Is Bi-vocational Ministry the only way?

As many of you know, ever since Grafted started I have been working at UPS.  (Yes; there was that brief period when I was not employed by them in order to move from working at the Minneapolis Hub to the Airport… but it was an intentional move to find a job within the company where I had less hours… but I digress…)

Within the Ministry World working as a pastor and being employed by some other job is either known as Bi-vocational Ministry or Tentmaking.  This term comes from the way that Paul interacted in Corinth as recorded in the book of Acts:

Acts 18:1-4 18 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were Tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Paul spent time working during the week to bring in an income and then proclaimed and reasoned on the weekends, trying to persuade as many as would listen about the good news of the Gospel.  While putting food on the table certainly is a big reason why people who chose to be Tentmakers do so, there are other benefits.  Paul wrote to the church at Thessolonica:

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

Paul wanted to put an example before this church about what it means to be hard workers in the name of Christ.  Not being idle was not just an idea that Paul encourage the church to implement, rather it was a lifestyle that Paul lived out for them to see and emulate.

If it’s good enough for Paul, it must be good enough for me!  I love this style of ministry.  I get the chance to talk to people who I meet at work about my faith, I get to provide insurance for the Hammond family (so that Grafted doesn’t have to), and I get to be an example of going to work day in and day out (even when I really don’t want to!) for our church.  But is this the only way?  Should every pastor be required to work outside of the church to help support themselves?

I think that all of Paul’s ministry answers this question with a resounding, “NO!”  As he wrote to the church at Philipi he said,

Philippians 4:14-15 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

Paul’s ministry was sometimes supported by sending churches, sometimes supported by the work of his hands, and perhaps sometimes a mixture of the two.  Different churches and different pastors will have different needs at different times.

It might come to pass that God will call Grafted to have a pastor whose sole income comes from the church, and at that time we will need to ask God if I am the man who should fill that role, or if I should continue Bi-vocational Ministry somewhere else.  God may call me to no longer be a Tentmaker, and at that point we will have to pray about if Grafted is the church where I should work.  We will all have to be willing to listen to God when and if that day comes.

Until then, I love being a pastor who also works at UPS.  There certainly are mornings when I would much rather stay in bed… but getting up and serving God by moving boxes is an honor that I will gladly accept!

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