During the two years that my wife and I prayerfully discerned a call to plant a church, we attempted to ready ourselves for bi-vocational ministry. We knew it would be difficult, but we also knew that bi-vocational ministry was becoming more and more common in church planting. Some folks we knew even hailed it as the future of the church.
Fueled by a sense of call and a realistic knowledge that church planting rarely comes with a financial safety net, my wife and I stepped into the adventure of bi-vocational ministry. In order to make it, we took on a variety of part-time jobs and tried to balance family, ministry, and paying the bills. I worked as a graduate student on fellowship, a freelance writer, and a substitute teacher while leading the growing church plant. My wife was a fulltime mom in addition to being our church’s kids pastor, an administrative assistant, and an entrepreneur for a fair trade company. In short, we became not just bi-vocational but poly-vocational. In the process, we learned a good bit about our time, our neighbors, and God.
What poly-vocational life taught us about our time:
The poly-vocational life forced me to wrestle with my own limits in a new way. Many times I could not do everything well; sometimes I could not even do everything poorly. As the idealism of bi-vocational church planting faded into the reality of long days and short nights, I had questions about the strain of this lifestyle on my family, my marriage, and my health. I learned I had to fight for some of my primary vocations like husband, father, and friend.
In practice, this meant that I had to work to build just as much intentionality into my life around my central relationships as I did my paid vocations. I had to ask hard questions like, is time with my wife or kids something I get to if I have time or something I schedule my week around?
I’m convinced that my long-term faithfulness and my personal well-being hinges on whether I can find a way to work a weekly Sabbath into my life.
The same is true of my relationship with God. I’ve never had to fight harder and be more creative with Sabbath keeping than I do right now. Some weeks I do better than others, but I’m convinced that my long-term faithfulness and my personal well-being hinges on whether I can find a way to work a weekly Sabbath into my life. If I can’t, I’m honestly not sure the poly-vocational life would be a sustainable long-term option.
What poly-vocational life taught us about our neighbors:
A year of poly-vocational ministry helped me better appreciate how hard many of the folks in our town have to work to make it. The lack of quality jobs in many parts of our country results in poly-vocational lives for more than just pastors. Many of my neighbors have strung together jobs, combining incomes and juggling schedules, to make childcare work. No wonder regular participation in religious communities is falling fastest among the poorest Americans. Poly-vocational living disrupts schedules and eats away at life’s margins. It taught me how to relate even better to these people around me.
What poly-vocational life taught us about God:
In the midst of the real tensions of poly-vocational life, God was still good. Over and over during the last year, we have experienced His goodness to us. From leading us to the right house at just the right time to providing the perfect meeting space at a cost that made our jaws drop, He has been our provider. He tugged on the hearts of volunteers just when we needed them. After nine months of church planting with no church compensation, He paved the way for me to receive a part-time salary just as my graduate fellowship came to an end. More than that he sustained, and continues to sustain, our family and our marriage.
So many things, many of them worthwhile, called out for our time and energy. It would be a lie to say that poly-vocational ministry is easy. It is a tricky, daily balancing act. For some, it is a necessity for a season and for others, it is a long-term calling. Either way, God is in there and He is good.
Learn more about the balance of bi-vocational ministry from our webinar recording from Bi-Vocational Ministry: The Key To Sowing here.
Charlie Cotherman is the senior pastor of the Oil City Vineyard. After spending time in various places and pursuing various vocational avenues Charlie has a settled into confidence about his three callings —husband/father, pastor, and scholar/teacher. If Charlie isn’t changing Benton’s diaper or waiting for Elliana and Anneliese to be done with gymnastics, you’ll probably find him with his nose in a book or enjoying coffee and a conversation with a friend at a local cafe.