As I have heard denominational officials and church commentators advise “bivocational ministry” as a way forward for the struggling congregations, I have been deeply uncomfortable.
Not that there isn’t a great history and tradition of pastors who have jobs and careers outside of the church. There is. And where it works it has added greatly to the work of God’s Kingdom.
But there is some theological dishonesty underlying the current conversation about bivocational ministry.
The first of these lies about bivocational ministry is the assumption that vocation = paycheck. Read more in the first post in this series.
This posts looks at another way that our conversation about bivocational ministry diminishes our theology of vocation. But first, some background.
Vocation & the Reformation
There were lots of jobs. Lots of ways to spend one’s life. But if you were to talk about “vocation,” you invariably meant someone who was taking vows of either priesthood or monastic life.
Along came the reformer Martin Luther, and re-purposed the idea of vocation.
For Luther, every Christian had a calling from God – a holy vocation given by God.
Monastic vows rest on the false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation, to which superior Christians are invited to observe the counsels of perfection while ordinary Christians fulfill only the commands; but there simply is no special religious vocation since the call of God comes to each at the common tasks.
Luther democratized the concept of vocation, lifting up the vocations of the non-religious life. He talked about the holiness not only of a variety of professions, but of the vocations of everyday life.
Prior to the Reformation, vocation was a rare thing – reserved for the religious elite. For Luther and those who followed in his footsteps, vocation was woven into the fabric of all life.
And there’s the rub.
If Luther is right, and vocation is more than religious work, then I already have multiple overlapping vocations.
To name just a few: I have the vocations of being a father, son, citizen, spouse, volunteer, and sibling.
And this is true for each and every one of us.
We have many vocations throughout our lives – and each of them is holy and God-given.
Let’s be clear. I am in favor of inviting clergy and everyone else to have more than one vocation. That is not my issue with the idea of bivocational ministry. Because all clergy have multiple vocations, even if they only get paid for one.
The Second Lie of Bivocational Ministry
Intentionally or not, when we ask our clergy to “become bivocational” we cheapen the idea of vocation. From the Reformation idea of the holiness of ordinary life, vocation becomes “things that pay you money.”
“Pastor,” we say, “we are glad you have a vocation. If you would have one more vocation we could pay you less.”
However, we can add many, many vocations without getting a single paycheck. And those vocations would be holy and important – just not paid.
There’s the first lie of bivocational ministry again: That vocation can be reduced to a paycheck.
And the second lie of bivocation ministry comes right on its heels: a diminishing of all the vocations that are not “professions.”
To believe that bivocational ministry is something we should aspire to requires also believing that we only have one vocation – that all those others things we do are not vocations. The way we talk about bivocational ministry has an affect of undoing the democratization of vocation, and hiding the beautiful holiness that the Reformation found in everyday life.
Every one of is multi-vocational already.
I am not arguing that we shouldn’t talk about different ways of funding ministry. That is the reality for many of our ministries already, and I expect that it will be for many more as we move forward.
But the way we talk about that funding matters. We need to find language that values all of the vocations to which God calls us, and invites both congregations and professional clergy to be honest about what is expected of each of them.