The Rise of Multi-Vocational Ministry

Urban Ministry, Side Hustles, and Integrating Your Calling 

March 25, 2024

The word vocation is derived from the Latin term vocatio, which means a “calling” or “summons.”  

A person’s vocation is bigger than their job. It is a sense of purpose often aligned with their skills, passions, and values. Ideally, a person would be drawn to their chosen career path not solely for financial reasons or convenience, but also because they feel a deeper sense of calling.

In the church, there are different words that have been used to describe vocational ministry. The first type of description is the leader who is serving in full-time vocational ministry. This often means their primary source of income is a local church or nonprofit. When that reality is not attainable, the person is often required to adopt a different approach. 

The “bi-vocational” moniker often communicates a distinctiveness and separation of two very different vocations. Most bi-vocational pastors carry out their primary calling in the context of a local church and then work a secular job to make ends meet. The goal is often to move toward full-time vocational ministry and, in many cases, is seen as a concession more than a preference. 

However, in recent years, there has been a more intentional shift to help pastors and leaders understand that multiple vocations can be united under a shared calling. This description is called “co-vocational,” and the prefix “co” means “together” or “with.” Being co-vocational communicates that the roles of pastor, realtor, insurance salesman, athlete, construction worker, barista, or any other type of job can be integrated under a single calling. In many cases, leaders are encouraged to be “co-vocational” for greater missional engagement.

But today, a new phrase is cropping up in the lexicon of ministry, and it’s being used to describe individuals who are integrating their calling across multiple disciplines and roles. Welcome to the rise of multi-vocational ministry. 

Urban D, Entrepreneurial Leader

To illustrate this approach, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine and one of three finalists at our annual “Shark Tank” event through Next Ventures. 

Tommy “Urban D” Kyllonen was first called to pastoral ministry more than 20 years ago. Prior to his first ministry assignment, he attended a well-known conservative seminary in the south and prepared to enter “full-time” vocational ministry. However, as his calling was refined and God began leading him to focus on urban youth, he realized he would need to take a radically different approach to ministry. Instead of reaching youth through one primary vocation, he would embark on a multi-vocational approach. 

Tommy is a local pastor. In the last 20 years, he has led Crossover Church through multiple building campaigns and grown the church from 40 people to well over 1,000. Outreach Magazine recognized Crossover as one of America’s Most Innovative Churches, and the church has been featured in major media outlets like USA Today, Newsweek, CBS News, and BET News. 

But Tommy is more than a local pastor. Finding new avenues to minister to urban youth has required him to adopt a multi-vocational mindset, and he is also an internationally known hip-hop artist who has released nine full-length albums. By leveraging a second vocation as a hip-hop artist, Tommy has been able to build bridges back to the church.  

In a recent interview, Tommy spoke about his work as an artist and how it was integrated into pastoring. He writes, “The thing that pushed us (Crossover Church) into the national spotlight was the fact that I got signed to a record label, and my new hip-hop CD was in Christian stores everywhere. As thousands of people bought the CD, they opened the insert and saw the picture inside that featured me and the hundreds of urban teenagers that were part of my youth.” 

Local pastor and national hip-hop artist are two of Tommy’s vocations, but his entrepreneurial nature has also driven him to serve as a fashion designer, producer, community leader, and author of six books. His most recent book, Gotta’ Be Da’ Shoes, unpacks the world of sneaker culture and identity. By adopting a multi-vocational approach, he has been able to not only add new revenue streams for ministry, but also creative ways to connect people to the gospel. 

This entrepreneurial mindset is often the essence of multi-vocational ministry, and what began primarily as an urban approach to ministry has now been trending in a variety of demographics across North America. The question is, “Why?”

Why the Rise in Multi-Vocational Ministry? 

There are a few factors causing this rapid rise in multi-vocational ministry. 

First is the growing resource challenge that many churches are facing as tithing diminishes and congregations evolve. This challenge has forced pastors and leaders to get more creative with funding models and new avenues of ministry. This resource challenge is no longer exclusive to those in urban America. 

Second is the changing ministry landscape. With fewer people seeking spiritual answers from the established church, a multi-vocational approach is often necessary for dialogue and community engagement. As the church pivots away from a programmatic or attractional approach, many pioneer leaders and church planters are finding the best way to build bridges is by adopting multiple vocations as inroads into the community. 

Third are the available opportunities that exist through emerging technologies. Leveraging new technology has allowed leaders to engage in various forms of ministry remotely, making it more feasible for them to fulfill multiple roles. The global pandemic familiarized most pastors with this mindset, and the continued explosion of e-commerce has also made it easier to start a new endeavor.

Fourth is the growing importance of specialized ministry. As culture continues to fragment and divide into hundreds and thousands of subgroups, each demographic has its own opportunities and needs. I have a friend who is a multi-vocational leader and feels called to reach those trapped in drug addiction and alcoholism. Not only does he pastor a recovery-based church, but also earns income as a social worker and recently started a new marketplace endeavor to help employ former addicts. All three of these endeavors are required to fund the ministry, and he has found a way to integrate each vocation under a single calling.

An Integrated Approach to Calling

If you are considering a multi-vocational approach to ministry, think through the overarching narrative that weaves together the different chapters of your vocational journey. This narrative can help make sense of your background, testimony, and how each role fits into the larger story of your life calling and purpose. 

Finding new ways to integrate your skills, passions, and various networks is important. I know an incredible business leader who is bringing organizational and managerial skills to their pastoral role, while at the same time using a passion for ministry to reach marketplace leaders across the city and integrating them into the church. 

Finally, remain adaptable and innovative. Multi-vocational leaders recognize the need to continue to innovate and adapt, knowing their calling may manifest in various ways across different contexts and seasons of life. 

While multi-vocational leadership is not for everyone, people like Tommy are finding incredible fruit from this innovative approach to ministry and helping people find their way back to God. 

. . .

Tommy and his “Flavor Fest” tour were recently given a significant financial grant as one of the top three finalists at our annual Shark Tank event through Next Ventures. Next Ventures is a program of Exponential Next that seeks to foster innovation by making a significant Kingdom investment in ministry practitioners committed to shaping what’s next for the future church.

If you have an innovative ministry or testimony you would like to share, we would love to connect! 

Jon Wiest

Jon Wiest

Jon Wiest (“West”) is the Co-Founder of Mobilize the Church, a global ministry mobilizing a growing wave of disciple makers, pioneer leaders, and church planters. He previously planted churches in Dallas, TX and Des Moines, IA and is the author of Banding Together and Pioneers. Jon has degrees from Wheaton College, Wesley Seminary, and a D.Min. in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. He is a rabid San Francisco 49ers fan, loves traveling, sports, and history, and currently lives in the Indianapolis, IN area with his wife and four daughters.
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