vocational) local church context. It just hasn’t “worked out” for a number of reasons. Perhaps this is a calling, too?” I don’t suppose you have a sofa in your office for a burnt out old heretic like myself?! ;)

    On a more serious note, I realize you were not addressing this in your post but, I’d love to hear your thoughts to the meaning of “called”? It might also be intriguing to explore what you might think is a righteous or ethical practice of stewardship in the church? Perhaps even more on the stewardship of leadership?

    It was great connecting with you in Dallas bro and I hope maybe one day we might be able to just connect in person!

    • Fred says:

      Erik, thanks for reading and commenting, bro. And it was great meeting with you in Dallas, even if it was through a computer screen!

      I will shoot a message online so we can talk more about what I understand as “calling,” which really falls more in line with a theology of vocation. Also, I would like to hear more about what you mean when you talk about an ethical practice of stewardship. Those can be loaded terms. We will connect soon!

      You may have already, but follow the links given in the post to the other guys engaging this conversation. I think they will broaden the convo.

  5. Pingback: The Unequivocal Reality of Bi-Vocational Church Planting | Missional Church Conversations

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