Bivocational Ministry

So have you heard the term "bivocational ministry" before? If you have, there's a good chance that you've been to seminary, or known someone who did, or thought about going, or taught at one, some time in the last ten years. Or at least, I'm finding a strong correlation in the people I'm talking to.

So here's a short version of what I mean when I say "bivocational ministry":
God calls some people to work in ministry while also working either part or full time in secular jobs to supplement their income.  Bivocational ministry is when a person serves in a ministry while also being employed in a secular job, whether or not they get paid for their religious service. There is a growing conversation among those involved in the training and hiring of pastors, inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church (RSoF), about the need for bivocational ministry. Unprogrammed Friends have been talking more about preparing and supporting all the diverse ministers among us, but may be more familiar with the term “released Friend.”
Bivocational ministry was an essential part of the founding vision of Quakerism, when early Friends railed against the abuses of “hireling ministers.” Even where Friends have hired pastoral staff, we have sought to employ those who are called to the ministry by God, rather than relying on credentials or pedigree. We have acknowledged that a calling to a particular ministry may be for an undefined period of time, and yet not a permanent condition. Throughout our history, with variations depending on the region and the century, Friends have shared the burdens and the joys of ministry widely in our communities. As part of our uniquely Quaker spiritual inheritance, it’s a model that we can share with the world.

Bivocational ministry is quintessentially Quaker, but many meetings and churches are struggling today:
  • Many meetings can’t find enough volunteers to populate their elaborate committee structures. 
  • Even full-time pastors are not equally gifted in all areas of ministry assigned to them by the classic Protestant model. 
  • Many Friends have a calling to do more for their meeting or for the wider Friends Church, but can’t afford the loss of income. 
  • Many pastors are receiving the equivalent of part-time salaries yet expected to do full-time (plus your spouse) work. 
  • Friends from the programmed and unprogrammed traditions are going to seminary to prepare for service to the RSoF, often incurring substantial student debt, but there aren't enough paid jobs in Quakerism to absorb them all.
  • Many meetings and churches don't know what to do with strongly gifted Friends.
  • Friends feel both guilt-ridden and dismissive of their part-time pastors instead of celebrating this balance. 
This conversation touches on many difficult issues for Friends: money, leadership, theology, qualifications for ministry, membership numbers, culture and religious language, to name a few. It is related to a broader economic shift in the world around us, involving both changes in employment and ecological concerns around sustainability. Our society values and rewards single focus dedication, not a balanced life, no matter how many self-help books try to say the opposite.

Many yearly meetings have approached the training and support for bivocational ministers in various ways: weekend workshops, spiritual formation cohorts, pastors’ conferences, support for continuing education. Some local churches and meetings have developed innovative approaches to calling, supporting and releasing ministers. However, most of the best practices among Friends are not well known outside of their immediate geographic area or branch of Friends. The divided branches of the RSoF have a lot to offer one another in tackling the problems and celebrating the strengths of bivocational ministry. Their different perspectives complement each other.

As just one example, an unprogrammed meeting in an unaffiliated yearly meeting that I know had burned out two clerks of their Ministry and Oversight Committee in a row. Several contributing factors were identified, but both of the individuals in question said, “I don’t even want to come to worship on Sundays. It’s not like worship for me any more, it’s just a time when people come to tell me all their problems.” It occurred to a member of their M&O committee that this was a situation that people who are pastors deal with for their whole careers, not just a 1-3 year term on a committee. By inquiring with personal friends who were pastors in evangelical Friends churches, she heard some of their strategies for coping. One said his approach was two-fold. First was to accept that Sunday mornings were his time of service to the community, not his time of communion with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that happened too, but changing his expectations helped him not to be annoyed when people just wanted to ask him, “where is the big coffee pot?” And second, he had to seek out other times for deep contemplation of the Divine, and he found that in a midweek gathering with other pastors for what was essentially unprogrammed Quaker worship. And so an evangelical Friend had learned from unprogrammed Friends, and a liberal Friend learned from an evangelical Friend. But too few of us know each other to be able to benefit from this learning.

How could Friends address this in a way that would be useful to the whole Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church? To the local meetings and churches that are struggling? For all the people who are struggling to find a way to use their gifts and live into their leadings?

How can meetings and churches have an honest and  conversation with each other and with the individual Friends who are called to serve the RSoF about how to make the best match between gifts and needs?

How can we amplify the work and learning that has already been done about calling, training and supporting ministry, by individual Friends and Quaker institutions, to benefit Friends more widely?

Frankly, I think the survival of the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church in this century depends on us figuring this out better.

Full disclosure: I am, for the first time in my life, blessed and honored to be paid a full-time living wage for Quaker work. But I know, from 20 years of experience, what it is like for that not to be true. Also, this post reflects my personal leading and not that of my employer.

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Anonymous Howard Macy said...

Thanks for inviting folks into this important conversation. This is not an issue just for Friends, but it is one important to us and for which I think we have particularly good resources to address.

9/17/2012 1:11 PM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

THANK YOU for articulating these questions.

I mean to post some thoughts on my own blog and I hope others will also...

9/17/2012 1:39 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Howard and RantWoman. I certainly didn't start this conversation, and I look forward to reading what others have to say about it.

Ashley Wilcox and Jon Watts have both posted recently about the difficulties. And they are only two of the bloggers who have wrestled with this - so many Friends recognize this conversation as their own.

9/17/2012 4:49 PM  
Blogger Ashley W said...

I'm so glad you decided to write about this, Robin! Your careful thinking shines through in this post, and I appreciate the story about the unprogrammed Friends talking with Evangelical Friends.

9/17/2012 8:18 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

What I really need to hear from folks is what can we do? It's not like the Religious Society of Friends is some other people who ought to be taking care of this. It's us.

Would it help to hold a gathering for ministers/pastors? Would it help to have a facilitator come to host a discussion at your Quarterly Meeting? Where do we even start?

9/17/2012 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post. I've been in a couple of these situations: "bivocational ministry" as you say (I always heard it called tent-making ministry but I'm an old guy), and the part-time salary -- full-time pastor situation. Your description of these situations rings true for me. When I was a pastor, the weekly prayer breakfast with pastors from area Methodist and Presbyterian churches was a major source of support, as well as humor and helpful tips.

Thinking about the chair of M&O, it occurs to me that I have seen people burn out like this when they were trying to do it themselves. Oh, I could be talking about delegation. There is that. But what I really mean is that, in any form of ministry, if we try to do it with our own will and our own ideas and our own strength, we will always burn out. If we are conduits for the Spirit, if we use God's will and strength and inspiration, burn out is much less a problem, and having time to spend with God is not a problem either, because God is so much with us when we let Him do the work instead of us.

9/17/2012 9:38 PM  
Anonymous Lucy Duncan said...

Thanks, Robin, yes important to consider, figure out... and find a way forward. What structures might assist us? Thanks for opening the conversation. It seems it's also a bit about figuring out what is most important, and what is ancillary. Flatter structures may help, too, wherein people can step into sharing roles of ministry and service. (I don't speak for my employer, either).

9/18/2012 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Kathy Hyzy said...

Thanks, Robin. I appreciate your contributions to this emerging thread on ministry!
At the May board meeting of Western Friend- which was where we first started talking about my departure at the end of 2012- our conversation turned to the possibility of housing an ongoing traveling ministry program under the umbrella of Western Friend. We put it out there in the reader survey we sent out, but it didn't fly. I think that was partly due to inadequate space to explain the idea, and partly due to a somewhat restricted understanding what Western Friend really is and does at this point in time.

That's all neither here nor there- point being that as one of the few Friends in the West who travels regularly throughout the region, I see a real hunger and need for traveling ministry. It's especially great in places where we are so geographically isolated. And I think we can argue about where to house it- WF, Quaker Center (which is interested in better serving the region, but is still largely viewed as a NoCal institution), FGC traveling ministries, FWCC via the Susan Bax Fund- but the need is still there.

It's absolutely true that we are not short on gifted Friends who feel called to service. Are we then merely short on a place to collect funds and the means to inspire Friends to give their financial support? I realize that's no small task- fundraising among a people who have deep-seated discomforts with talking about money is inherently challenging. But I so want to believe that there are enough Friends out there who are able to give a little or a lot to support those who have leadings to follow. I find evangelical Friends far more willing to engage with these sorts of questions, and you see it pay off in the many, many good works they support around the globe. Perhaps unprogrammed Friends need to be asking evangelical Friends for some schooling in attitudes regarding money and leadings!

(Also not speaking for my employer here.)

9/18/2012 8:30 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Welcome all of you to commenting on this blog. I have also been inspired by a number of people who have commented on other media to say that this topic resonates with them, and that in fact, this post speaks deeply to them.

I think we are short on fundraisers and we are short on acceptance that most of the time we don't get to do only one thing and so we each have to find a balance, over time and across our various leadings.

An interesting parallel was suggested a few weeks ago after Marissa Meyer announced that she was going to have a baby a few months after taking over at Yahoo. There were lots of critics. But one working woman pointed out that when you have a second child, you don't suddenly stop caring for your first. You have to divide your time, attention, etc. and both children are usually better for it. Also, you need help to do the things you used to do and the things you now have to do. I see some corollaries with being a minister and a mother, and being a minister and having another job.

9/18/2012 10:33 PM  
Blogger Dennis Bickers said...

Your questions around bivocational ministry are being asked by many Protestant denominations right now as most are seeing a growing number of bivocational people serving their churches. The anticipation is that those numbers will continue to increase. In my opinion, we will see the numbers of bivocational ministers serving churches increase even more rapdily in the next few years as churches that have been served by fully-funded pastors find that will no longer be possible for them. I was a bivocational pastor for 20 years and appreciate what that can mean for the church and the minister. Due to a lack of resources specifically designed for bivocational ministers and their churches, I have published several books over the past dozen years that speak to this type of ministry. I also have a blog at http://bivocationalministry.blogspot.com that you might find helpful. Thank you for your helpful insights into the ministry and how it is impacting the Friends.

9/19/2012 9:00 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Yes, thank you for continuing and clarifying an ongoing conversation. I hope you -- as well as others leaving comments here -- will consider submitting articles about this topic to Friends Journal, Quaker Life, or Western Friend. It would reach additional readers both in print and online.

(Full disclosure: I am on the board of trustees for Friends Journal's parent organization, Friends Publishing Corporation, and I'm not speaking for that organization, either. However, our board members are empowered to encourage people to submit items for consideration by the staff.)

9/19/2012 9:17 AM  
Blogger inelaperu said...

Gracias por compartir esta reflexión, hemos sido bendecidos por sus palabras.

9/19/2012 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post--I am currently serving as one of two clerks of the Advancement committee for an East Coast YM, and we (our committee as well as the YM as a whole) are experiencing a great deal of energy around the concept of ministry. I see now, thanks to this post, how the bivocational part comes into this. I continue to be on the lookout for things that we (the collective we) can do--because as you say, Robin, the RSoF is us, not some organization that is going to do it for us. Unfortunately, my time too often gets divided and I have to choose between the events that are happening and some other part of my life that needs attention (this is my issue, not something I lay at the feet of others). Constant discernment about where I need to be when is key! Thanks for naming that this is out there! -- Mia

9/19/2012 11:07 AM  
Blogger Dr. Terry Dorsett said...

I really enjoyed your post. I did not realize how important bivocational ministry was back in the early days of the Quakers. In our modern times, this is an issue not just for Quakers, but for most Protestant churches. You might consider the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks. It teaches pastors how to train laypeople to assist in leadership so he/she does not have to do it alone.

9/20/2012 5:47 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Terry and Dennis, thanks for bringing your perspectives and for offering the resources you have developed. I think this is one of the things that many denominations can share with each other. Even when our theologies differ, the cultural dynamics around money and leadership affect us all.

Jesus, gracias por sus palabras. Algunos Amigos me han preguntado si este tema es solo importante para los norteamericanos, y les he dicho que yo creo que no. Pero me gustaría mucho saber mas de su opinión. (thanks for your words. Some Friends have asked me if this topic is only important for North Americans, and I have said I don't think so. But I would very much like to know your opinion better.)

Chris, I think this would be an excellent topic for a series of articles, laying out some of the problems and suggesting some of the practices that are working well.

Mia, I would love to know more about what your Yearly Meeting is doing to support Friends called to ministry. Especially those doing it "in their spare time." Which is such a funny phrase, since doesn't all our time belong to God? Even when we are doing shift work, or changing diapers, or balancing the checkbook. As well as preaching and teaching and caring for the sick...

9/20/2012 8:23 AM  
Blogger Viv Hawkins said...

Thanks to all who have posted here! What richness.
Robin, as you know, this topic which you refer to as "bivocational ministry" has been much with me. I'd love to talk with you more and hear from others in regard to this budding project which Vonn New (NYYM) and I (PhYM) are exploring to advance ministry among the Religious Society of Friends. It is one answer to Robin's question: "What can we do?"

3/22/2013 11:23 AM  
Blogger Viv Hawkins said...

Imagine a Quaker version of this service of New York Foundation for the Arts; one which supports ministry by promoting it to communities who might receive a ministry's gifts, by offering prayer and other forms of resource (home hospitality, travel assistance, etc.), and by helping to release the ministry financially. http://www.artspire.org/
What are your thoughts about this possibility?

3/22/2013 11:45 AM  

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