Like many my age, I was attracted to a “relevant” faith (I am not sure I still care for that term; I think I prefer “faithful” instead), one that, in particular, was concerned about the poor, the abandoned, and the forgotten, as well as those who struggled with addictions and with sin in general. Of course, the Church of the Nazarene also cared for those who were more affluent, selfreliant, and upwardly mobile. What church does not care for these folks? But as I understood it, the Church of the Nazarene intentionally sought to serve the “least of these” and to be a church that not only served the poor but alsowas of the poor. The Church of the Nazarene was “called unto holiness,” which meant the church was called to love and serve God and others. Having not grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, I had very limited experience with it until attending Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU). There, I witnessed many churches fulfilling this calling, professors who were teaching and living out this calling trained me, and wonderful departments of student and spiritual development that sought to help students explore this calling to love God and others formed me. These experiences, and so many others, told me that this was the church I wanted to commit my life to.
We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest. - PHINEAS BRESEE
And so I prepared for a life of full-time ministry. After PLNU, I attended Nazarene Theological Seminary. As I progressed in my studies and matured in my walk withChrist, I knew that God had called me to a life of full-time service, particularly in urban contexts, where “compassionate ministry” was a reality. I desired a church of ethnic and economic diversity to both serve and to learn from myself. In short, I wanted to pastor the church Bresee spoke about.
Along the way, I had some very normal experiences: I accumulated student loan debt as well as some personal credit card debt, I got married and had a child, I grew to appreciate the benefits of a quiet life, and enjoyed the benefits of education. Throughout these “normal” experiences, I formulated what I thought were realistic expectations about life, salary, and benefits for a pastor. I knew that affluence was not in my future, but I assumed that I would be able to pastor an urban church and get paid an adequate full-time salary, which would either include or allow me to pay for medical benefits. My expectations were based on many real-life experiences, and the reality that I do believe exists for many in the Church of the Nazarene. It was not, however, based upon those who were serving in “urban” churches. I just assumed that pastors in suchchurches would be paid like those in “less-thanurban” churches.
Eventually, it came time to get a “real” job. It was then that I learned there were not all that many urban churches. Those that did exist, moreover, did not have the money for a full-time pastor, especially one with student loans, let alone for a pastoral staff. What is more, the district or General Church does not subsidize these ministries, as is the case in some denominations. I found myself confronted with a choice: serve in a “less-than-urban” church or get creative. Now, do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with “less-than-urban” churches: I have attended and worked for several, and I have loved them. It is more a question of fit, than anything else. Eventually, I took a full-time job at a wonderful “less-than-urban” church and really enjoyed it. That church, though not “urban” by any stretch of the imagination, was genuinely committed to loving God and others, and they were daily growing more and more committed to that pursuit.
And yet, the issues of “fit” and “calling” continued to make me anxious about my situation. As a result, I began to entertain ideas of church planting and other creative possibilities for pursuing urban ministry; all of which, by necessity, would require me to be bi-vocational. Simply put, this was not what I planned for.
About a year ago, after much thought and prayer, my wife and I left a very good staff position at a wonderful “less-than-urban” church, and I accepted the call to be the bi-vocational lead pastor of a small urban church. I will admit this was a bit of an experiment. This past year has been great, and I can testify to many different ways that God has blessed our church and especially my family. To be honest, though, bi-vocational ministry is very difficult—sometimes it can be downright disheartening. There is just never enough time to do all that a pastor needs to do. Creativity, long-term planning, ongoing education and study, as well as local and district denominational and ecumenical involvement are all, for the most part, luxuries that cannot be afforded by the bi-vocational pastor. The life of the bi-vocational pastor is often spent playing catch-up, trying desperately to simply be ready for the next service and possibly to provide some semblance of pastoral care for attendees. In short, life is tough for a bi-vocational pastor.
Since making this occupational change, I have become burdened for my fellow bi-vocationalpastors—and there are a lot of us to be burdened for. Did you know, for example, that 41% of Church of the Nazarene pastors on the USA/ Canada Region consider themselves bivocational; 32% by necessity?² This number increases to a staggering level if we include the global denomination. It would seem that the Church of the Nazarene is largely a church of tent makers or bi-vocational pastors. I cannot help but think that these numbers will only increase as the global Church steadily grows, and the United States faces increased secularization. The question is not whether we will have bi-vocational pastors in the Church of the Nazarene, but how can we better support, equip, encourage, and sustain these women and men to love and serve their churches and to fulfill their calling to proclaim and live holiness throughout all the lands?
My experiences lead me to two constructive suggestions for how we might begin to address this issue. These are certainly not the only ways to respond to the issues of bi-vocational and urban ministry. From my, albeit, limited experience, though, I believe they are good places to start.
First, there is need for increased denominational support for urban and bi-vocational ministries—pastors in particular. In both urban and rural settings, bi-vocational ministry is difficult. Resources, funding, and training for such pastors and churches are in short supply. The fact that so many of our pastors are bi-vocational should be proof enough that increased support is needed. While this observation is easily made, finding a solution is anything but. A few possibilities might include: regional universities and training centers offering increased training opportunities aimed specifically at bi-vocational pastors, district and/ or city pastoral support groups aimed at urban and bi-vocational pastors, and increased financial support for bi-vocational pastors and urban ministries. This final possibility isobviously easier written than done, but it is something that is sorely needed. Perhaps in urban areas in particular, we might have several smaller congregations pastored by a “circuit rider” pastor. None of these possibilities is perfect, and I am sure that there are many more. The fact is, as a denomination, we must begin offering better support, training, and compensation for our bi-vocational and urban pastors. These pastors and their congregations reflect the majority of Nazarenes in the United States and Canada—they are the “typical” Nazarene church and pastor—and yet they live a very different reality than what is often assumed to be “typical.”
Second, and more importantly, we must better prepare young people for the changing realities of ministry that they will face when they graduate from university and/or seminary. Today’s teens and young adults are socially active and attuned to the inequalities of the world. They yearn for a faith that is dynamic and world-changing. For many, this means a faith that is socially active. This makes churches of Wesleyan heritage, and the Church of the Nazarene in particular, appealing to young people considering a future in ministry. The question is what to do with these young people and their desire for a socially “relevant” faith. My hunch is that the global denomination needs to take stock of this rising tide of young leaders interested in urban and compassionate ministry, who likewise, do not feel at home in our more "traditional" churches. The leaders of tomorrow are very different from those of today. Sit down and have a conversation with teens and college students who are called or at least interested in ministry, and this much is evident. We must begin now to better connect them, and to make sure that thereality that they find when they begin their ministry careers is in alignment with the socially engaged faith that they desire. (They might even help us to do this!) I would contend that more and more young people want the church that Bresee described—the church that he founded. Are we ready for leaders with that passion and vision?
Helpful Hints in Navigating the Difficulties of Bi-vocational Ministry:
• Wake up extra early for devotional and sermon prep time before heading off to your day job. For me this means 5:00 a.m.
• Relax your expectations. Judge me if you will, but I simply cannot accomplish all the things I would like to accomplish in ministry being bi-vocational. I try to focus on the essentials and not stress so much about the other things. Being a “Super-Pastor” will not help my family, my church, or me.
• Be extra sensitive to the needs of your family. My number one job is to be a husband and father, and yet my schedule is not conducive to this requirement. If something in my schedule must suffer, it cannot be my limited family time. Period.
• Fight for Sabbath. After spending six months with little or no Sabbath, I negotiated Fridays off from my day job. The loss of income hurts, but the family and church time that this freed up has proven invaluable.
• Have a mentor. I currently have two individuals from whom I seek regular counsel and who serve as mentors to me. These relationships take time but are hugely important to my life.
Additionally, I think that young aspiring leaders need to heed these realities and begin to prepare for a tent-making, missionary-like future. Many of these young people desire to serve in a church that is creative, diverse, urban, and socially involved. Experience tells me that in manycases, if not most, such churches often require bi-vocational pastors. It is also quite possible that such churches are so few in number that these young leaders will need to plant and “build” these churches from the ground up. I find this idea to be very encouraging. It certainly can be squared with the model of ministry on display in the New Testament—Paul’s letters in particular. This type of ministry, though, is anything but easy and convenient. This is not the future that most young aspiring pastors think of when they think of faithfully fulfilling their call to pursue ministry in a decidedly urban context. I know it was not the future I envisioned.
For example, over the last few years I had the great privilege of pastoring several teens who are called to ministry and who are now preparing for ministry at some of our Nazarene universities. Sensing their passion and calling for ministry that is “compassionate” in nature, I took advantage of my mentoring relationships with them to strongly urge them all to double major in college, giving them additional training and thus the possibility for income that does not come from the church. I described their future as that of a missionary to the United States or Canada (though they could certainly go overseas) and encouraged them to think of their future in ministry that way too. If I am wrong, they will simply have a good, balanced education and more tools to use in ministry. If I am right, though, these young leaders might just have the tools necessary to thrive in the changing climate of the 21st-Century Church. They might also have realistic expectations about what to expect when it comes time to get a “real” job!
My “experiment” with bivocational ministry has been difficult. Both personally and professionally, I can attest to the struggle that it is. It has opened my eyes to the reality that many pastors in the Church of the Nazarene face: bi-vocational pastors are seriously overworkedand underequipped. Moreover, this reality, while not unique to urban ministry, is characteristic of much of urban ministry. Those interested in and preparing for urban ministry face a challenging future in ministry. But of course (and this cannot be overstated), all those preparing for a future in ministry are preparing for a challenging future. As pastors, we are not to avoid challenge. The consistent witness of Scripture, in fact, testifies to a God who calls God’s people to faithfulness in and through adversity. While we are not to fear challenge, it is wise to prepare for it.
Bresee’s understanding of church will always be a challenge. Pursuing his vision of a church that both serves and is made up of the poor will require discipline, hard work, and a lot of creativity. I am still convinced that this vision is worth pursuing. My journey to serve a church with this type of vision is still developing. Along the road I have learned that I have to stretch my imagination to include more creative possibilities for “doing church” and to think of ministry, increasingly, as bi-vocational. My hunch is that more and more of my colleagues, especially those currently preparing for a life of ministry, will need to do some of this same creative thinking. The question is: How can the Church of the Nazarene foster a space for such creative thinking, as well as better equip bi-vocational and urban pastors to do the work of ministry in the 21st century?
Note: Not all bi-vocational ministry is “urban”; in fact, most bivocational pastors serve in rural communities. Likewise, not all “urban” churches require bi-vocational pastors. The latter, though, is extremely common. Moreover, when we factor out the many churches that exist on the fringe of dense urban areas (these are often classified as urban), and concentrate on those churches that find themselves in the urban cores of large cities, I would argue that urban and bivocational ministry become almost synonymous terms.
RUSTIN E. BRIAN is former lead pastor of Kansas City Trinity Church of the Nazarene.
2. This information is based on the 2013 Annual Pastor’s Report, which was facilitated by Nazarene Research Services, Church of the Nazarene.