By Barry L. Davis
If you’ve been involved in ministry for any length of time, and been on the search for a new ministry opportunity, you’ve seen the terms “bivocational” and “part-time” thrown around pretty loosely to describe the role the seeking church expects their future minister to fill.
To the average person, part-time would describe someone who works under 40 hours per week, and most likely 20 or less. Bivocational means that in addition to the ministry, this person also works at another job as well. On its face, most of us would assume both of these are part-time positions, but in the church world, things can get a little muddy.
For instance, while some churches really mean it when they say they are not expecting the minister to work full-time, their actual requirements tell a different story. Here is an example of a church advertisement for a part-time position that was just recently published:
We are looking for a part time minister to take over for our current aging pastor. We are a small country church with a beautiful church building, Sunday School Rooms and fellowship hall. Position would include all the normal duties of a pastor who loves people, wants to help our church grow spiritually as well as attendance.
Teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, teach the members to witness and serve the Lord. To preach/teach in 3 services a week, as well as plan revivals and special functions. Be willing to visit the community, hospital and nursing homes. We are seeking a God called man who has a deep seated desire to serve the Lord and to lead his people in all aspects of a ministry.
This ad is fairly typical of what I see from churches looking for part-time/bivocational ministers. It is blatantly obvious that this church is not really looking for someone with minimal hours to devote to the church ministry. No matter how gifted you might be, you cannot preach/teach three services every week, do extensive visitation, and meet all of these other expectations on a part-time basis.
In these instances what the church is really saying is that they can only afford to pay you on the level of someone working part-time, but they are expecting you to put in full-time hours. While it is perfectly understandable that many churches do not have the finances to offer a full-time salary, it would be better, and certainly more honest, to say, “we need someone to fulfill all the duties of a full-time pastor, but we can’t afford to pay you what we’d like to.”
If you are looking for a ministry position and find one that is listed as part-time or bivocational, you would do well to ask the following questions before moving too far forward in the process:
1) Could you share with me how many times you are expecting me to preach and/or teach on an average week? (are you expecting me to lead a Sunday School Class, mid-week Bible Study, Small Group, etc…?)
2) Do the lay leaders of the church cover hospital and home visitation, or is that something you are wanting me to do exclusively?
3) Who is in charge of planning and implementing special services during the year, such as Holidays, Graduations, Fellowship Meals, etc…?
4) Will I be overseeing Weddings and Funerals?
Those should be enough to give you a good idea of what the expectations of the church really are. You can probably think of some more.
Please understand that none of this is written to discourage you from accepting a ministry role in a church that is not able to pay a full-time wage if that is what you believe God is calling you to. The purpose of this article is simply to help both you and the church walk into this relationship with a very clear idea of what the expectations are.
I’d love to see your Comments below. Have you been in part-time ministry? Share with us your experiences.
Barry L. Davis, D.Min., Ph.D.
Founder/Owner — The Pastor’s Helper