Tuesday, April 11, 2006

bi-vocational realities

Si Johnson writes: I would also want to suggest that it might be right for that person to opt out after 5 years and live ‘a life more ordinary’ so that a.n.other might step into that place for a season … I think our new terrain for mission requires a serious look at the training grounds for leaders, the growing of new streamlined infrastructures for supporting less full-time leaders which in turn must be coupled with a pro-active move towards ‘bi-vocational leadership’ for more people. Link

Reading this, I suddenly realised that I have been bi-vocational for all of my (11) years of church ministry life.

Year 1-3: Planting Graceway 2.5 days/week while studying at Seminary.

Year 4-5: Pastoring Graceway 3 days/week and househusband to our first born daughter, Shannon.

Year 6-8: Pastoring Graceway 3 days/week and doing my PhD.

Year 9: Co-pastoring Graceway 1 day/week and completing my PhD.

Year 10-today: Pastoring Opawa 3 days/week and lecturing 2 days/week.

Some observations 11 years down the track:
I am richer for the experience. The reality though is that I have a unique skill set and I am not sure I want to make my skill set the norm for everyone.

My community is richer for the experience. Six months after I arrived at Opawa, one of the church leaders said, “Steve, you’re like us. You work outside the church too.” At that retreat we adopted a core value: a workplace reality and a worship that engages with life 24/7: And we decided we would seek part-time staff as the church grew. Now we have 7. The reality is that it is really hard for me to now effectively build relationship and I don’t feel I’m doing all that well being team with 7 people, let alone 10 ministry leaders.

I am richer because I feel less owned. Church is not my life. I have to walk away, to close the laptop and move to another employer. It has made it easier to build a team and has freed me from a number of traditional church minister expectations. But the reality is that serving two masters is hard, hard work. I rarely do less than a 50 hour week.

The worst time is when both demand a bit extra. Like last week. It requires a pretty flexible family. I know that most workplaces demand more than 50 hours. But I worry that all I am doing is modelling the “hey, I’m important because I’m busy” culture rather than a Kingdom culture.

Posted by steve at 01:59 PM


  1. I dunno. My first off the cuff thought was that this sounds more Jesus like in it’s diversity

    he was ministering to the people at large and differently to his disciples – and they had a habit of demanding more hours of him than perhaps he had intended (e.g. the storm and the snooze and the rude awakening)

    Has ministry ever been plane sailing (pun intended) or has it always been this way?

    I think if I think about Paul I can see some push-pull too…

    Comment by Randall — April 11, 2006 @ 4:25 pm

  2. Ever had the desire to work outside of Christian orginizations alongside Opawa? if so, what would you do?

    Comment by Jas — April 11, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  3. the problem comes when one is tri or quad or quint-vocational, I have a sneaking suspicion that much of my ill health over the last year has been due to previous tri-vocational and other situations.

    youth working for a church/high school chaplaincing/working in a supermarket/studying isn’t that healthy, neither is youth working for a church/working in a petrol station/working at david jones…

    while bivocational models might work/be necessary for newer models of church, simply cause the denominations with buckets of money wont hand it over, I currently think that the church sees working for it as a privilege, something that I should be happy to do while I earn money elsewhere cause there’s no way i can live on their wages…

    while we might need to be prepared to live bi-vocationally i wish the church for once would be prepared to fork out enough so it’s not necessary to do so occasionally…

    Comment by darren — April 12, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  4. Well done Steve. I too am tri-vocational and enjoy the cut and thrust. I was offered a full time vocation in the church but decided against it. I just felt the variety keeps me honest and creates a tension which more accurately maps life for most people. This is not a value statement just a reflection of reality.

    Comment by Craig — April 17, 2006 @ 9:50 pm

  5. Thanks Craig.

    Comment by steve — April 18, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  6. Steve, Excellent to highlight the bi-vocational role – not least because every Christian should have a ‘ministry’ role in at least 2 or 3 spheres of life! Whatever combination of spiritual care or service takes place through our roles in our home, workplace or church it is all ministry before God. Half of our eldership team is deliberately composed of men who work full-time in careers other than the church so that we can demonstrate ‘real’ Christian life and ministry. However, I agree it can take its toll in terms of hours, particularly when demands collide in the space of few days. However, be encouraged – a model of service that does not limit Christian ministry to a full-time professional pastorate is exactly what God intends.

    Comment by Hugh Griffiths — April 19, 2006 @ 3:38 am

  7. thanks hugh. does that mean that the other half of your eldership are women who do stuff in the church? that’s an interesting approach.

    Comment by steve — April 19, 2006 @ 8:02 pm

  8. Although our elders are all men in line with our convictions about governmental roles in the church, we do model a broad range of female leadership in other major non-governmental ministry roles ministry areas (www.lifechangingchurch.org). For example, women lead ministry to our student body, practical outreach to the poor, our worship team as well as the more usual ministry to children. Again, we are keen to demonstrate the breadth of God’s intent for ministry by involving as many men and women as possible according to their gifting.

    Comment by Hugh Griffiths — April 19, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

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