Challenges of Bi-Vocational Ministry

By Rebekah Bell

For many varying reasons, some ministers choose to be bi-vocational. That is, they work another job in addition to their work as a minister. This path allows a minister to be “in the world” even as they teach and speak of another. In its own way, this can be rewarding. However, being a bi-vocational minister is also extremely overwhelming. These ministers can be especially prone to burnout and spiritual dry spells.

Ministry is not a career path that one typically enters into because of the money. Ministry has rewards unrelated to salary and a paycheck. However, if a minister seeks to support themselves and a family in today’s world, devoting their lives and careers solely to ministry may simply be impossible. Others may work only part-time at a church, and need a full time job elsewhere to keep themselves afloat. I fall into the latter category. In addition to serving as the part-time children’s minister, I am a kindergarten teacher and a blog editor.

Though God’s grace is sufficient, there is no question that ministry is demanding. Ministry is not simply a sermon on Sundays and a prayer meeting on Wednesdays. Ministry is dealing with people and visiting the sick. It is preparation and prayer and managing church conflict. It is budgeting and crisis intervention. It is acting as the hands and feet of Jesus (this is the duty of all Christians, really). Ministry is a LOT.

While I would never suggest that one neglect their ministerial duties, it is also inadvisable to neglect oneself spiritually or physically. There is a real danger in overextending oneself to the point that one becomes a shell of themselves.

Below is a list of 5 difficulties bi-vocational ministers may face, as well as some wisdom in facing these challenges.

  • Burnout

Being too busy can zap the joy of living and the joy of the Lord right out of us. We can become so over-extended that we are depleted, physically, mentally, and spiritually. If we are working 24/7 with no time for ourselves to rest, it will inevitably lead to burnout. And burnout can bring out the worst in us.

We can begin to resent people within our church. We can begin to dread the work that we do in ministry. We can become angry and bitter and broken.

I think every minister, even those who are not bi-vocational, has been there.

The ones who serve on the Sabbath tend to forget to take a Sabbath for themselves.

We must remember that the Sabbath day is a commandment. It is not optional. I do not mean that ministers should regard the Sabbath as another one of the impossible demands on their time. But I do think Sabbath should be a priority.

Learn to say no. Take some days off. Do not feel guilty for not being able to do the impossible. Rest and restoration is necessary for us to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy.

It is cliché, but it is true. One cannot pour from an empty bucket.

  • Giving God the Leftovers

It is possible to do so many things that none of them can be done well. It is possible to put our heart and soul into one area of our life while only keeping another afloat. This is a real balancing act for bi-vocational ministers.

I mentioned before that I am a schoolteacher. Teaching is all-consuming. It is a job that can easily fill up all my time and physical and mental energy. I love the kids I teach. I want to give them my best. I do all that I can to be faithful to the call on my life to teach. This is not a bad thing. Ministry, after all, is not just what one does on a Sunday or in a church. Schoolteachers, in their own way, can be a sort of minister.

The problem is, I sometimes find myself poring everything into my job teaching, then scrambling to pull a lesson together for Sunday School late on Saturday night. I find myself comparing the children I teach with the children I work with at church and wishing one group could be more like another. I find myself allowing my paycheck to determine where I put most of my energy. At times like these, ministry becomes miserable because I begin to view it as something to achieve or something for which I must perform. God gets what is left of my limited energy resources.

I am not saying that our church work is always the most important of a bi-vocational ministers two areas of work. We are called to live Christ everywhere we go, not necessarily to live more for Christ at church than anywhere else. However, ministry cannot be done well when done half-heartedly.

Sometimes I start to long for the joy I used to get in doing ministry before I was a schoolteacher. I wonder if I should give up my work in ministry altogether. These are worthwhile considerations.

If you are a bi-vocational minister facing the same challenge, I implore you to pray. Pray that God will show you where you need to put your heart. If it becomes evident that you simply do not have the stamina to give yourself fully to both ministry and your other job, perhaps it is time to choose one or the other. There is no shame in choosing to say no to church ministry if you feel God has called you to give yourself more completely elsewhere.

But that is not always the case. I think we do well to remember that we only do what we do by God’s grace.  God does not expect perfection from us. Right now, our “other” job may require more energy and get it, tomorrow our church jobs may demand more of us. Guilt for doing the best we can with the little we humans have is not productive.

Ask for help. Delegate your duties to others. Be honest with fellow ministers and those you can trust in your church about your struggles. We were never meant to bear burdens alone. Jesus had 12 disciples, not just one.

The best help for giving God your best in all areas of our lives is asking for help in areas where we are not at our best.

  • Putting Finances before Faith

What if you are a minister who has prayed and debated leaving ministry or your other job and you feel God telling you to do so, but you are afraid of what the ramifications may be financially? It is a real consideration and concern. For some, leaving one or the other job may be best, but it seems impossible.

This is especially dangerous, because one can begin to feel trapped and unable to breathe in their lives.

Every person and every family are different. I am not suggesting that a person should do something unwise that will harm their family financially or put themselves in a dangerous situation.

However, we must remember that God provides, and sometimes we have to step out in faith to see Him work.

Talk to your family, wise elders, or financial advisors about your options. Perhaps someone else in your family can take on a job. Perhaps you can leave one of your multiple jobs and take another second (or third, etc.) job that is less demanding on your time and energy. Perhaps God is calling you to be a testimony to His provision in seemingly impossible circumstances.

Whatever the way is, God will make a way. We just have to trust Him.

  • Spiritual Hunger

It is possible to become so busy doing the work of the church and feeding God’s people, in addition to the thousands of other things we do in our lives, that we ourselves are not fed.

Ministers often have to approach spiritual food with great intentionality. Starving ourselves spiritually is not an option. A minister should ideally maintain a rich devotional life, but we often fail at this.

Forming a strong community is crucial to staying spiritually fed. We need people who can hold us accountable, and people who can do the feeding.

Perhaps you can form or join a group of ministers who meet together for the purpose of supporting one another spiritually. Perhaps you can join a small group at your church or another church who you can be honest and open with about spiritual matters without fear of judgement.

  • Comparison

Comparison happens when the enemy moves in. Bi-vocational ministers often feel that they are living in the “in-betweens” of life. They may not feel as if they are “real” ministers. Satan moves into these in-betweens and tries to control our thoughts and attitudes toward ourselves and our ministries.

It is easy for me to look at other children’s ministers who work full time and seem to be the “perfect” children’s ministry and feel defeated. I often compare myself to those who are able to devote themselves more fully to their work.

I also, as I mentioned before, can compare my experience at my church to my experience at my other job and compare the places to one another, choosing a “favorite.”

Neither of these things are healthy or helpful.

Our journey is our own. If God has called us to be bi-vocational, He has a reason. You do not have to be what a full-time minister is. God knows the challenges you will face and still has chosen you anyway. God does not want us to compare. He only wants us to give ourselves to His unique calling on our lives.

Bi-vocational ministry is a winding road, and we never know what may be around the next turn. It is a marathon and we will need God’s grace to finish the race.

But remember the words of Scripture in Isaiah:

“He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:29-31

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