Resting on his knees amid bare floorboards and stacks of tile, Mark Inglis shouts, “Not in the least!” As he sets aside his trowel, the Quaker-trained minister continues answering my question as to whether he was prepared for bivocational ministry while in seminary. “Never talked about it.”
Inglis has few regrets about his ministerial career path. Busy remodeling homes in the Colorado mountains, he is entering his third decade in dual-career ministry. But his rejoinder to my question about formal preparation for his dual roles is similar to responses I’ve heard from other bivocational ministers.
The number of dual-career ministers continues to rise. In some denominations, like the Mennonites, almost half of current pastors are bivocational, and the October 2017 issue of Colloquy, the newsletter of the Association of Theological Schools, reports that 30 percent of graduating seminarians anticipate entering into bivocational ministry.
Yet it seems unlikely that the theological education of these future dual-career pastors has actually formed them for the kind of ministry that they plan to undertake. I took an informal survey within my own circle of acquaintances and found that almost 90 percent of current dual-career ministers had little or no preparation for bivocational ministry while in seminary.
Sharon Miller, director of research at the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary, says that many seminaries are focused only on pathways to full-time congregational ministry and tend to look askance at any other ministry model. “The bivocational [model] by necessity is rarely, or never, talked about even as more and more graduates find themselves in this situation,” she says. “This is the arena where I think schools and students really need educating.”
What can seminaries do to better prepare their graduates for bivocational ministry? Here are some ideas:
1. Determine leadership characteristics and their impact on ministry. While most theological schools already provide leadership skills assessments, they may be able to bolster students’ learning from such exercises by helping students examine how their leadership preferences might play out in part-time ministry. Bivocation tends to stretch leadership skills, pushing the minister’s limits in managing people, processes, and projects. With competing demands for time, bivocational pastors must ensure that lines of accountability and communication remain clear in both their ministry and in their secular employment.
There’s an old story about a bivocational pastor who had great success recruiting volunteers who were energetic and personable. While they provided leadership to his congregation during his frequent absences, the management of details pertaining to finances and schedules suffered. Eventually the pastor realized that he’d recruited volunteers exactly like himself — good with people, lousy with details. If he had received some feedback about his leadership attributes while in seminary, he might have recruited volunteers who possessed traits that complemented his own, rather than duplicated them.
2. Introduce students to bivocational ministry. Many seminary internships can be structured to truly immerse students into bivocational ministry — perhaps working alongside a bivocational pastor or assigning a ministry mentor who is especially skilled in this area. Additionally, dual-career themes can be incorporated into co-curricular activities. For example, bivocational pastors can be invited to campus to speak, preach, and make connections with students.
The Wake Forest University School of Divinity weaves together multiple elements to prepare their students for bivocational ministry. “We have a number of touch points at Wake Forest to help our students think about bivocational options,” says Shonda R. Jones, associate dean of admissions and student services. The divinity school’s Pathways in Ministry program helps students discern their future vocation, emphasizing that vocational ministry can take many forms. “We invite students into conversations with people already serving in bivocational roles,” Jones adds, including pastors who also do complementary work in social entrepreneurship and spiritual direction. The divinity school’s Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program, which offers courses on sustainable agriculture and even a Food and Faith concentration within the M.Div. program, offers additional opportunities for students to consider bivocational ministry. And as at other university-based theology schools, Wake Forest divinity students can pursue dual degrees in the university’s other graduate schools — in Wake Forest’s case, in law, business, education, or counseling.
3. Help students develop project management skills. Bivocational ministers must become masters of time management, scheduling, meeting administration, planning, and multitasking. More importantly, they must acquire the ability to manage affairs remotely by delegating responsibilities to staff or volunteers. This means knowing how to give directions, provide corrective feedback, and monitor outcomes. Because their own availability is restricted, part-time pastors must become especially adept at making the best use of resources and volunteer talent.
4. Teach students the pathways to sources of secondary income — especially the so-called “hidden job market,” wherein job openings exist but are not posted online, and the “gig economy.” Students committed to ministry may not have developed their job-hunting skills, which may leave them feeling as if no one will hire them. One way to offer help is to let students know about opportunities throughout the economy that are never publicized. Seminarians can learn how to reach hiring managers, unearth opportunities, and develop communication tools that transform informational interviews into employment interviews.
The “gig economy” — contractual or freelance jobs in which workers set their own hours and fees — also offers possibilities for secondary income streams. Hundreds of sites exist online where bivocational pastors can post their skills for hire (like tutoring or writing reports) or apply for short-term work assignments.
5. Help students gain savvy in negotiating their salary and boundaries. Many pastors don’t have enough confidence to negotiate their salaries and expectations. Instead, they take what is first offered. Coaching seminarians on negotiating tactics can enable them to secure balanced and life-giving arrangements with their congregation.
I know of one M.Div. graduate who was in employment discussions with a congregation where she had previously served as an intern. The congregation was divided into factions, and building consensus around an offer proved impossible. So I coached her on how to present a concrete employment proposal to them, making sure to include elements like salary and time commitment, and to present her ideas in an objective, professional manner. After her presentation, the congregation not only hired her, but they offered higher compensation and a better benefit package than what had initially been on the table.
With the momentum of bivocational ministry picking up steam, theological school graduates will continue to enter dual-career arrangements, probably in greater numbers. If seminaries prepare their students for such ministry, graduates can find opportunities to exercise their gifts and skills in multiple areas, pursuing a ministry vocation while also sustaining their ministry in meaningful complementary career pathways.
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