It is my mission to retire the word ‘bi-vocational’.
Not in the traditional sense—having more than one calling at the same time. I know clergy/doctors, clergy/landscape architects, clergy/teachers, clergy/guitar makers. This is wonderful. What I want to eliminate is calling ministry ‘bi-vocational’ when what we really mean for clergy is: You are not getting paid for your work so you have to work in the secular world to pay your bills so you can keep serving in ministry.
It shouldn’t have to be this way.
I know, the declining institutional church means more—maybe most—clergy serve part-time in congregations, and more—maybe most—congregations can no longer afford full-time salaries.
To me this means we have to take a clear-eyed look at what part-time ministry looks like and how we do it. It means that we must make part-time service with more than one congregation sustainable without being overwhelming.
In the past, we’ve tried yoking or clustering congregations, so one clergy person is in charge of multiple communities at the same time. This model rarely works. It generally leads to either competition between congregations for the clergy person’s time or the clergy person becoming completely exhausted trying to basically serve each congregation full-time. Or both!
There is a better way: Do less to serve more.
I serve a small congregation very part-time, about 10 hours a month! They’re very happy with my service, they know they can call me anytime they need me, and I have a very close pastoral relationship with them.
What makes it work is clear boundaries.
- I serve two Sundays a month, because that’s what part-time means.
- I serve on contract, defining my service rather than basically doing everything, and I’m paid by the hour.
- I’m not “in charge” of the congregation. I don’t have a key to the building; I don’t attend meetings (unless I’m specifically invited for a reason); and I don’t represent them in the larger church.
- Even after serving with them for 7 years, I still don’t know what their budget is! (It’s not my business).
My business is the ministry I share with them, and it’s clearly defined:
- I walk alongside them, wondering where God is in all we do.
- I lead worship and prayer when assigned.
- I offer pastoral care and support members in the pastoral care of each other—when I’m asked.
- I train and support them in their liturgical roles, and I’m there for counsel and theological interpretation as they request it.
Defining my role and work as clergy helps me serve as I’m called.
Instead of being assigned (or signing up) to serve three or four congregations at once, I contract with one congregation, and beyond that I can serve in any other way I want. I can contract with one (or more) different congregations, one at a time (not all yoked together), and digital ministry means they don’t even have to be in the same geographic area.
Personally, I serve the rest of my time in creative ministry: teaching, consulting, coaching, and overseeing my own ministry. All this together is how I have one vocation, can pay my bills and also do the work I’m called to do.
I know this is how we end the kind of bi-vocationalism that forces clergy to do work they’re not called to do, and supports their work in ministry full-time as they are called. It helps us serve sustainably and avoid clergy burnout.
Clear ministry identity and task-based contracts help create the boundaries that make it sustainable to serve multiple congregations without being overwhelmed. It can also help you start your own creative ministry, or serve both part-time and in creative ministry, like I do.
It’s all part of reimagining ministry for the future of church.
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