FIRST-PERSON: Bivocational ministry not just a 'rural' Issue
BARRE, Vt. (BP)--Though I grew up in a city, the Lord moved me to rural Vermont in 1993 to minister in small valley towns and mountain villages. I have had to adjust my thinking in many areas in order to relate to a more rural culture.
One of the first challenges I had to overcome was the concept that all "good" pastors are fully funded by their congregations and have the luxury of only serving the church as their vocation. I quickly realized that ministry in a rural area was most often going to be a bivocational experience.
I realized that just because a pastor had to be bivocational did not mean he had to be a second-class pastor. He could be just as trained and just as talented as his more urban peers. I even wrote a book to help provide some of that training. As I have promoted the book across the nation in a variety of venues, I have come to the realization that my thinking needs to be adjusted once again.
It has become obvious to me in the past 12 months that bivocational ministry is not just a rural issue. There are many small churches in urban areas that are also served capably by bivocational pastors. This might surprise some people because urban areas typically have better jobs and more financial resources than rural areas. Since this is the case, why would urban pastors need to be bivocational?
The simple answer is that though urban areas may have more financial resources, they are also much more expensive to live in than rural areas. Pastors have the same cost of living as everyone else; if they are serving urban areas they will need to make significantly more money than their rural counterparts. While a church of 75 committed adults with an average middle-class income may well be able fully to fund a pastor in a rural area, it is unlikely that the same size congregation in an urban area would be able fully to fund a pastor even though the church budget might be significantly higher. This is especially true if the rural church has a parsonage for the pastor to live in (as is often the case) but the urban church does not (which is also often the case).
This issue was reinforced in my mind earlier this month when I met with a denominational leader who serves 150 churches in the Philadelphia area. He told me that 70 percent of the pastors in those churches were bivocational. These are not rural churches. These are urban churches. Many of them are historic and have fine facilities in great locations. But they are no longer able fully to fund a pastor's salary. Fortunately, many men are willing to serve small churches because of their calling to ministry and their love for the saints. Pastors who serve small churches are not in it for the money, and most are not trying to "build a career." They are just trying faithfully to serve the Lord and grow His church.
Bivocational ministry is growing in America, and this is an issue that is not going away. The church must accept the reality of this and adapt to it so that all bivocational pastors can be resourced adequately -- whether they serve in a rural or urban area.
Terry Dorsett is director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association and the author of "Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church." For information, visit VermontBaptist.org. Visit his blog at TerryDorsett.com.