What if having a job outside of your church turned out to be one of the greatest blessings that you have ever experienced in your pastoral life?
Though full-time vocational ministry may be commonplace in America, this phenomenon is only about 100 years old. Before pastors worked full-time in churches, they had jobs in their communities which allowed the gospel to flow to and through their work. With the financial implications of COVID-19, maybe it’s time to consider the positive aspects of bivocational and covocational ministry.
Rethinking bivocational ministry
The word vocation comes from the Latin word “vocatio,” meaning “a call or summons.” The thought references an occupational calling. A proper biblical understanding is that all believers have a calling to leverage their vocation — their job — for the glory of God.
The common use of the phrase “bivocational pastor” refers to someone who serves a church that is unable to compensate a pastor with a full-time salary. Therefore, the pastor must work a job outside of the church to supplement his income.
While there are plenty of bivocational pastors who work secondary jobs as a necessity, there are others who actually choose to fund their ministry through outside employment. Through the years the language of “tentmaker,” — referring to the Apostle Paul’s vocation mentioned in Acts 18 — has been used to define this type of pastor. Enter the term “covocational pastor.” In his e-book, “Covocational Church Planting,” missiologist Brad Brisco differentiates bivocational and covocational as follows:
“A ‘bivo’ planter is one who has a marketplace job (the tentmaker mentioned earlier) that is viewed as somewhat temporary. The planter’s hope is that the church plant will eventually be positioned to provide the financial support for the planter to leave a bivo job to focus full time on the church. A ‘covo’ planter, on the other hand, is one who has a clear and definite calling in the marketplace that they never intend to leave. They know God has called them to be a teacher, mechanic or doctor and they desire to weave that calling into the plan to start a new church.”
Covocational pastors see a benefit in not overloading their church with a salary package that would be difficult to maintain. This lightening of the budget allows the church to focus on additional ministry. It is a shared vision of the church that sees the shepherd as a leader, a co-laborer in ministry, and not as an employee. Covocational ministry is seen as a blessing, not as a burden.
As pastors, we must ask ourselves: How much contact does our church job give us to people outside of our churches?
‘Tentmaking’ as an evangelistic strategy
While making tents was Paul’s vocation and the way he supported his ongoing ministry, it was also meant to be an example to the church. In Acts 20:34-35, Paul points to his profession to demonstrate the application of Jesus’ teaching in action by quoting “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul’s job gave him access to the world he was trying to reach. As Paul worked, he shared Jesus with those in the marketplace.
The days when a pastor was honored as having a calling above any secular employment may be disappearing. However, when a pastor works outside of the church, his vocation can bring him credibility with the community that would be hard to attain if he wasn’t in the marketplace. These workplace relationships can bring opportunities to share the gospel with people who would otherwise not be part of the pastor’s world. As pastors, we must ask ourselves: How much contact does our church job give us to people outside of our churches?
Pastors, covocational ministry isn’t just about having a job outside of your church. It’s about a different, missional way of supporting God’s calling upon our lives. In this time of unexpected financial challenges for the vocational pastor, perhaps bivocational or covocational ministry is not a burden but a blessing in our desire to expand God’s kingdom.