Ok, yes, it might sound extreme. But let’s be sober-minded. As Todd Hiestand (and the comments) notes in his great post, “10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-vocational Ministry”, being a missional bi-vocational pastor is hard, it takes commitment, it takes faith. But in this post-Christian context (or at least outside of the ever shrinking Christendom pockets), the option to be a bi-vocational is not an option at all, it is a missional necessity. I want to frame the discussion here with this image of guerrilla warfare exactly because I don’t want bi-vocational ministry to sound merely like a life-style choice, good for some, but not for others, or some kind of fashion accessory for missional pastors.
But I want to clear up one thing. I’m not taking about guerrilla warfare against the more established church, or mega-churches or anything like that. To think narrowly that way is just not helpful. I’m thinking that our battle is within post-Christian, post-modern, consumer-theraputic-individualistic culture. The warfare is in the terrain of our neighborhoods and families, our calendars and wallets.
So, to start this off, here are five thoughts.
Bi-vocational ministry is necessary:
1) not because missional churches are poor, but because they are rich. Some of the literature on bi-vocational ministry point to it being an option when churches are little, too poor for a full-time pastor. In this scenario church finances are the determining factor. Well, I know many missional churches that are small, and probably too poor for a full-time salary plus health insurance. But the missional church is rich in resources, resources that are flowing outward into the neighborhoods and communities. They are rich in leadership and talents that would go untapped if there was only one person (a man usually) who did everything and got paid for it. My own community is actually big enough to support a full-time pastor, but we choose not to do that because we believe it would make us poorer as a community. Bi-vocationalism, then, is to use what the culture sees as a weakness (money, resources) as a strength, and therefore is a necessary attribute of missional guerrilla warfare.
2) not because missional churches have little work, but too much work. Sometimes you hear the complain from a bi-vocational pastor that there is so much work and too little time (oh, wait that was me!). But we all know what the truth is. There is always too much work. No matter what. But instead of allowing ourselves to believe (which doesn’t really happen), or worse, allowing our congregations to believe (which almost always happens) that one or several “full-time” people can basically cover the work of the kingdom, missional churches know that there is always way too much work for one (or even some), but that all are engaged in the mission of God’s kingdom. Bi-vocationalism is an automatic safe-guard against thinking the work is manageable when really it is totally unmanageable outside of all entering the fields to bring in the harvest. Therefore, missional churches use another perceived weakness (lack of impact or results by a visible few) as a strength because the mustard seed is growing.
3) not because we battle outside, but within ourselves. This one gets tricky, but follows from #2. Too often people, organizations, nations, and yes, churches, come to think that the battle is outside, that all those in must conform to a certain image or idea, and then move outward and attack (this happens even for laudable causes). Many churches have implicitly or explicitly adopted this organization/operational structure, and even for those churches that haven’t it is a constant temptation perpetuated by full-time ministry. But we must always remember that the battle is within our churches, and within ever leader (I referred to it before as a power addiction). I’m reminded of the lyrics from U2’s “peace on earth”: “And you become a monster / So the monster will not break you.” Ministerial bi-vocationalism is the necessary spiritual discipline to ward off this temptation toward consolidation, and not just spiritual discipline, but relational, financial, and temporal discipline befitting those on the front lines (which are never front but always shifting) of the missional battle. In this sense you don’t fight fire with fire. We must creatively resist.
4) because the culture is already fighting a guerrilla style war against us. Advertising, opinion polls, new television shows, iPhone apps, American Apparel, and on and on it goes. The culture is an ever evolving parasite on others beliefs and practices, always moving toward how to make a dollar off you, or spin something as propoganda. So it is necessary for missional churches to be just as nimble and creative, culturally creative even. In this way it is necessary to fight fire with fire, guerrilla warfare again guerrilla warfare.
5) not because the missional church is against formal leadership, but because we seek to form proper leadership. I will not spend as much time on this because de-centralized leadership has been a common enough theme, especially in regard to actual guerrilla warfare, cell groups, and house churches.
So, those are five reasons off the top of my head that missional bi-vocational ministry is not a cute lifestyle decision, or something that we try for a little while but then abandon, or a missional accessory that so like an others don’t. But I truly believe that if the kingdom is to fruitfully gain ground in this post-Christian context that we must adopted strategies for the long run. Anything less will perpetuate the stagnation of the American church.
(p.s. I know I could qualify this a little and mention all those in larger churches who are legitimately following God’s call in a full-time ministry and such [many whom I know and love]…but I prefer to just let this start out more black and white without fading everything to gray too quickly).