Living Fully Called But Not Fully Funded
Takeaways from Plant LB’s conference focusing on bivocational planters and pastors
What are the tensions in leading and shepherding bivocational and full-time staff in the same church or ministry? Is bivocational ministry a part of a future solution toward more equitable funding models? How do we prepare students for ministry post-college? How do bivocational leaders carve out and protect family priorities? How do they take a break?
Coming alongside bivocational planters to wrestle with these and other areas, the church planting network Plant LB in Long Beach, California, recently hosted #BiVo, a one-day mini-conference for leaders involved in or considering tentmaker ministry. Church planting networks MissionOC, Los Angeles Church Planting Movement and PlanterCoach served as sponsors.
The gathering which included 35 churches, featured an interactive workshop led by BiVo author Hugh Halter and a panel session of diverse local church and parachurch who addressed the reality of bivocational ministry: Joe Ginder (First Friends Church bivocational pastor); Tom Demorest (planted City Lights Church seven years ago, bookkeeper); Hector Mora (planted Vision Church LB 9 months ago); Kristy Robinson (LaFe, InterVarsity’s Latino ministry); and Olivia Barajas (Destino, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Latino ministry).
Some panelists were leaders within large parachurch organizations working to address the bivocational reality facing non-majority culture student leaders Other panelists were pastors (planters and working in established churches) who work fields ranging from retail to computer science. All are living out the bivocational joys and hardships daily, says Plant LB Director Eric Marsh.
Below in this Q&A, Marsh offers his take on the one-day conference and what the Church at large can do to prepare for what he and others believe is an increasing reality—and opportunity—to make and multiply disciples.
Eric, what motivated Plant LB to host a gathering for bivocational planters? Do you sense increasing momentum bivocational planting?
Being paid to work full time in ministry will not be the norm for most people in a post-Christian culture. So #BiVo was about helping position us for the reality of ministry in the future (and now) and helping planters leverage their gifts into their calling. We hosted #BiVo for two specific reasons:
- Many of the church planters who have planted in Long Beach are bivocational. Some are doing it by choice, but for many, bivocational is the way we have to think about planting churches in a city context. The “Here’s $250,000, now go plant a church of 400 quickly” model is very, very difficult in cities.
- We are hearing about more and more groups wrestling with the bivocational question. Big churches and non-profits like Crusade and Intervarsity are being forced to think creatively about staffing.
What were some of the most significant takeaways for leaders who attended #BiVo?
We heard so many good things—really had good feedback. Some of the key points of the day:
- We are called to be equippers of the saints. Hugh Halter kept reminding us that being bivocational necessitates training others to be the Church rather than depend upon someone being paid to do the tasks the congregation wants done.
- Being bivocational is not easy, but it is more than a burden. Having another “day job” allows for more interaction with non-Christians and shapes the way a church (or parachurch) understands the broader culture.
- There is great risk (and potential reward) for the kind of faith needed to embark on a bivocational calling. We heard story after story (both from Hugh and the panel) of Jesus showing up in surprising situations that may not have happened if the leader wasn’t working outside the church.
Eric, how does what Plant LB heard in this gathering about the needs of bivocational planters change or enhance what Plant LB will be doing in the months and years ahead?
We don’t have our learnings back from the planters yet, but a couple of things seem to stand out:
- Planters need to hear (as they did during #BiVo) that the tensions they’re dealing with are normal. There are ways to get better at managing time and the struggle between work1 and work2, but there is no magic pill to solve the BiVo question.
- Planters need to be loved and pastored. One of the gifts of the time was that it was very Christo-centric. It was impossible to walk out not being more in love with Jesus and realizing how much He adores each of us.
After the conference, 15 planters and four senior leaders spent an additional 90 minutes with Hugh asking him questions, so we know that supporting bivocational leaders is a great need.
What does the church planting world need to know to do a better job of coming alongside bivocational planters?
I think what Hugh will be doing in the fall at Exponential West with leading the Bivocational Forum will be very helpful. Additionally, the more Exponential gives voice to leaders from non-majority cultures, the more we will all realize we have much to learn from our Asian-American, Latino and African-American sisters and brothers.
Overheard at #BiVo 2014:
“It costs a lot to make a church attendee. It costs a lot less to make a disciple.” (Hugh Halter)
“Bivocational ministry opens up the door to ministry opportunities that otherwise would not be an option. By being open to only working part time, we are able to launch churches in the lower income/high needs communities that may seem undesirable yet have an obvious need for the light of Christ.” (Tom Demorest)
“Bivocational ministry has enhanced my appreciation for my non-Christian colleagues as image bearers.” (Olivia Barajas)
“Equitable systems that value bivocational staff have to change structures to allow for bivocational leadership at any level.” (Halter)
“You should spend as much time planning your Sabbath as you do your church events. Your family deserves it.” (Hector Mora)
“Increase the channels of communication with your family. The more they know about your schedule, the more they will have the right expectations of your family time.” (Mora)
“Don’t be afraid to be transparent with your church about your schedule.” (Mora)
“Ninety percent of paid pastors aren’t happy with their jobs, but they stay because it’s what pays the bills.” (Halter)
“Mission is going; incarnational is how you are going.” (Halter)
Hugh Halter will lead the upcoming Bivocational Forum at Exponential West, where he and other leaders will address key tensions of living fully called but not fully funded. For more information and to register, click here.