Bi-vocational ministry has benefits & challenges
by Erik Maloy
When I became pastor of First Church in Charlestown -- one of the oldest churches in Boston -- in July 2015, a large portion of our community thought that the church was closed, and the building was abandoned. The congregation consisted of about eight older people who had been attending the church for decades. We have grown slowly over the last three years, and we have been blessed to see people begin to grow stronger in their faith in that time. One of the challenges of pastoring a small church is that the church is unable to provide a full-time salary for me, and I am currently bi-vocational.
I see Paul as a great example for pastors who are in the same position that I am. In Acts 18, we see that he used his skill as a tent maker to be able to work a trade and presumably support himself. In this season of life and ministry, I am working as a high school math and engineering teacher. It is a great job because I am able to always have weekends, school vacations and holidays off of work. This allows me to spend time with my family and never have to worry about switching a schedule to make sure that I have Sunday mornings or evenings off. Summer vacation also gives me a couple of months to work full time at the church. Since I am not a native New England resident, I am able to learn more about the culture of the region to which God has called me to minister by working alongside the people. This is a valuable learning experience that I would not have if I were not bi-vocational.I also have the financial freedom to give generously and provide for my family.
Another benefit is that I am forced to interact with people outside of my church, most of whom are non-believers. As a teacher, there are some limits on how I can talk about my faith to my co-workers and students, but God has provided opportunities. Even though I am somewhat restricted on what I can say, my job is still an extension of my ministry. As a teacher in a low-income urban school district, many of my students come from a difficult situation, lack a positive male role model and need an adult who cares about them. While I may not always be able to share the Gospel, I feel that God has placed me there to show His love to these students who may not have a stable, supportive adult in their lives. It is a blessing to be in this situation.
It is also difficult to be bi-vocational. One of the biggest challenges is finding time to get everything done. While that is a struggle in all ministry positions, it becomes increasingly harder when 40 hours of every week are dedicated to another job. I often miss community meetings that I am invited to because they take place during my working hours. There is very little in the way of free time, as I am often using my time in the evenings to write sermons, grade papers and do the rest of the work for church that I am not able to do during the day. I find it hard to make time for activities that I enjoy or even to get into a regular workout routine because of the extended hours required.
Despite the added workload, I find bi-vocational ministry to be a blessing. The hours are long, and the work seems to never end, but I feel like God is truly using me to make a difference in both the church I am serving, and in the job that allows me to serve in the church.
Erik Maloy is the pastor of First Church in Charlestown, in Charlestown, MA. He is the co-host of the Practical Church Revitalization Podcast and blogs at www.ErikMaloy.net.