Taking the Leap into The Bivocational Space

If we are going to change tack and genuinely invest in a bivocational approach to mission and ministry then a first step would be coming to come to grips with just how stiff and unmalleable our imagination of the pastoral role can be.

It’s an imagination perpetuated by both pastor and church community. When pastors take up a ‘GP’ type role they end up feeling responsible for oversight of the whole church community. This isn’t bad. You can carry oversight responsibility without having to invest time in each activity or area. But wisdom and courage is required to discern where your limited time is best spent.

Note I used the phrase ‘limited time’. Seriously – we sometimes lead like time was an infinite resource, but reality is that even a full time pastor has limited time. You need to decide how many hours you are allocating to your pastoral role and then decide which activities you will need to invest most of your time in. You can’t be all things to all people all of the time.. Sorry – you just can’t… Or you can but you can expect to burn out, and feel angry, beaten up and misunderstood. But you are the one in control of your time, so you really can’t get all gnarly if you overcommit and end up with an overly full calendar.

If a good transition to a bivocational arrangement is going to happen then a conversation needs to be had with the church leaders and church community where there is agreement around the scope of the role. There is no point in a pastor drawing hard boundaries if no-one else is also subscribing to those boundaries. That is just a recipe for conflict. When we started at Quinns Baptist I somehow knew that I had 3 areas I could contribute to effectively – leadership & oversight, teaching and meeting with men. In 2 days of ministry these were going to be my priorities and foci.

What that looked like practically was:

a) allocating time for meeting with leaders both 1:1 and in groups, giving thought to future directions and ideas and addressing any challenges or conflicts that were happening. Mostly big picture & important people stuff.

b) teaching approx 50% of the time. I found I could generate a decent quality sermon if I stuck to this expectation. I would allocate 2-3 hours on a Monday morning for reading and exploration of the ideas, allow it all to percolate over the week and then on Friday morning I would switch off phones, wifi and any potential interruptions and crank out a word for word draft. Sometimes it would be dot pointed, but only if I knew my material well enough. That would take 2-3 hours. Then somewhere over the weekend I’d give it a ‘polish’ and make sure it all flowed. Teaching at blokes groups took very little prep as it was more about forming good questions to get men talking than imparting knowledge and information.

c) meeting with men happened ‘as needed’ and where I saw an opportunity. There was an intentional focus in my mind to spend time with men who were keen to move forward in their discipleship and faith. If you just want to attend church and tick the box then I won’t be chasing you.

Of course there was other stuff to do. I maintained the church website for many years, fielded emails from all the people who were seeking an opportunity to showcase their mission projects, did some marriage prep stuff, crisis meetings with families and other odds and ends – but I very rarely felt guilty or disappointed if the non-core stuff didn’t get done.

And I chose those 3 core activities based on my own gifts, the needs of the church and where I saw that I could make the greatest contribution. I

That’s how I hit it practically and it sounds pretty easy as I write it there. The challenge is that everything takes a long time to do because the time you can invest is more than halved. So if you’re a fast paced ‘go get em’ type then you may well find yourself frustrated that your ideas and plans aren’t being implemented quickly enough.

But then you have to step back and ask how important is it that the mens 4 x 4 club gets up and running asap? Or how critical is it that we establish a playgroup. Most stuff can wait and be done when you have the time – or – even better – it can be (and should be) delegated to people in the church

If you are already bivocational and frustrated then it may be

a) time for a serious conversation with leader and church to define the parameters of your role. That is for those who are feeling overwhelmed

b) for those who are feeling like everything is moving too slow it may be time to meet with a coach / spiritual director to reflect on why you are bothered by this and what is driving a need to ‘get there yesterday’.

I began this post suggesting that our imagination of church is too rigid and unmalleable – that the challenge for people going bivo is to come to a share understanding of what it means so that both pastor and church agree on steps forward. Perhaps a step in the right direction would be to get agreement around what constitutes a valid church community (theologically) and then to ask how many ways that can legitimately be expressed. If other alternatives can be imagined then they may also be worthy of consideration. Not all churches meet on Sundays in dedicated buildings led by theologically trained experts…

Of course there are different approaches to change processes. Some groups need a sharp, full frontal re-direction of their focus. Others need a more gentle approach. While I feel like I’d generally prefer to go softly, reality is that in most changes something needs to be broken, so it may even be better to just rip off the band-aid and get moving on a new direction.

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