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Why You Need Bivocational Church Leaders

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

We are in a time of transition. The world has changed, yet many church structures have not caught up. As we transition from an industrial society to the information age, from an agricultural economy to one based on technology, from an agrarian to urban culture, our churches and leadership systems must also transition. If we don't adapt, churches could decline, and some will close. Adaptation does not equal theological compromise.




Churches are declining in membership, and many can only afford a dual parish pastor. A bivocational pastor could serve the needs of one congregation.


As the need for bivocational pastors increases, churches are finding it difficult to find qualified candidates. A bivocational pastor could serve the needs of one congregation. This would allow churches to have a full-time pastor and still have someone present on Sunday morning or Wednesday night and not leave the congregation without any spiritual leadership on the weekdays.

Many churches today are declining in membership, and many can only afford a dual parish pastor who has to split time between two congregations. I know of many churches struggling financially. Inflation is affecting all of our congregations, especially our older congregations with elderly members on fixed incomes. A bivocational leader could help congregations become financially sound, and even start exploring new ministries to attract younger families. This could give hope to aging parishes.


The Apostle Paul served as a tent-making bivocational leader.


As a bivocational leader, Paul exemplified the need to work in order to support his ministry. He was not paid by any church or organization. He supported himself with his trade of tent-making (2 Corinthians 11:23).

It is important for us to remember that this was not an uncommon practice at the time and continues today in many parts of the world. In fact, many pastors and leaders around the world rely on their income from their vocation while serving as church leaders.


First century house churches were likely led by bivocational leaders.


Bivocational ministry is a reality for today's world. Many people would accept no other calling than to be a full-time church leader. This can be true whether they are in an established denomination or non-denominational setting of worship or missional community. In the first century, house churches were likely led by bivocational leaders (Acts 6:1–6). It is wise for the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod to give this type of ministry serious consideration.


Bivocational leaders keep one foot in the church and the other in the community.



Bivocational leaders often keep one foot in the church and one foot in the community. They are able to serve in a variety of settings, including both religious and secular organizations. Their experience with a wide range of people and situations helps them better understand diversity, which can be a great asset for any church.

Bivocational leaders also tend to have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening around them—not just within their own congregation but across their communities as well. They know who needs help, what resources are available locally, and where those resources can be accessed most efficiently.


Bivocational leaders will need both theological and hyper-contextualized training.


Bivocational leaders need both theological and hyper-contextualized training. Theological training can be accomplished with a mix of in-person and online, and hyper-contextualized mentor training can be acquired in the field.

You'll want to make sure that your bivocational leaders have both theological and hyper contextualized training.


One argument against raising up bivocational leaders locally is that the pastor may need to be sent to serve the church elsewhere. Being trained locally should not prohibit the leader from being sent as the Holy Spirit leads.


One of the arguments against raising up bivocational leaders locally is that pastors may be called to serve the church elsewhere. Being trained locally does not prohibit leaders from being sent as the Holy Spirit leads. The local congregation will benefit by having a leader who is well grounded in the community and knows its needs.


In order to provide leadership that meets all of these needs, training must be offered in a way that addresses each of these issues:


  • Caring for the needs of the community, especially for the poor and marginalized.

  • Theological education that prepares people for ministry, including the practical knowledge (e.g. Law and Gospel as found in the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions) and skills necessary for effective ministry (e.g., how to lead worship, preach using Law and Gospel, homebound visitation, etc.).

  • A life-long learning program that fosters growth of character, faithfulness to the Gospel, discernment of calling, and wisdom offered for others.

  • Spiritual formation programs focused on discipleship, where spiritual disciplines like prayer and daily time in the Word are taught.


Our church system was established at a time when bivocational ministry was not required. It was a "Christian America." Times have substantially changed.


Our church system was established at a time when bivocational ministry was not required. It

was a "Christian America." Times have substantially changed, and we are now living in the midst of a great decline of faith and morals. In order to counter this decline, churches must begin training leaders who can lead without the support of a full-time church salary.


Bivocational leaders will, by necessity, need to work in a team. This will model how even full-time pastors should behave.


Many full-time pastors function solely as “doers” of ministry. This is not bad - it is simply not complete. Pastors must do Word and Sacrament ministry. They also must begin to develop others to do the same. Bivocational leaders will, by nature of their time limitations, need to work on a team to do ministry. I have experienced the joy of having bivocational leaders working part time, on our team, largely in their area of gifting. I pray other pastors experience the same joy.


We must consider how the church is growing in the global south. Many of their house church movements are led by bivocational pastors.


We must consider how the church is growing in the global south. Many of their house church movements are led by bivocational pastors. They are needed to help this movement grow, and they have a unique opportunity to help build up a strong local church. For example, I recently heard that many new churches in Uganda were started by former Muslims or animists who converted after hearing a message preached on radio or television, or even after hearing the gospel from family or other trusted people. These churches are often small and need to be served by bivocational pastors who have a life-long learning mindset. The Ugandan pastors love to have more experienced and educated pastors come and sharpen their theology over their lifetime of pastoral service.


The LCMS needs more bivocational leaders.


Two big questions:

  1. Will synodical leadership respond to this need?

  2. Will our educational institutions (Seminaries and Universities) respond to meet the need?

If both of these answers are “yes,” I envision a season of the LCMS using bivocational leaders to help the church grow, and, in time, be able to afford more full-time workers again.

I believe that bivocational pastors and leaders will be a valuable asset to the church and should be given serious consideration today.


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I was a worker/priest, aka bivocational pastor for all of my 30 years of pastoral ministry. I locally trained myself, with an amazing mentor named Pastor Don Schatz. He introduced me to Lutheran theology starting with Walther’s Law & Gospel. For the next 2 years I shadowed Don on hospital visits, home and nursing home visits, and funerals. Along with Pastor Eldon Weisheit, I had a good couple of years to learn the trade. There was no such thing as a Deacon in those days, so I started a school “Lutheran Servanthood School” with The Rev Dr Walter Stuenkel and his son Roger. I served “under the radar”, though wintering retired professors from the seminary knew of my existence…ther…

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