Recently, I have been teaching and preaching through the Book of Acts. In chapter 18, Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila. It says that Paul stayed with them, "because he was of the same craft... for by their occupation they were tentmakers." The next verse tells us that, "he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." At this point, Paul was a bi-vocational preacher.
Sometimes bi-vocational pastors are looked at as less-than. It isn't their full-time job, they can be taken less seriously, they can be perceived as not being all-in or unable to fulfill the role a pastor should fill. As a bi-vocational pastor, I understand those types of concerns. Paul, by the way, was a strong promoter of a church financially supporting its pastor (I Cor. 9:14; I Tim. 5:17-18). But Paul also explained that while it is right and proper for a church to support their pastor, full-time support should not be considered mandatory (1 Cor. 9:15; 2 Thes. 3:8-10). His example in the Book of Acts shows us that there are times when a pastor should support himself with a secular occupation.
Sometimes, it simply isn't possible for a small church to fully support the pastor. According to one source, Baptist churches lead the way among other denominations in supporting bi-vocational pastors because many Baptist churches are small. Sometimes a pastor believes it is wise to retain another line of work to help mitigate the unforeseen. Supporting a pastor and his family is expensive! The cost of living, health care, housing, and retirement require a lot for some churches.
Having a bi-vocational pastor has pros and cons. The main advantage of course is a financial one. A church can have a pastor who is preaching, teaching, and leading the church without the full financial burden, which just isn't an option in some churches. A bi-vocational pastor also has the advantage of relating to the people of the congregation in the realities of every day life. He goes to work, rubs shoulders with the lost world, and understands what it means to live life and "do church" at the same time. The main disadvantage is that the pastor's time is limited and extra stress is part of his life. He is pulled between pastoring, being a parent and a husband, working a secular job, fixing the house and the car, and trying to fit some personal time in for his own health and well-being. He may not be able to be at the hospital at the drop of a hat, or stop his day if a crisis arises. Because of these challenges, a bi-vocational pastor must be on guard, understand what his priorities are, and be able to say "no." This also provides motivation to the congregation to step up to the plate, and contribute to the operation of their church.
Our church has grown in the past couple of years. We are thankful for each person the Lord has brought to us, and for those who were already a part. I reminded our people that Jesus said, "I will build My church." This does not mean we do not have responsibility in the building of our churches - there are things we can and should do. But we must keep in mind that the church belongs to Christ - it is His church. He promised He would build it, and He will build it in the way that He sees fit, and in His time. I hope that churches like ours as well as their pastors will be encouraged knowing that, even if things are less than ideal, we are still in God's hands, and He has promised to take care of His church.
Pastor Ben Newman