The future is bi-vocational
a bi-vocational future
The future has to be bi-vocational. The future will be a place where hardly any Baptist ministers are based in a church full time and paid entirely by a church. Instead most Baptist ministers will be bi-vocational, working in a church for part of their working week and working in another job the rest of the time.
For the last eleven years I have been a full-time Baptist minister, working for some of the week with a small Baptist Church in Liverpool and most of time as a broadcast journalist in the BBC, bringing an evangelical Baptist voice into BBC Local Radio. Being a journalist and broadcaster has made me a more incisive preacher and a more understanding pastor. Having work outside the local church has enabled a small church in an urban setting to have an accredited minister serving them. When I started working for the BBC the church had to decide how they wanted me to use my limited time. The parameters of my job were defined and have been accepted by the church without any great problem, and others have undertaken roles I haven’t been able to fill.
In the future more and more Baptist churches won’t be able to afford a whole-time minister. But a bi-vocational minister who spends perhaps half of her or his time serving the church then spends the rest of the working week in another job could serve Christ in the church and continue to serve Christ in their chosen occupation. Most people going to our colleges go there from another profession, and they have the skills and the experience to work outside the church. By assuming that our ministers will give up work entirely to work in a church, we are robbing the world of our best Christian workers and letting the church eat them up.
My vision for bi-vocational ministers is not the older model of lay pastors. A bi-vocational minister, in keeping with our Baptist Futures process, will be in recognised accredited ministry. Their training could consist of one year out of work in a college, or be enabled while the person continues in work. Their bi-vocational work should never be seen as part-time ministry, but as ministry split between a workplace and a church. That other place could be teaching in a Baptist college or in another college or school, or working in industry, or commerce, or the local supermarket, or anywhere. In those places we will have strategically placed skilled Baptist workers who are being Christ among the people, and in our churches we will have ministers whose lives and preaching are informed by the world of work.
My local Catholic parish has 800 worshippers and half the time of one priest. My three local Anglican Churches share two minsters. The nearby Methodist Church is a well-attended church with half a minister. Why should we as Baptists live with the assumption that each church should have one whole-time minister? It’s not a model that is Biblical or practical. But rather than sharing ministers churches are better off if they share a minister’s time with work elsewhere, and in these days of “portfolio working” that is nothing unusual. Job-sharing and part-time working is perfectly acceptable to most employers.
And this is not just a model for small churches. If a church can afford to pay a whole-time stipend it could have two bi-vocational ministers, one male, one female, or a minister and a community worker, or even give some money to a neighbouring church to enable ministry there. Let’s liberate ourselves from the shackles of one church, one minister, one stipend – and go bi.