Interview questions

  1. Describe your call to pastoral ministry.
  2. How did you prepare for pastoral ministry? Education, etc.
  3. What is your other job? What kind of training/preparation did you do for that job?
  4. Is this church your first pastorate? If not, were you ever employed full-time as a pastor? If so, how did you feel about having to be bi-vocational?
  5. In terms of hours per week, how much time do you devote to church work? How much time to your other job?
  6. How do you prioritize your ministry tasks? What do you consider to be the top three things you do in a week?
  7. Do you ever feel the congregation expects more of you than you can give as a bi-vocational pastor?
  8. Income: what percentage from the church; what percentage from your other job?
  9. Has your other job ever come into conflict with the church or vice versa? Example: What happens when someone in the congregation dies? How does the extra time you must spend in church work affect your other job?
  10. How do you handle the stress of bi-vocational ministry? Self-care. Boundaries.
  11. What advantages have you found to being a bi-vocational pastor?
  12. What disadvantages have you found in being a bi-vocational pastor?
  13. How could a seminary or Bible college better prepare people for bi-vocational pastoral ministry?

  1. What would you consider to be the three most important things a pastor does?
  2. In your church, who is responsible for the following ministries?
    1. Leading worship
    2. Preaching
    3. Rites of passage
    4. Pastoral care
    5. Encouraging spiritual development
    6. Outreach
    7. Church administration
  3. Which pastoral duties does the congregation take on since the pastor is not full-time?
  4. What things just don’t get done??
  5. Do you know what your pastor’s other job is?
  6. How much time (hours in a week) do you think your pastor spends on church work? How much time do you think they spend on their other job?
  7. How satisfied are you with your pastor’s ministry?
  8. Has your pastor’s other job ever come into conflict with the church or vice versa? Example: What happens when someone in the congregation dies? Has it ever created a problem between the church and your pastor’s other place of employment?
  9. What advantages have you found to having a bi-vocational pastor?
  10. What disadvantages have you found in having a bi-vocational pastor?
  11. How could a seminary or Bible college better prepare people for bi-vocational pastoral ministry?

Research quantifications

  1. 17 churches
  2. 18 pastors
  3. 87 individual congregants (16 when grouped)

What constitutes “the call” is never a simple answer, nor is it usually a straightforward path. One might feel the call at a young age, but not seek it out until later in life. While others may not feel the call until they’re adults with families and careers. For others, it’s not a simple step-by-step process, but a gradual one. There was great diversity in the responses regarding the call. One pastor said that they had the call at an early age but they weren’t “worthy of having”, and didn’t head it until they were “saved” later in life. Another worked with Catholic nuns in Latin America, but eventually sought out ministry work outside of the Catholic Church because she couldn’t be ordained as a priest. Another felt the call after praying to God if their bills were fully paid, then they would serve him. Surely enough, all of the bills were paid off and they began the path of ministry. These are just a few of the examples of the personal experiences shared by the pastors.

Of the 18 pastors interviewed:

  1. 11 (61%) felt the call as an adult
  2. 6 (33%) felt it as a child
  3. 1 (6%) stated that it was a gradual process.
  4. 4 (22%) didn’t even originally plan to go into parish ministry.

The training and education needed to go into ministry were also diverse, but more evenly distributed:

  1. 7 (38 %) earned an M.Div. after college
  2. 5 (27%) earned an M.Div. after a Masters or Doctorate
  3. 4 (22%) didn’t have an M.Div. but were recorded or otherwise had continuing education classes
  4. 2 (11%) had degrees in theology, rather than divinity

The other aspect of the pastors more diverse than the details of their calling and education were their secular jobs. Almost everyone had some sort of other job or career that they divided between their time at their respective churches. Some worked full time; others part time; and others had odd jobs or were once bi-employed in the beginning of their ministry. Some worked at their own schedules and others had weekday 9-5 jobs.

  1. 5 (28%) worked in retail (management, food and customer service)
  2. 3 (17%) worked in healthcare
  3. 2 (11%) worked in education
  4. 1 (6%) in administration/networking
  5. 1(6%) is in finance
  6. 1(6%) is in sales
  7. 1(6%) is in communications/media
  8. 1 (6%) is a stay at home parent
  9. 1(6%) has no secular job, but works in multiple churches
  10. 1(6%) volunteers at a museum while collecting Social Security and retirement from a former church
  11. 1 (6%) was bi-vocational in the beginning of their ministry, but currently doesn’t work

Of these jobs:

  1. 5 (28%) considered themselves part-time
  2. 7 (38%) were full-time
  3. 2 (11%) were salaried
  4. 1(6%) said their job was project based
  5. 2 (11%) stated their hours fluctuate.

Time spent at their respective churches :

  1. 2 (11%) spend 5-10 hours weekly
  2. 2 (11%) spend 10-15 hours
  3. 3 (17%) spend 15-20 hours
  4. 5 (28%) spends 20 hours or more
  5. 5 (28%) didn’t definitively answer (namely, hours depend on what’s needed, certain things like driving are not counted towards ministry, etc.)
  6. 1 (6%) said that they spent 8-12 hours any given week.

One thing to note is that while they are all considered part-time, many stated that they realistically work closer to full time; primarily in pastoral care, running errands for the church, and preparing sermons.

In regard to the congregations, virtually everyone knew of their pastors other jobs and were generally very understanding of the challenges that come with having a bi-vocational pastor, which will be discussed later.

The congregations (as a whole, not individually) on the time they think their pastors spend on ministry:

  1. 1 (6%) said 5-10 hours
  2. 1 (6%) said 10-15
  3. 9 (56%) said 20 hours or more
  4. 5 (31%) didn’t definitively answer

Everyone, both the pastors and the congregations, firmly believed that there are certain tasks and aspects related to ministry that were most expected of a church leader.

Among the pastors

  1. The most common task answer was preparing a sermon/pastoring/worship, with 12 (66%) of the pastors stating it.
  2. The second most common was Pastoral care with 9 (50%)
  3. 4 (22%) answered with being a leader/pastoral relationships
  4. 3 (17%) did not give examples
  5. 3 (17%)  answered with outreach
  6. 2 (11%) with administration
  7. All of the following had one each: Eucharist/communion, teaching, creating a good church environment, funerals and marriages, making one accessible to the congregation, finances and prayer.

Among the congregations (as a group):

  1. Preparing a sermon/pastoring/worship was the most common with 12 (75%).
  2. Pastoral care with 9 (56%)
  3. Being a leader with 6 (38%)
  4. 3 (19%) congregations did not answer
  5. 2 (13%) said outreach
  6. 2 (13%) said administration
  7. All of the following had one each: prayer, making one accessible to the congregation, attendance, self-care, dedication to the youth of the church.

With the exception of one church with co-pastors, all of the churches didn’t have someone who could take care of all ministerial responsibilities. As such, the majority of the churches had members of the congregation (as individuals) who took on various tasks if the pastor wasn’t able to do so.

  1. 11 (13%) were in administration
  2. 9 (10%) were in outreach
  3. 9 (10%) worked in education (Sunday school, etc.)
  4. 8 (9%) were currently or formerly a deacon
  5. 8 (9%) were currently or formerly a treasurer
  6. 8 (9%) worked as a secretary
  7. 8 (9%) of the interviewees had no role in the church/are regular church attendees
  8. 7 (8%) were a part of the ministry and council
  9. 7 (8%) worked in music
  10. 6 (7%) assisted with pastoral care
  11. 6 (7%) assisted the pastor (writing sermons, occasionally pastoring, Sunday worship, etc.)
  12. 5 (6%) worked in maintenance/groundskeeping
  13. 5 (6%) are on the church committee
  14. 5 (6%) handled funerals and marriages
  15. 4 (5%) worked on the boards of trustees
  16. 3 (3%) were vice moderators
  17. 3 (3%) assist with general church help
  18. Other roles taken on by only one or two people included roles like communications, media, announcements, newsletters, superintendents, board member and kitchen staff.

However, even with the best efforts of the pastor and congregation, not everything is able to be done; sometimes with the pastors secular job causing conflict with scheduling.

Pastor responses

  1. 5 (27%) stated that there were no conflicts between their job and their church; often sitting job schedule flexibility
  2. 5 (27%) did not answer the question
  3. 4 (22%) said there are some scheduling conflicts, but that there is usually someone willing to take on a task at the church.
  4. 1 (6%) said there was in the beginning, but not anymore
  5. 1 (6%) said the conflict mostly comes from the secular job and not from the church
  6. 1 (6%) said that there was in their previous job, but not currently.

The congregation answers were rather unique, as most said that there was no conflict between their pastors ministry and their jobs (usually due to letting them know if they are going to miss anything or having flexible hours); but most who said they did have see a potential conflict usually referred to the pastors well being of balancing two vocations. Or about their pastor’s general demeanor and style.

Congregation responses (as a whole, not individually)

  1. 10 (63%) said there were no conflicts
  2. 2 (13%) did not answer
  3. 1(6%) said that the pastor wants to be full time, but they are worried about them burning from already having a full-time job
  4. 1(6%) said that their pastor was too serious in their vocation
  5. 1(6%) was worried that their ministry could potentially take away time from their family
  6. 1(6%) stated that they thought their minister was putting too much focus on non-ministry tasks and personal life.

As aforementioned, there were tasks that the congregation felt that, despite the minister’s best efforts, can’t realistically be met.

  1. 5 (31%) did not give an answer
  2. 4 (25%) said that there wasn’t much that couldn’t get done
  3. 3 (19%) said that there was limited communication between the church and the pastor
  4. 2 (13%) said general time/schedule constraints
  5. all of the following had one each: limited outreach, pastoral care, business/finances, limited church and social events, no youth group, no Bible study, lack of mentorships

As time goes on, the need for ministers to have a second job in addition to their call is growing. The fact of the matter is, changes in church attendance and public religious identification greatly affect the probability of one being a full-time minister. Even Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States at around 16 million, increasingly have the need for bi-vocational ministers. With bi-vocation comes both advantages and disadvantages with one’s ministry; as well as what seminaries ought to do to prepare their studn=ents with the reality of bi-vocation.

Advantages of being bi-vocational among the pastors:

  1. 9 (50%) said that having a secular job enhances their ministry (“real world” experience, meeting people out of their church, etc.)
  2. 2 (11%) said schedule flexibility
  3. 2 (11%) said being a part-time minister is easier on the church
  4. 2 (11%) said being bi-vocational forces one to be honest about their abilities (what they can and can’t realistically do)
  5. 1 (6%) said working in multiple churches gives the opportunity to expand ministry
  6. 1 (6%) said that being a part-time minister increases the availability of other churches.

Disadvantages of being bi-vocational among the pastors:

  1. 9 (50%) said there was some schedule/time management conflict
  2. 3 (17%) said lack of time for church
  3. 2 (11%) said financial compensation for ministry
  4. 2 (11%) said lack of time with family
  5. 2 (11%) said there was a lengthy commute
  6. 2 (11%) stated general stress
  7. All of the following had one each: limited outreach, didn’t like their secular job, worry for the future, didn’t answer, and that there was no disadvantage with being bi-vocational

Advantages of being bi-vocational according to the congregation members

  1. 10 (11%) said that the minister having a secular job enhances their ministry
  2. 8 (9%) said having a part-time minister is easy on the church financially
  3. 3 (4%) said having a part-time pastor makes the congregation as a whole more active in the church
  4. The following have 1 answer each: pastor uses limited time proficiently, schedule flexibility, the church has greatly improved with the pastor, didn’t answer, views part-time ministry as a stepping stone into full-time ministry, no work overload for the pastor, having co-pastors is equivalent to having 1 full-time pastor, being part-time shows that the pastor really wanted to be there.

Disadvantages of being bi-vocational according to the congregation members

  1. 7 (8%) said stated lack of time for church/limited schedule
  2. 4 (5%) didn’t answer
  3. The following had one response each: pastor has a lack of time for family, not having someone full-time, lack of age diversity at church, lower expectations of pastor since they’re part-time, lots of pressure on the pastor, limited payroll, limited outreach

Pastors:

  1. 7 (39%) said being honest about the realities of ministry (the future of the church, lack of payment, etc.)
  2. 4 (22%) said that the schools should bring in bi-vocational pastors to tell of their experiences
  3. 3 (17%) said that there should be an emphasis on counseling, support, and mentorships for the students
  4. 2 (11%) said to find a non-religious job while one is in seminary
  5. 2 (11%) didn’t answer
  6. The following had one answer each: student’s individual experiences should be embraced, teaching time management, bi-vocation doesn’t mean one is a failure, finding a job that compliments ministry, enhancing one’s secular resume to show valid pastor experience, self-care, teaching more practical lessons and less theory.

Congregational:

  1. 3 (3%) said to find a job willing to be flexible
  2. 3 (3%) said time management
  3. 2 (2%) said there should be more emphasis on outreach
  4. 2 (2%) said that the secular job should be part-time
  5. 2 (2%) said that there should be an emphasis on building communication skills
  6. 2 (2%) said there should be an internship along with studies
  7. The following had one answer each: expand the meaning of ministry, be open about the pastor’s needs and demands, the pastor should know about the congregation’s expectations, that what is going to work greatly depends on the congregation’s geographical location, learn practical people skills, learn a vocation alongside seminary, realizing talents that can make a living, prayer, organizational skills, the schools should ease any nervousness about being bi-vocational, the pastor should learn to set limits, that ministry is not merely a job but a calling, teach about handling finances, and didn’t answer

Summary report

ESR has received a grant from the Lilly Foundation to explore the topic of Bi-vocational Ministry. For the purposes of this project, we shall use a working definition of bi-vocational ministry as when a pastor of a congregation works less than full time and also works at another vocation or job for the purpose of increased financial support.  This is relatively common in areas in which churches are small (under ~200 members) such as in the rural Midwest.

The objective of the study is to understand bi-vocational ministry from a number of different perspectives and in a number of different dimensions.

The end product of this study will be a presentation in 2015 at the Pastor’s Conference on the topic of Bivocational Ministry.

The aim of this account is to report on the findings of five preliminary interviews that were used to develop the discussion guide.

  • 3 In-depth telephone interviews with 3 bi-vocational pastors
  • 2 Interviews with 2 congregation members

Below are the findings from this limited sample.  These results are very preliminary and should be used only in developing hypotheses for further exploration in more interviews and should not be taken as indicative of a broader group.

Self-definition:  The three ministers who were spoken to all defined themselves first and foremost as pastors, and that their other paying work was not their purpose.  They related this to their calling, that they had a calling to be a pastor, and that is what God wanted them to do.  At least one seemed to feel that the other work was the means that God provided in order for the ministry work to happen.    When discussing the alternative, that the other job is the primary source of income and that the church was tent-making, they didn’t relate to it very well.  This may only reflect the sample of these three ministers.

Who these ministers are:  All three of those people who participated in this small sample of interviews were career changers, who had worked in another area first and then gone back to school to get prepared to be a minister.  In these cases, their previous occupations gave them skills that enabled them to earn money in a separate manner – two as substitute teachers, and the other as a financial planner.    None of them would choose bi-vocational ministry if they had a choice, they would like to devote all their time to the church.  As one said, “I would prefer not to be bi-vocational… there’s a lot of things that I could be doing that I’m not for the church.”  That person continued on to say< “If you are going to minister properly in my view, you can’t do that part-time.”  They recognize the trade-off they are making, but all freely chose to be in the place they are in, one of them turning down a full-time position to take a part-time position because of geographic location.

Income:   Of the three interviewees, at least half of their income comes from outside the church.

How they spend their time:  The three bi-vocational ministers I spoke to devote at least the equivalent time of a full-time job to their ministry (~40 hours per week) and also spend 30 to 40 hours per week at their supplemental work.  They all seem to work a total of about 80 hours a week.  Because this sample is only of bi-vocational ministers, it is unclear how this workload compares to those pastors who don’t hold outside jobs.

Of the seven tasks that the Unitarian Universalist denomination identifies as tasks of a pastor (listed below), these pastors feel that they are obligated to work at all of them.  If there is one that they can let go of, it is witness to the outside community.  For one of them, the congregation explicitly takes on that witness role. These bi-vocational ministers also may occasionally make less than an ideal effort at worship preparation, taking a shortcut because they feel it is invisible and the least likely to be detected. If they need to make a hospital visit, then that’s where they cut.  But if they aren’t available when they are needed in a crisis or don’t do Sunday school, they believe that they have fallen down on the job.

Tasks of a minister:

  • preparation for worship,
  • rites of passage,
  • pastoral care and presence,
  • spiritual development,
  • witnessing,
  • administration,
  • personal renewal and professional development,
  • denominational service and future leadership.

These bi-vocational ministers don’t set any boundaries of what is appropriate or not appropriate or tell their congregation that they can’t do something.  They don’t say no to the congregation, the congregation’s needs usually come first, before anything else.  As one of them explained, “The ministry doesn’t happen in nice neat little compartments.  It would be really hard to draw those kinds of boundaries… people have needs and it’s difficult to box those in…. (I can’t say) I can’t meet your need this week, you can meet me next week.”  A minister who only does preparation for worship is not fully meeting the needs of the congregations, in the view of these interviewees and they speak in a somewhat derogatory manner about that type of ministry.

There were a few examples given of when the pastor did put their own needs/abilities first ahead of the congregation:  during personal crises in the pastor’s life (such as with a family member), when there are things they have no ability to do (such as mechanical or fix it type things) or due to an unshakable previous commitment. In the case of a personal crisis or lack of ability, there is no discussion, but in the case of a previous commitment, there may be negotiation.

The congregational members who spoke about time and jobs that the pastor does indicate that the payment of the pastor was chosen based on what the church felt they could pay, not based on how many hours the pastor was going to work or the type of work the pastor would do.  There was no discussion about cutting responsibilities so that it might be a manageable part-time job or even recognition that what the church was asking might not be possible on a part-time basis.  When asked to itemize the tasks the pastor accomplishes, they were able to recognize that the pastor was spending a lot of time on church work, but they hadn’t ever thought about it at all, nor did they add up the time in their head and realize that it was a truly full-time job. (Note that both these people were from one congregation so this may not be representative.)  Interestingly, both congregation members seemed to place a greater emphasis on time a pastor spent inside the church building than time spent away, even if the pastor was working on church-related business (perhaps at home) and even if they were reachable by telephone.

Money in the church:  The pastors are well aware of the finances of the church and why they are only being paid a part-time salary.  They note the stresses of a declining/small congregation, congregation members struggling financially themselves, that elderly members make up most of the budget but are dying and that the physical demands of aging buildings and insurance is a burden.  They recognize that the churches are doing the best they can and accept that.  They are caught in taking the perspective of the church as well as their own.
The major way out of this situation that they see is to attract new members, which can be problematic/impossible in a rural area with a declining/aging population.  Solutions found by one of the churches were to rent out the church to another group and to find a lower-cost way to heat/air condition.  This took some of the burdens off of the congregation.  However, they still only pay the pastor a part-time salary.

How these pastors make bi-vocational ministry work:  There are two major tools that these three ministers use to make bi-vocational ministry work: flexibility and integration. To aid in flexibility, they have found jobs that enable them to set their own schedule (substitute teaching, financial planning entrepreneur).  The other tool they use to make this work is to integrate other parts of their lives with their ministry – bringing kids with them when they do church work, having kids that come home from school and go to the church to do their homework or homeschooling or doing other work while substitute teaching.  They all also spoke about relying on God for their strength as another coping mechanism but there were few details other than to say that God finds a way to make it all work.

The overwhelming feeling I had interviewing these ministers is that these were high-energy people and that there is a high risk of exhaustion. One spoke about not attending to her own health and seeing the effects on cholesterol levels. That person doesn’t read books or watch TV or do anything for themselves. That same person warned potential future bi-vocational ministers that” if (you).. could do anything else and live with …(your)self, … do that…  Bivocational ministry is not glamorous and you have to be 100% sure that that’s what you’re called to do or it’s going to drive you nuts.” But that person also recognized that she wasn’t going to be able to do this at this pace for the rest of her life.

Attitudes toward bi-vocational ministry: In some cases, the ministers recognize some tiny advantages: that they can reach more people if they work outside the church. But mostly, there are no advantages to bi-vocational ministry from these ministers’ perspective.

The major disadvantages come in times of crisis.  A personal crisis in a pastor’s life can lead to loss of income (when they can’t work) and then they can’t keep up with their bills.  This happened to two of the three ministers interviewed and, in both cases, the churches did continue paying the pastors but one of the outside jobs didn’t.

  •  The combination of declining populations in rural centers and decreasing interest in established denominations has lead churches to decrease in pay for ministers so that they are paid less than a full-time/living wage.  This pillar of rural life is in danger of failing and the pressure for keeping it going falls primarily onto the minister.
  • In addition to population issues, congregations are stressed by the burdens of the physical plant of their churches which tend to be old.  In some cases, physical plant expenses (including insurance) take a large proportion of the budget reducing the amount possible to pay a minister.
  • The decline in congregation size might be expected to potentially lead to a reduced workload for a minster in terms of pastoral care needed; but working against that is aging of the congregation which would lead to an even greater need for hospital/nursing home visits.
  • The demands of those congregations on the minister’s time have not decreased proportionally with the pay.  Churches still seem to expect ministers to fulfill the same functions that they always did.  Congregations seem unconscious of the demands that this places on their bivocational ministers.  Without realizing it, they are expecting these ministers to play “Super-(wo)man.”
  • Bivocational ministers respond to these pressures believing this is what the job is and that God will give them strength to do it.  They believe that this is what bivocational ministry is, that they are “supposed to be able to do it” and may even look down on those who can’t/won’t.  They work incredibly long hours between their sources of financial support and don’t take time for themselves.  They run the risk of harming themselves and their family life.
  • Bivocational ministers coping strategies include choosing flexible work outside the church, and integrating different parts of their lives together so they accomplish more than one thing at a time.
  • These coping mechanisms may fall apart when faced with a major life crisis and can lead to financial problems.  While two of these churches have responded well to personal crises that happened in the life of their ministers, this also places stress on the churches.

This leads to some questions:

Is bi-vocational ministry only for those who have been gifted with incredible stamina? What happens to them when the stamina runs out?  Is it God’s will to put the burden of maintaining rural churches on the back of the bi-vocational minister?

Is there a way to help churches become aware of what they are doing and help them make trade-off so that they don’t continue to expect their ministers to do a full-time job on a part-time salary?

Can the physical plant needs of churches be alleviated in some way to reduce the financial difficulties that lead to low pay for ministers? Perhaps loans to update boilers/air conditioners so they become more efficient and require less money to heat/cool churches, which would also address climate change concerns.

Is there a way to provide financial support for ministers who are in crisis and/or for churches that have ministers in crisis?

And the bigger question, is there a different model to provide pastoral care and leadership to rural congregations that don’t place such stress on human beings to be all things to all people?

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