Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Being Bi-Vocational Can Be Awesome.

Seminarians nowadays are hearing a lot about how we'll have to be "bi-vocational" when we get out of school... in normal language, that means we'll only be able to get part-time jobs as pastors since many churches can no longer afford a full-time clergy on staff.  This has of course caused considerable worry amongst both me and my fellow seminarians... getting a master's degree to only get a part-time job doesn't sound all that enticing.  The more I think about it though (and especially after visiting my home congregation of Emanuel Lutheran in Manchester, CT this past Sunday), I'm realizing that having to be bi-vocational can be pretty awesome.  Not only can it be a pretty amazing to be a pastor, but I think it actually presents a very powerful way for the church to move forward in our increasingly disconnected and pluralistic age.

First of all, the term "bi-vocational" is theologically weak... everyone has many roles their called to by God.  Whether or not you're a pastor, you're also called to be a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister, a good parent and a good citizen.  When thinking specifically about being a part-time pastor (whether or not that term fits well either) I honestly think folks should get excited rather than disheartened.  We constantly hear about how the church needs to be out in the community more rather than simply welcoming people into it's doors.  Used effectively, a congregation can do just that with a part-time pastor.  Imagine if a congregation was able to team up with a local not-for-profit and split a pastor's salary and time.  The ministries of both that congregation and the not-for-profit could be greatly strengthened.  The networking possibilities of being a part-time pastor/ part-time bartender or coffee shop manager could be enormous.  Perhaps a part-time pastor could also work as a local co-op manager or in chaplaincy.

In order for the bi-vocational pastor movement to work though, the heavy weight of filling such a role cannot be put solely on the pastor.  In this difficult economy many congregations can't be expected to pay for a full-time pastor, but they should be expected to get creative and line-up another role for their pastor that both connects with their ministry plans and provides the pastor with sufficient financial compensation.  Seminaries need to do their part too by educating future pastors to work in the world they'll actually be ministering in... a little less Greek and a couple basic business classes could perhaps do the trick.  More bi-vocational internships should be offered as well.  I doubt many of our earliest Christian sisters and brothers had full-time pastors, but instead had leaders who were already connected to the community through other professions.  Even Saint Paul wasn't a full-time evangelist, but instead split that role with making tents! (Acts 18:3)  More and more of us pastors may have to spend some time doing the modern version of making tents, and as long as our congregations and seminaries are responsibly supporting us, I think being bi-vocational can greatly strengthen the church well into the future.

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