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Race, Disability and COVID-19: A DisCrit Analysis of Theological Education

Bivocational Ministry as the Congregation’s Curriculum

Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555 West James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA
Religions 2021, 12(1), 56;
Received: 28 November 2020 / Revised: 12 January 2021 / Accepted: 13 January 2021 / Published: 15 January 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practical Theology & Theological Education—An Overview)


Ambiguities and uncertainties about defining bivocational ministry are an opportunity for theological reflection and religious education. This article begins by acknowledging a context of anxiety about congregational vitality in North American mainline denominations and utilizes Boyung Lee’s communal approach to religious education to facilitate imagining new ways of being church for white-majority congregations, which seem to have difficulty coming to terms with bivocational ministry. The central sections of this article proceed descriptively, exploring the breadth of definitions of bivocational ministry and related terms, organized around several loci: vocation and ministry; jobs and finances; and commitment. Constructively, this article conceives of intentional bivocational ministry as the congregation’s curriculum, a practice of the entire faith community. This article concludes with a call for religious educators to assist in this endeavor.
Keywords: bivocational; pastoral ministry; practical theology; religious education; congregational vitality; multivocational ministry; vocation; Christian mission bivocational; pastoral ministry; practical theology; religious education; congregational vitality; multivocational ministry; vocation; Christian mission

1. Introduction

The term “bivocational ministry” connotes different things to different people. For persons in non-white or immigrant communities, it may be the usual way ministry is done (Bentley 2018, p. 148; Christian Reformed Church in North America 2020, p. 13; Deasy 2018, p. 66; MacDonald 2020, pp. 8–9). For persons in white-majority settings, it may indicate falling short of a goal, namely, the model of a full-time pastorate. For others, it may represent the cutting edge of leadership for the missional church, reaching out into the world in creative, entrepreneurial ways. For many, it begs definition. The range of possible meanings and connotations of this term provide an opportunity for religious education, leading Christian congregations to imagine new ways of being church.
Many congregations in the United States and Canada employ a bivocational pastor. According to a 2018–2019 survey of US congregations, 35% were served by a “head clergyperson” who “also holds another job” (Chaves et al. 2021, p. 22). Nearly 46% of Episcopal congregations in the United States had no full-time priest in 2014 (The Episcopal Church 2014). Preparing pastors for this reality is only one part of the picture. Based on a 2015–2018 study of the economic implications of bi-vocational ministry on Disciples of Christ clergy and congregations in Kentucky, Bentley concluded, “successful bi-vocational ministry relies on more than a minister with a second job that helps pay the bills. It also involves collaboration within congregations and the formation of a sense of ministry that is shared” (Bentley 2018, p. 147). In other words, the success of bivocational pastorates hinges, in large part, on the ability of the congregation to embrace an understanding of ministry that differs from what they may have been taught to expect, at least in predominantly white, mainline Protestant traditions in North America (MacDonald 2020, pp. 8–9).
This article views the ambiguities and uncertainties about defining bivocational ministry as an opportunity for theological reflection and religious education. It begins by acknowledging a context of mainline anxiety about congregational vitality in North America and utilizes Boyung Lee’s communal approach to religious education to facilitate imagining new ways of being church. While it draws on a range of authors and contexts beyond white-majority mainline Protestant denominations in North America, the scope of this article is confined to this demographic, which seems to have difficulty coming to terms with bivocational ministry. The central sections of this article proceed descriptively, exploring the breadth of definitions of bivocational ministry and related terms, organized around several loci: vocation and ministry; jobs and finances; and commitment. Drawing on a definition of practice by Dorothy Bass, this article proposes intentional bivocational ministry as a practice of the entire faith community; bivocational ministry becomes the congregation’s curriculum. This article concludes with a call for religious educators to assist in this endeavor.

2. Congregational Vitality and Religious Education

Every white-majority, mainline denomination in the United States and Canada faces anxiety about declining numerical indicators of congregational vitality (Stephens 2020, p. 2).1 Cahalan observed that many of the questions raised in response to North American mainline decline were practical in nature, spurring a turn to practical theology for answers (Cahalan 2005, p. 63). In response, she suggested moving beyond the problematic “clerical paradigm” identified by Edward Farley by asserting, “practical theology is first and foremost about wisdom-seeking for all Christians” (Cahalan 2005, pp. 64, 93). While Cahalan did not venture into a conversation about bivocational ministry, the questions and concerns are similar. The focus on vital congregations—how to achieve them and how to measure them—coincides with an emerging awareness of bivocational ministry as an alternative to the way many declining congregations have conceived of and structured their ministry since their founding.
The professional model of a full-time, seminary-trained pastor captures and confines the imagination of many congregations. MacDonald termed this “the full-time bias” (MacDonald 2020, p. 23). According to Edington, this “standard model” of ministry “has shaped not just the economic arrangements that underlie what we think of as ‘church’; it has shaped much of what we understand to be involved in the practice of ministry and congregational leadership” (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 5). At issue is not merely a financial strategy to accommodate declining church budgets but a different approach to ministry entirely. Thus, bivocational ministry can seem counter to the received wisdom of what counts as “church.” Edington pressed further: “the question many congregations face today is whether this professional model of ministry is consistent with their future, or with them having a future” (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 6).
The traditional, full-time pastorate is yielding to other models of ministry, many of them bivocational. Many congregations find themselves seeking a bivocational pastor out of financial necessity. They simply cannot afford to pay a full-time salary—unless the pastor happens to be a married male in the US South or Midwest regions (Perry and Schleifer 2019). The Church Pension Group of the Episcopal Church (US) reported “that only 52% of all priests are in single full-time parochial calls in churches,” described as “the model of years ago,” and that, disproportionately, a greater share of the fully compensated priests are men (The Episcopal Church 2018). This reality is not lost on seminary students preparing to enter the job market. “In 2017, 30% of all graduates reported plans to serve in bivocational ministry,” according to the Graduating Student Questionnaire administered by members of the Association of Theological Schools (Deasy 2018, p. 66). In the face of financial pressures, bivocational ministry, also called multivocational, dual career, non-stipendiary, or tentmaking ministry (a reference to the example of Paul in Acts 18: 3), offers another path for the future of congregational ministry.
There are barriers to this path. Lee (2013, p. viii) identified individualism as “the fundamental problem in our [US] society as well as in theological education and ministry of the mainline” and presented a communal model of pedagogy in response.
Christian education seeks to lead one out to new and imaginative ways of being in relationship with God and others. The root meaning of education and Christian education challenges us as mainline Christians to think differently and broadly. We need to move to holistic ways of imagining and being the church.
Transforming congregations requires imagination enabled by a process of religious education. The heart of her argument is, “if the mainline rethinks its ministry through pedagogical reformation, a healthy community can be created and promoted” (ix). Thus, Lee provided a holistic way of integrating education and reflection:
education is to help people find a truth that is already within them … helping learners, regardless of their age, to remember what they know and to critically reflect on this in their present life contexts; it is to develop something new for the future.
Lee’s emphasis on theological reflection as an essential part of education grounds religious education in practical theology, understood here as critical reflection on the practices of the church for the sake of improving those practices. In order to improve the practice of ministry, however, congregations must be educated to imagine ministry in new ways.

3. Vocation and Ministry

Generally, the term “bivocational” describes the work life of a pastor (paid or unpaid) who also holds another job (paid or unpaid). This definition begs significant theological questions, however. For example, what does it mean to have a vocation or more than one vocation, and what does that imply about what counts as ministry?
In common usage, the terms “bivocational” and “bi-vocational” refer almost exclusively to persons in ministry, as easily confirmed by any internet search engine. One does not typically refer to a teacher as bivocational, even if they simultaneously hold another job unrelated to teaching—unless, of course, the “other” job is leading a Christian congregation. The term bivocational implies pastoral ministry as being among one’s vocations. While the word bivocational is more common, the word “multivocational” more accurately describes the actual situation of some pastors. Seeking to discover a wide diversity of secondary employment among pastors, the team of researchers behind what was originally called the Canadian Bivocational Ministry Project found that it was not uncommon for a bivocational minister to have more than one job or significant volunteer commitment in addition to “a congregational leadership role” (Watson et al. 2020, p. 5). Thus, they renamed their study the Canadian Multivocational Ministry Project.
Vocation can mean job, profession, or calling. In the context of ministry, vocation is often laden with an understanding of God’s design, directive, or nudging. For example, to be “called” into ministry implies some kind of divine prompt, traditionally requiring a response along the lines of, “Here I am!” (Genesis 22: 1; Exodus 3: 4; 1 Samuel 3: 4; Isaiah 6: 8, etc.). There is some intentionality and purpose behind vocation. The term bivocational could imply either the existence of more than one divine call on a person’s life or simply more than one understanding of the word “vocation”—one sacred and one secular. Often implied is the latter (without any critical exploration of the supposed sacred/secular distinction): a bivocational minister is a person called to pastoral leadership who also earns money doing something else. Must the “ministry” in bivocational ministry necessarily be pastoral, though?
On the one hand, bivocational accurately describes many non-pastoral forms of ministry, expressed in diverse contexts and often combined with other careers. “In some ways the idea that ministry is bivocational may seem like a statement of the obvious; each of us who shares in the ministry of the baptized is meant to carry out that ministry in the world, and not merely in the church” (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 2). The ministry of all Christians, the priesthood of all believers, is premised on the idea that Christians are called to many different jobs in combination with living out one’s discipleship. This form of ministry is called diakonia, “Christian service to which all the baptized are called and which is part of the mission of Christ’s church in the world” (DIAKONIA World Federation Executive Committee 1998). Persons called to representative diakonia, the diaconate,2 are ordained as permanent deacons in some traditions and work in a variety of capacities within and without the church. For example, the Episcopal Church (US) reported, “The majority of the church’s 3000 permanent deacons are by nature bivocational in that they are generally non-stipendiary, at least in parochial positions” (The Episcopal Church 2018). Ironically, because the work of diakonia, including that of persons set apart for the diaconate, essentially involves multiple expressions of ministry and employment, these folks are generally not described as bivocational.
On the other hand, the word bivocational seems to be reserved for those persons in a ministerial role considered by many to be incommensurate with holding a job outside of the church: pastoral leaders. For example, Watson et al. observed, “Tentmaking, bivocational, and multivocational are all terms currently used to describe how people who are involved in congregational leadership and work outside the congregation can combine those worlds” (Watson et al. 2020, p. 3). Here, “congregational leadership” implies the work of a pastor as distinct from other expressions of ministry. The normative valence of the congregational context for ministry is also evident in the post-2013 Association of Theological Schools Graduating Student Questionnaire, in which “ministry positions were divided into two categories: ministry in a congregation/parish or ministry in an ‘other’ setting” (Deasy 2018, p. 64). For example, Watson et al. included “chaplain” in their list of “other occupations” held by bivocational pastors (Watson et al. 2020, p. 5). Thus, persons primarily engaged in ministries located outside the congregation are not usually considered under the umbrella of bivocational ministry even if they also hold other forms of employment.
Univocational ministry, termed the “traditional pastoral model” (Woods 2013) or “the standard model” (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 5), paradoxically points to the larger context in which bivocational ministry makes sense and to the paradigm of ministry that intentional bivocational ministry transcends. A spectrum of congregational employment arrangements vary from the standard model: bi-ministry involves “sharing a pastor with another ministry setting”; bi-congregational involves “sharing a pastor with another congregation”; and bivocational involves “sharing a pastor with a business or company” (Woods 2013). Bi-congregational arrangements are familiar in Methodism, for example, in which a pastor may be appointed to multiple congregational settings known as “charges.” In the United Church of Christ in the United States, yoking parishes is becoming more common arrangement. When both jobs are the same vocation (i.e., pastoral ministry), however, is the arrangement still considered bivocational (MacDonald 2020, p. 99)? Regardless, the fully funded pastor of a single congregation is both the reference point and the departure point for developing a robust theology of intentional bivocational ministry.

4. Jobs and Finances

At the most basic level, the word bivocational implies having more than one job and source of income. A bivocational pastor typically earns money through non-ministerial activities outside of the congregation they serve. Unpaid work can also be considered a part of the mix. For example, the research team for the Canadian Multivocational Ministry Project interviewed people who had “more than one job or serious volunteer commitment in addition to a congregational leadership role” (Watson et al. 2020, p. 5). Some claimed volunteer positions as their second vocation. Conversely, some bivocational pastors do not receive a salary from the church they serve. “Volunteer ministers” and “non-stipendiary clergy” engage in what is termed “self-supporting ministry” (Lees 2018; Samushonga 2020, p. 4). Thus, Samushonga advocated a broad definition of bivocational minister: “one who has a ministry vocation and another vocation that is not ministry oriented,” and was quick to note, “even this definition is open to further interrogation due to the uniqueness and diversity of ministry practice” (Samushonga 2019, p. 69). In actuality, the proportion of time spent in pastoral ministry and pay received from the congregation varies from case to case. Many bivocational pastors work a full-time job outside of the church, for example. Whatever the configuration, multiple responsibilities of employment and finances are integral to understanding bivocational ministry.
The bivocational pastor is more than a lay volunteer, even if unpaid. Bentley, the lead researcher at Lexington Theological Seminary, emphasized: “Bi-vocational ministers are individuals who are licensed, commissioned, or ordained ministers serving in a congregation who also receive income through employment outside the congregation” (Bentley 2018, p. 118). The bivocational minister is set apart for the task; some form of credentialing is often implied or assumed. The boundary-blurring feature of bivocational ministry is that the pastor also crosses back over, employing themselves in what is often considered the “secular” realm through activities beyond the scope of their ministerial credentialling.
Multiple jobs can mean multiple loyalties. One judicatory task force specifically pointed out the connection between finances and accountability: “Bivocationality is the arrangement in which a pastor spends time and energy working for compensation and is accountable to another in addition to the setting in which s/he has been called to minister” (Christian Reformed Church in North America 2020, p. 11). Emphasizing multiple accountabilities, this definition raises the question of divided loyalties and commitments. Perhaps to prevent unnecessary conflicts of interests, some church polities require judicatory oversight of such arrangements. For example, in the Episcopal Church (US), “it is canonically required that a priest get permission from the bishop to accept another part-time or full-time secular job” (The Episcopal Church 2018). The same expectation is present in other denominations. United Methodist polity dictates, “full-time service shall be the norm for ordained elders,” and defines “full-time service [to] mean that the person’s entire vocational time … is devoted to the work of ministry in the field of labor to which one is appointed by the bishop” (The United Methodist Church 2016, para. 338.1). It is clear that transgressing the boundary between a traditional pastorate and other means of making money creates no small degree of institutional anxiety.

5. Commitment

The presence of other commitments in the bivocational pastor’s life should not be mistaken for a half-hearted commitment to the church. Bivocational ministry is not just the result of receiving an insufficient congregational paycheck—a depiction feeding the stigma that the bivocational pastor is “judged ‘not good enough’ to draw in the people needed to pay that full-time salary” (McDougall 2016, p. 3; see also MacDonald 2020, p. 6). A singular focus on remuneration can unwittingly play into cultural evaluations of worth measured in dollars. Samushonga identified two common criticisms of bivocational ministry, both tied to money: “the conceptualising of [bivocational ministry] as serving two masters (God and money)” and “the consideration of bivocational ministers as those ‘lacking faith’ to trust God for provision” (Samushonga 2019, p. 72). Both criticisms call into question the bivocational minister’s commitment to ministry.
“Don’t call us part-time!” This sentiment is prevalent among bivocational pastors. “[M]any bivocational ministers do not describe themselves as part-time because they consider their entire lives as full-time ministry” (Samushonga 2019, p. 68). Edington noted that while “many pastors are part-time,” it would be more accurate to call them “partially compensated” (Edington 2018, Chapter One, p. 2). Bivocational ministers in Kentucky “made the case that even though bi-vocational ministers have employment outside the congregation and are not paid what others would call a full-time salary by congregations, they are fully engaged in ministry in ways not communicated by the term, ‘part-time’” (Bentley 2018, p. 118). The task force of the Christian Reformed Church in North America asserted: “Every pastor in a nontraditional arrangement is fully and at all times the pastor of the community they have been called to serve. Thus we discourage any reference in any context to a part-time pastor” (Christian Reformed Church in North America 2020, p. 12). Taking a different tack, MacDonald argued for removing the stigma from the term: “Just as America has embraced working mothers, mainline churches need to embrace part-time [pastoring] as a legitimate, holy, every-bit-as-dedicated calling” (MacDonald 2020, p. 28). MacDonald’s implication is clear: bivocational pastors are fully committed to ministry.
Specifically, many pastors are fully committed to bivocational ministry. “[T]here is an emerging concept of intentional bivocationalism,” observed Samushonga (2019, p. 77). This understanding of ministry is distinct from part-time and shared pastoral ministries that exist as extensions of the professional model of ministry (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 7). Done intentionally, “bivocational ministry begins with a different set of assumptions, and ends with a different understanding of how the church can be structured to do its work of ministry” (Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 8). Rainer made a distinction between “a traditional bivocational pastor” as a matter of necessity because the congregation cannot afford a fulltime pastor and “a marketplace pastor” who serves in a church that could offer fulltime compensation but by mutual decision chooses not to (Rainer 2016). Some intentional bivocational ministers reported that their financial independence from the congregation empowered their ministry, allowing them “to engage with the congregation on equal footing” (Bentley 2018, p. 129). Not beholden to the congregation as their sole employer, bivocational ministers can afford to take risks and innovate new ministries—a testament to their vocational commitment.
Bivocational ministry can be an intentional missional and vocational strategy. The incarnational aspect of ministry by a pastor and congregation engaged in work outside the walls of the church also allows them to reach folks they would not otherwise be able to reach (Christian Reformed Church in North America 2020, p. 17; Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 14; Watson et al. 2020, p. 15). In some contexts, such as extreme secularization (Watson and Santos 2019, 139) or in countries that restrict evangelism (Forum for World Evangelization 2004, sec. 3.1; Global Connections 2008), working a secular job is a cross-cultural missional strategy, though “overseas” tentmaking is sometimes distinguished from other forms of bivocational ministry (Samushonga 2020, p. 2). This option is of particular importance to church planters, who cannot count on a salary from a fledgling congregation. The term “covocational” is sometimes used to identify a situation in which “the pastor’s calling and ministry occur in a traditionally nonpastoral setting,” such as a church planter running a coffee shop as a ministry (Christian Reformed Church in North America 2020, pp. 11–12). For these and other bivocational ministers, the secular job is also ministry: “Tentmakers witness with their whole lives and their jobs are integral to their work for the Kingdom of God” (Forum for World Evangelization 2004, sec. 3.1). This whole-life witness evidences integration of one’s multiple vocations.
Integration can contribute to successful and healthy bivocational ministry. Edington argued that the bivocational pastor’s “spiritual health depends on how well [they] can integrate [multiple] aspects of [their] working life” (Edington 2018, Chapter One, p. 6). The importance of vocational integration arose as one of the main findings of the Canadian Multivocational Ministry Project: “Multivocational work is integrated when there is a synergistic relationship between congregational leadership and other work” (Watson et al. 2020, p. 16). Regarding “other work” in relation to pastoral ministry, Watson and colleagues found successful examples along a spectrum: “contributing to ministry (integrated), providing a personal benefit (complementary), or worth the money (lucrative)” (Watson et al. 2020, p. 17). Done well and intentionally, however, any of these relationships between multiple vocations would seem to fit Edington’s understanding of integration toward spiritual health of the bivocational pastor.

6. Bivocational Ministry as the Congregation’s Curriculum

In light of the foregoing discussion of vocation and ministry, jobs and finances, and commitment, it should be clear that bivocational ministry is more than a money-saving strategy for dwindling congregations. While church finances are an important consideration, intentional bivocational ministry requires much more than a part-time employment contract. “Financial necessity just happens to be the catalyst” for re-imagining pastoral ministry (MacDonald 2020, p. 29). Put more forcefully by Kirkpatrick (also writing from a US context), “Now is the time for creativity, innovation and experimentation to adjust to what is increasingly the new normal for congregations around the country” (Kirkpatrick 2014). Theological reflection on intentional bivocational ministry as a practice involving both clergy and laity provides opportunity for transforming congregational life. Bivocational ministry can become the congregation’s curriculum.
Bivocational ministry can be imagined as an intentional practice of an entire faith community. “Practices are those shared activities that address fundamental human needs and that, woven together, form a way of life” (Bass 1997, p. xi). Ministry is such a shared activity, and the practice of ministry is and should be “a way of life” for the congregation. Practicing ministry, though, is not sufficient for transforming congregations. Disciplined, theological reflection on this practice is also needed.
Reflecting on practices as they have been shaped in the context of Christian faith leads us to encounter the possibility of a faithful way of life, one that is both attuned to present-day needs and taught by ancient wisdom. And here is the really important point: this encounter can change how we live each day.
Exploring various definitions of bivocational ministry is one means of attending to present-day needs and learning from the wisdom of those who have blazed this trail. To press this learning even further, theological reflection within a process of religious education can help this encounter become transformative.
Ministry has many facets, offering a full curriculum for learning a faithful way of life. Building on the work of Maria Harris, Lee proposed,
a church’s entire ministry of worship, fellowship, teaching, mission, and proclamation can serve as its curriculum. Even without participating in an educational event, people teach and learn how to be a member of the community through the church’s basic forms of ministry.
Bivocational ministry, of course, encompasses this entire range of activities. This process can be transformative: “the mainline can create a healthy community by approaching its entire ministry as an educational endeavor” (Lee 2013, p. ix). For bivocational ministry to become the congregation’s curriculum, though, it must be embraced as the practice of the entire faith community.
As a congregational curriculum, intentional bivocational ministry is a shared practice of laity and clergy. The congregation and the pastor must be equally committed to bivocational ministry (Bickers 2007, p. 6; Edington 2018, Introduction, p. 8; MacDonald 2020, p. 65). One of the limitations of the standard model of ministry is its almost-exclusive focus on the role of clergy. Many definitions of bivocational ministry share this limitation, parsing what kind of “other” employment qualifies the pastor as bivocational. Without a robust understanding of the priesthood of all believers, bivocational ministry cannot take root within a congregation. A successful and healthy bivocational pastorate requires an understanding of shared ministry and mission between the pastor and the entire congregation. Members of the congregation cannot engage in bivocational ministry as passive recipients of a professionalized ministry. Thus, a congregation must enter into an intentional process of Christian education, in which all members are challenged to embrace “holistic ways of imagining and being the church” (Lee 2013, p. 49). For the practice of bivocational ministry to become the congregation’s curriculum, the entire congregation must become bivocational.
Becoming a bivocational congregation requires moving beyond the received model of “clericalism” centered on the seminary-trained, ordained pastor. Edington observed, “congregations that are relatively more ‘group centered’ than ‘pastor centered’ will likely find themselves better suited to a bivocational pastorate” (Edington 2018, Chapter Two, p. 5). The pastor in a bivocational congregation becomes part of a team of leaders—and perhaps not the starring role (MacDonald 2020, p. 63). Pappas and colleagues even suggested that a congregation does not necessarily need “a bivocational pastor to exhibit the positive qualities of a bivocational congregation” (Pappas et al. 2009, p. 15). Their point was that bivocational ministry characterizes the congregation, not only its leader. Thus, they identified “healthy team functioning” at the top of their list of attributes of an effective bivocational congregation (Pappas et al. 2009, p. 12). They were not alone in identifying shared leadership as essential to the bivocational congregation (see for example, (Watson et al. 2020, p. 19)). MacDonald offered three models for pastors in bivocational congregations: equipper, ambassador, and multistaff team member (MacDonald 2020, p. 69). Each of these options de-centers the pastor and spreads responsibility and authority among the laity. Edington offered a concise account: “A bivocational ministry is a work of the entire congregation; it is not merely a way of describing the working life of one person who happens to be ordained” (2018, Chapter Two, p. 6). Bivocational ministry prioritizes the identification of each member’s particular gifts and graces and enables them to contribute to the overall ministry of the congregation.
The transformative potential of intentional bivocational ministry depends, for many, on a change in perception of what counts as church and ministry. MacDonald emphasized: “this is a different breed of congregation” (MacDonald 2020, p. 7). A bivocational congregation is comprised of laypersons who express “a willingness to experiment and take responsibility for [their] congregation” (Pappas et al. 2009, p. 15). Church members and leaders might benefit from studying what has been termed mutual ministry, collaborative ministry, every-member ministry, and total ministry (Fenhagen 1977; Pickard 2009; Tiller 1998, p. 384; Zabriskie 1995). Each of these models emphasizes the role of the laity in the ministry of the congregation. Laity must learn how to bear one another’s burdens, lead each other in prayer, reclaim the liturgy as the work of the people, share the faith, and support ongoing Christian education for all ages. For example, Stephen Ministries provides a model for equipping laity to serve in roles of pastoral care, complementing the role of the pastor (Stephen Ministries St. Louis n.d.). The specific ways in which laity and clergy partner in ministry must be worked out in the context of each congregation and in light of the gifts that each member brings to the community.3 Bivocational congregations require an expansive understanding of Christian vocation, bridging lay and clergy, sacred and secular (see for example, (Cahalan 2017)).
This understanding of bivocational ministry as the practice of a congregation clearly differs from forms of tentmaking ministry undertaken by individuals outside of or prior to an anticipated congregational context. Covocational ministry, “overseas” tentmaking, and early stages of church planting are important missional strategies undertaken by pastors, often with a source of income beyond the church. These ministries, however, can only become the curriculum of the faith community when there is a congregation to share in the bivocational endeavor. It does not take many: only two or three gathered in Jesus’s name (Matthew 18: 20).

7. Conclusions

Bivocational ministry is a topic of increasing relevance within conversations about the future of the church and congregational vitality. Imagining new ways of being church is a particular challenge for white-majority, mainline congregations in North America, though Christian faith communities of all demographics, denominational traditions, and geographic locations are being challenged to reflect theologically on the meanings and implications of bivocational ministry. Religious educators can guide congregations in imagining and being the church in ways that transcend the model of a fully funded, professionally trained pastor of a single congregation. As an intentional practice, bivocational ministry can become the congregation’s curriculum.
Religious educators can assist congregations in this task. A bivocational congregation transgresses inherited divisions between clergy and laity, sacred and secular, pastoring and mission. Each of these divisions presents an opportunity for re-imagining the church and its ministry. Further research on bivocational congregations, building on existing research on the missional church, vital congregations, and ecclesiology is needed. Furthermore, there is a lot that white-majority, mainline congregations can learn from Christians outside their immediate demographic, many of whom have been engaged in faithful bivocational ministry for generations.


This research was funded by Lancaster Theological Seminary and a matching grant from the In Trust Center for Theological Schools, grant number 202021524.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


I would like to thank the participants in the International Consultation, “Educating for a Thriving Bivocational Ministry,” sponsored by Lancaster Theological Seminary and the In Trust Center, 16 November 2020. This group of researchers, writers, educators, and reflective practitioners provided wisdom and motivation for this article.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


The following abbreviations are used in this manuscript:
USUnited States (adjectival form)


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Discussion of this anxiety is well beyond the scope of this article. Many factors contribute to the white-majority, mainline church’s difficulty embracing bivocational ministry as a legitimate, faithful, and equally valuable alternative to fully funded ministry. Factors include racism, ethno-centrism, nationalism, exceptionalism, colonialism, Christendom, patriarchy, individualism, materialism, and an obsession with numerical success. There is much that the white mainline could learn from non-white and immigrant communities about diverse ways of being church and about bivocational ministry, in particular.
According to the DIAKONIA World Federation, the diaconate consists of “those called, identified, prepared, set apart and/or commissioned [or ordained] for “public” ministry of diakonia, sometimes doing diakonia in the name of the church, sometimes encouraging greater involvement of all the baptized in diakonia, and sometimes serving as a sign and reminder that Christ has called the whole church to diakonia” (DIAKONIA World Federation Executive Committee 1998).
In this light, “bivocational” could also refer to the partnered vocations of laity and clergy. It is beyond the scope of this article to pursue this new, innovative use of the term.
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