Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why bi-vocational is not part-time

I got pulled up a while ago for suggesting that the long-term future heath of the church may lie in a bi-vocational approach to ministry. It was suggested to me that "bi-vocational" was simply another way of saying "part-time". It is not, and here's why.

In the first instance, part-time describes what you do in terms of how many hours you spend doing it. That is a wholly inadequate way to describe a vocation. We don't call people who work twice the average hours in a week than most people double-timers, we just call them full-time ministers!

Secondly, who would dare suggest that Paul was a part-time worker for the kingdom when he used his tent-making skills to earn an income. It's nonsense.

But I guess it's the division of our lives into the so-called secular and sacred that most troubles me when we use terms like part-time and full-time. It's an old argument I know, but I think such language reinforces this divide and feeds the unhealthy self-understanding it creates. We are all called to be full-time followers of Jesus Christ, deploying our gifts and skills the best ay we can for the sake of the kingdom and in the mission of God. Postman, dentist, lawyer, retail worker or church worker, we're all the same. None of us is more special than any other.

So why is bi-vocational better? Well I guess it's not if we only use as a posh way of saying the church can't afford to pay me a full-time income. My first churches had very little money available for ministry, so my wife worked to support us and I gave my time freely and fully to serve them. They paid me what they could and we worked it out from there. But that's not all I'm thinking about.

I believe that maybe bi-vocational ministry will demystify ministry and ultimately empower the local church to be the community of faith it ought to be. Instead of having one or two professionals doing the majority of the ministry, the whole church will be mobilised and engaged. Why should bi-vocational help this more than full-time? Maybe because we will need to be far more specific about the bi-vocational leader's role.

These are just some emerging thoughts. They are incomplete, but I think the distinction is important.

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