Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts

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).

The Death of Leadership: Christ and Co-Leadship


In these postmodern times we are used to hearing of the death of the author, the death of the text, and even the death of the book (unless you have a Kindle).  Well, today, it is the death of leadership, for Christ our leader is the Crucified One, and what servant is greater that his master?  But many have not heard of this death.  It has been drowned out by the plethora of leadership books, even Christian leadership books, and I’m sure many of us, and myself included, have read them.  But while these leadership books, and conferences, and seminars tell of many helpful things, but they do not know of the Crucified Christ.  And this makes all the difference.  They lack a leadership that lives through the cross.  According to the pattern of the Crucified Christ I believe missional leadership must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who will lead through living and dying in Christ.

Philippians Hymn

Few turn to the hymn of Philippians 2 as a leadership model, so hopefully we are on the verge of something indeed.  Here we find a pattern, or model of Christian leadership and community.  It is the narrative of Christ, of the incarnation, of the gospel.  And if leaders do not practice it, then the community will not follow it, and then the lost will not see it, and they will not get it even when they hear it.

Philippians 2:5-11

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:

6 Who, although being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest placeand gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a three part pattern to this passage.  It is the pattern of althoughdid not—but. Although Christ has the very status, or being, of God, he did not take advantage of his status and use it selfishly.  But rather humbled himself in his incarnation (“being made in human likeness”) and crucifixion (“by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross”).  And the result is that God works, God exalts, God saves in Christ.  This hymn to Christ reveals the pattern of our lives, the pattern by which we related with one another.  It is the pattern by which we learn the death of leadership.

Indeed, the apostle Paul who uses this hymn to exhort the Philippians to Christ-likeness.  But Paul did not leave them without an example, but rather understood and practiced his own apostolic ministry according to this same narrative pattern.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul speaks about the rights of an apostle to receive funds for their ministries.  But Paul did not exercise this right, but worked to pay his own way.  And he also claims that while he has the right of freedom in all things, he does not exercise this right selfishly, but rather became a slave of all for the sake of the gospel.  What does that sound like?  It sounds exactly like Christ in the Philippians Hymn.  And even within the very contentious issue of slavery Paul did not lay down the apostolic hammer on Philemon so that he would release Onesimus.  But instead he acted in love toward Philemon, seeking his consent on the matter.  This, then, is the death of leadership that Paul points us toward when he speaks of Christ, a cruciform leadership that lays down it rights and its status in love and becomes a servant to all.

At Life on the Vine

Because of this pattern in Christ I believe missional leadership must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who will lead according to Christ’s example.  At Life on the Vine we try to live this out.

For us, leadership at the highest level is structured as a co-pastorate.  There is no ‘senior’ or ‘lead’ pastor where the buck finally stops, where the decisions are finally made, where final authority resides.  While our community was planted by one person, David Fitch, he very quickly brought me on as a co-pastor.  And then later we brought on a third co-pastor to balance out the giftings among us.  Now Fitch is preparing to relocate and I serve alongside my wife and Ty Grigg.

We did this in order to spread out the ministry, offer opportunities for younger leaders to grow, but most importantly, as a structured model of shared leadership.  As co-pastors we had to practice the pattern of althoughdid not—but.  Although we were called as pastors and therefore elevated by a certain authority, we did not, we could not practice unilateral power, but mutually submitted to one another as we lead the community.  This was embedded in our pastoral structure because Christ-like leadership is not merely servant leadership.  Rather we have given up having a ‘lead’ anything at all by creating an alternative structure.

In addition to having a structure of co-leadership, we practice various processes of communal discernment that hand leadership to the entire community, or parts of the community.  For example, according to the same pattern, although all the pastors were in complete agreement regarding how we should move forward concern the issue of women in church leadership, and we had the authority to make a decision, we did not lead from position and privilege.  But instead we submitted to a year long process where different members of the community presented biblical perspectives on the issue, culminating in a 2-month long council to discern the issue.  In another case, an issue with someone on our shepherd board, the pastors were again in complete agreement in how to proceed, but the person involved was not receiving things particularly well.  So we brought the whole issue to our shepherd for their discernment, trusting that Christ would lead through this process and that all involved would both be formed into Christ-like character and that the issue would be resolved not through the imposition of a position, but through the constant relational work of the Spirit opened by practicing the death of leadership.


And while these types of processes are bolstered by a structure of co-leadership, it really comes down to practicing the death of leadership on a personal level.  This is living without having to justify yourself, without having to constantly defend yourself to others.  It means not needing everyone to always understand you.  In the midst of arguments it means just sticking to the issues without getting personal or taking things personally.  It involves actively creating spaces for other to flourish while not receiving any credit and minimal appreciation.  It means giving over tasks and responsibilities that you really enjoy to someone else so they can grow.  It means submitting to others in the little things even when you have a sense they are wrong, and then only forcing issues when it is essential for the group to move forward.  In all these ways following Christ through the death of leadership entails overcoming personal insecurity and immaturity, so that one can rest in the work of Christ in the community rather than seeking to manage and control everything that is going on.

Now, you might be thinking that every Christian leader should exhibit these characteristics, the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, no matter the structure of leadership.  Of course!  But it is much easier to hide immaturity and insecurity, to mask a lack of the Spirit’s work in your life in a hierarchical leadership structure which does not demand processes of communal discernment.  When someone knows exactly who is their superior and who is under them, then they know exactly how to get whatever “ego” fix they need, whether it is seeking approval or asserting authority, perhaps even masking it as a servant leader.  It is for these reasons that missional leadership, under the sign of the Cross, must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who live, lead, and die, laying down their rights and status in love and becoming a servants to all.

Missional Leadership

So, then, how is the death of leadership also missional leadership?

First, the structure of co-leadership, the processes of communal discernment, and the practice of personal cruciformity are all ways of saying the same thing, namely, that this community is marked by the gospel, by Christ-likeness.  As I said before, if leaders do not it, then the community will not do it, and then the lost will not see it, and they will not get it even when they hear it.

Second, communities marked by the death of leadership will always be marked by brokenness growing into life.  When you lead this way it is impossible to put leaders on a pedestal, which opens the door for everyone to lead out of brokenness and into life.  When everyone is emptying themselves as Christ did, it has the strange effect of raising everyone up as they are deployed in creative expressions of the gospel.

Let’s Fly a Kite

This kind of leadership is certainly not from the top-down as in a hierarchy, nor is it merely from the bottom up, as some form of leaderless organization, nor is it a leading from the front as those who have gone before, as some missional books describe it.  But it is leading from below while running forward, as if one were trying to fly a kite when there is just not enough wind.  You are down on the ground, down below, yet moving forward, hoping for the church to rise up on the breath of the Spirit, roaring high.  And people don’t watch the person holding the string, they watch the kite in its glory, rising to new life and love, and at the center of its frame it bears the sign of the cross.

My reading of Philippians is based on Micheal Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.
This is my contribution to the Despised One’s Synchro Blog on “Leadership, Celebrity, and Power”.

Of Tyrants and Martyrs


“The first form of rulers in the world were the tyrants, the last will be the martyrs. Between a tyrant and a martyr there is of course an enormous difference, although they both have one thing in common: the power to compel. The tyrant, himself ambitious to dominate, compels -people through his power; the martyr, himself unconditionally obedient to God, compels others through his suffering. The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.”

~Søren Kierkegaard

The Biggest Lie We Tell Our Children


“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”
~This is a LIE.

I never say this to my boys. The truth is, words do hurt. They wound and break us just as much as they heal and build us.  Words matter, and we should never let our children think that they don’t.

Sticks and stones can break your bones, and words can destroy your spirit.
Sticks and stones can break yourbones, and you need stronger words to protect you.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, so clinging to words that bring life.

A broken bone will heal in a couple weeks, but a broken spirit can last a lifetime. Don’t we all know people wounded and scarred by words (ugly, failure, worthless, unwanted), living out of those lies as if they were truth?

Truth is, we are in a battle of words.

Did Satan bring a stick to kill Adam and Eve?  Did he use stones to make them eat the fruit?

No. He came with words. He came with words of doubt: “Did God really say…”  He came with words of deception: “You will not die…”  He came with words to persuade and insinuate, to sow seeds of doubt that grew up into disobedience, disaster, and death.

And God does not come with sticks and stones to beat the devil (or us) down. Rather God sends words of promise and life, of healing and hope. God sends the Word to us to make all things right.

In this battle of words, between words of death and words of life, which words are we clinging to?  Are you turning to the words of life, to the Word of life? Or to lesser words?

The way to Christ is first through humility

“The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, third through humility.  If humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, if it is not before us to focus on, if it is not beside us to lean up, if it is not behind us to fence us in, pride will wrench from our hand any good deed we do at the very moment we do it.”

Augustine of Hippo

What ‘kind’ of God?

“Trinitarian theology, in so far as it is concerned with what ‘kind’ of God Christians worship, is far from being a luxury indulged in solely by remote and ineffectual dons; it is of cardinal importance for spirituality and liturgy, for ethics, for the whole of Christian self-understanding.” (Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, p. 142)

From Pentecost to Democracy? Or Not!

PENTECOSTLast Thursday evening I was teaching my Church and Culture class at Northern Seminary, focusing on “Democracy, Capitalism, and the State.” I began the class by reading the Pentecost text and ask how this text relates to the politics of democracy.  The discussion was lively.

Some thought that Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Spirit on all people, initiated a radical equality, an equality that Paul later understands as abolishing all divisions between class, race, and gender (Gal. 3:28). Is not the “priesthood of all believers” the beginning of Democracy?  Indeed, Walter Rauschenbusch, the father of the social gospel, positively linked the ancient practices of Israel, Pentecost, and Democracy as a progression leading toward liberation and equality.

Others thought that Pentecost does not lead to our contemporary practice of Democracy because this Democracy leads to a minimal uniformity of “one person = one vote”, overlooking true diversity within a process of simultaneously affirming personal interests through anonymity (which literally means “namelessness”).  All true diversity is gradually reduced to voting interests and all cultural and communal identity is suspended within the black box of the voting booth.

I’m sympathetic to this second reading. It seems that Democracy (and the entire philosophical system of Liberalism, of which both conservatives and liberal are part) is a way of mitigating the “diversity that leads to division” (see previous post) and therefore promotes a false or thin unity as uniformity, rather than a true unity through diversity (see also Christena Cleveland’s thoughts on diversity and Chris Lenshyn on the loss of imagination).

In addition to this, Pentecost leads toward a very non-Democratic, intolerant statement.  Pentecost, and all those filled with the Spirit of Christ, declare that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  For those committed to the spirit of the age, this exclusionary claim of salvation coming only from the Lord, not the State, not Democracy, not Capitalism, not Socialism is both provocative and dangerous (see this from those who would declare that Jesus is the “Lord of Peace” and not nuclear weapon).

What do you think? Beyond promoting diversity, what kind of politics is Pentecost promoting?


Blog Tour For Prodigal Christianity: Begins Monday

Prodigal Christianity Cover GIFDavid Fitch and I, of course, are very excited about our book, Prodigal Christianity.  And thankfully it seems some other people are also.  Now that there has been enough time for people to read and digest it, we are launching a blog tour that will feature people’s reflections, engagements, and criticism of all 10 of our Signpost, beginning next Monday.  Below is the schedule and then the biographies of those on the tour. If you can, please pick up Prodigal Christianity and read along with us.

5/20 Signpost 1 (Kevin Scott)
5/22 Signpost 2 (Joshua Henry Lee)
5/27 Signpost 3 (Seth Richardson)
5/29 Signpost 4 (Robert Martin)
6/03 Signpost 5 (Fred Liggins/Josh Rowley)  
6/05 Signpost 6 (Kevin Williams/Robert Martin)  
6/10 Signpost 7 (JR Woodward/ Timothy Stidham)
6/12 Signpost 8 (Zach Hoag/Josh Rowley)
6/17 Signpost 9 (Wende Lance)
6/19 Signpost 10 (Scott Kent Jones/Scott Emory)
6/24 Epilogue (Fred Liggins).
Tour Authors:

Tim Stidham is the pastor of NewHope Community Church (NW Indiana). He is the adjunct professor of Homiletics at Olivet Nazarene University. He received his D.Min in Preaching from Association of Chicago Theological Schools (ACTS) and blogs at

Robert Martin, by day, is a middle-aged software validation analyst in a small software company in Southeastern Pennsylvania. By night (or rather always), he is the Abnormally Anabaptist, trying his best to humbly follow God, examine life (his own especially), and seek to help others find and follow the King of Kings. He blogs at

Fred Liggins is a husband, father, friend, activist, coffee-drinker, beard-promoter, comma-lover, and bi-vocational pastor with Williamsburg Christian Church. He blogs at

JR Woodward is the co-founder of Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance, Director of Church Planting – V3, Author of Creating a Missional Cultureand Phd Student at the University of Manchester.  He blogs at

Wende Lance, after seven years in ministry at a traditional church in Ashland, Ohio, resigned her position to pursue a more missional lifestyle. Currently, she co-leads a missional community, continues her DMin studies at Northern Seminary, works as a realtor, and blogs sporadically at

Kevin Scott is co-pastor of a sustainable church plant in Noblesville, Indiana, acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing House, and a frequent speaker on how God brings redemption and healing in pockets of the kingdom. Kevin writes about sustainable Christianity at and is author of the forthcoming book, ReCreatable: How God Heals the Brokenness of Life (Kregel, March 2014).

Seth Richardson is an Anglican with anabaptist proclivities. His home base is St. Andrew’s Church in Little Rock, Arkansas where he oversees discipleship-related things. Seth has also been an adjunct instructor of hermeneutics at Ouachita Baptist University, and sometimes he explores lived theology on his blog, This Place.

Joshua Lee Henry is a missional leadership coach and also leads several ministries with Pathway Community Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He blogs at

Kevin Williams is the Minister of Evangelism at The Branch Church in Farmers Branch, Texas. He has two degrees from Abilene Christian University, a BA and MA in Christian Ministry, and most recently an MRE in Missional Leadership from Rochester College. Kevin and his wife, Jill, live in Dallas, TX and he blogs at

Josh Rowley is a pastor (teaching elder) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). For the past nine and a half years he has been serving with a church in San Carlos, California, and in June he will begin a new call in Vancouver, Washington (First Presbyterian). He have degrees from the University of Colorado, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary (where he studied missional leadership under Al Roxburgh and Mark Lau Branson). I blog

Scott is an avid reader of both theology and culture who has been taught more by his special needs students than he is aware. He has been attempting to cultivate communities of Jesus-followers in his hometown of Syracuse alongside his wife and three daughters. Blog:

Zach Hoag is an author, minister, and blogger living in the least religious city in the least religious state in the US: Burlington, Vt. He loves his insanely intelligent wife and two little girls, Gemma and Pippa (whose middle name is “Wright” because Zach also loves N.T. Wright). Zach blogs at

Faceless Brand?

interditeEven missional, our own term of choice, has become a confusing venture.  The idea of being missional is now attached to every kind of ministry in North America.  From megachurches branding their latest programs as missional to Protestant mainline churches using missional to promot a set of social justice programs, and anti-institutional types using missional to spell the end of the church, the term has become virtually meaningless.  Has missional just become another brand without any real meaning? – Prodigal Christianity (pg xxii-xxiv)

The Great Insinuation

“The whole work of the world against the community of faith is to insinuate that the Christian life is nice in its own way, but peripheral to the real world of human action.”  Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder