Bivocational Ministry at its Best

Nov 06, 2002 03:00 AM EST

As the modern movement of "Intentional" bivocational pastors sweeps the nation, advocates speak on behalf of this form of ministry as ideal.

In Oklahoma City, Leon Wilson operates a used truck sales business along with leading a 600 member congregation. Similarly, Larry Lehr plays a double role of marketing coordinator for an educational institution as well as pasturing the Council Valley Baptist Church nearby.

In contrast to the orthodox "fulltime" position as pastors, these leaders in bivocational ministry present that fulltime ministry may be an extravagance. These bivocational leaders assert that if new churches are to be established at an accelerated rate, the 60-65 percent of churches that advocate fulltime pastors are not taking the ideal route.

"The reality is that those churches will have to be started and staffed by laypeople or bivocational ministers," said Wilson, who now serves as a national missionary for bivocational church planting with the North American Mission Board. "The challenge is to make such ministry just as valued and respected as those who are fully funded.

"The idea is not to try to get rid of this external job," Wilson added. "It's to build the church and to build the ministry."

Wilson accepted this role after 20 years in his pastorate as a way to fulfill his calling.

"I knew two things: God had called me to preach, but God had given me a family," he said. "And I knew he didn't want me to destroy one to do the other."

As a means of gaining financial support, Wilson first got involved in a family business, Wilson Truck Stores. Shortly thereafter, he decided to start a home church beginning with 13 members. As South Park Baptist Church grew, Wilson realized that though a full pastorate job be afforded to him, he found no reason to leave his secular career. His main argument stood for the need of pastors to interact with the secular world.

"I think every pastor needs five years out in the secular world," he said. "I found out what the real life was like, and then I began to love the ministry. ... Being out in the real world and knowing what people put up with, I was able to communicate this in the way I lived and the way I speak."

The church also was able to build more buildings and pay for them as they went, freeing up other funds. "We were able to do a lot of missions projects that we could not do if we were fully funding two or three staff members," he said.

For Bruce Grubbs, the dual roles as an associate vice president of corporate affairs with LifeWay Christian Resources and as pastor of Gladeville (Tenn.) Baptist Church allows him to do both jobs more efficiently because of the ability to ‘disconnect’ from one or the other at times.

"The benefit is you can walk away from one and go to the other, " he said. "There's a refreshing in that, so that you're not pushing on the same thing all the time."

Grubb’s congregation, though currently has the means to fund a full time pastor, chose to have the bivocational pastor continue his service.

"Over the course of four years the people had learned how to do ministry," he said, noting a primary role of the pastor at that time was pastoral care, and deacons had stepped into that role effectively. "It was theirs to do, and they didn't have to hire someone to get it done."Another benefit offered by this form of pasturing, according to Grubbs, is the specialization of skills. Grubbs who agreed to stay on as pastor, confessed that leadership and preaching are his primary gifts, while pastoral care is not. Therefore, he is able to limit his role to what he chooses.

"A lot of it has to do with church pride. When you get out in the associations, churches are prideful of being 'fulltime' and having a fulltime pastor," he said.

"Some of it is actually pride on the part of ministerial people," he added. "A whole bunch of people think themselves to be fulltime, but actually they are underemployed, under compensated, and it's not two years before they're heartbroken or their families are in trouble. They're brooding over a church situation that doesn't require them to do all that they can do."

Lehr, who serves as marketing coordinator for the Central Technology Center in Drumright, Okla., said he found himself getting a job in the career he trained for in college while ministering bivocationally first as an evangelist, then as a pastor. He's been at Council Valley Baptist church in Cushing, Okla., for 17 years.

"We've reached a point where we could look at making that a fully funded position, but I've asked the church not to do so because I feel those funds could be put to better use in ministry," he said. "We don't even talk about it anymore. It's assumed that we get a lot more done for the Lord when we concentrate on ministries and I keep my job."

Lehr argues that God calls both fully funded pastors and bivocational pastors. In fact, the bible, according to Lehr, is skewed toward bivocational leadership. Apostle Paul for example, was a tentmaker as well as a wandering preacher.

"I wish people would understand that if God calls men to be bivocational ministers, that means he had a purpose in churches being bivocational rather than calling fully funded pastors," he said. "The beauty of the bivocational ministry is that people in the church have to be involved in the ministry."

Bivocational pastors, according to Lehr, are more stable because they do not live under the "tyranny of church." They have the ability to move on toward a better position as a means to pay the mortgage and tend to their physical necessities. He, along with other advocates, believe that this form of ministry complement each other since the pastor will gain secular experiences

"We've got a lot of one-dimensional people in the world, and the beauty of this is you get to be a three-dimensional person -- with the secular job, the pastorate and your personal life," he said.

Though more than half of the U.S. deny this form of ministry, this nation moves increasingly toward this supplemental form of pastoral and critical services.

By Pauline J.