Saturday, December 04, 2010

Being Bi-vocational

So, one of the things ELCAers going through the candidacy process have been told as of late is that they need to be prepared to be “bi-vocational.”
I would like to stir up the pot a little bit. When we are told that we need to be bi-vocational are we really being told that we need a second job?
If I remember my reformation history accurately part of the revolutionary nature Luther’s teaching was his understanding of vocation. In a sense the medieval church eschewed uni-vocational ministry; or to put it another way bi-vocationality was impossible in that system. By this I mean the only job that was “spiritual” the only job that was actually fulfilling God’s will and calling upon a person’s life was that of the priest.
Luther’s response to this was that a father changing a child’s diaper was as holy as the prayers of a whole monastery of monks. It was a re-capturing of the noble spiritual truth that when we serve our neighbor we also serve God. All of a sudden being a baker, a banker, a mother, a father, a husband, a plumber, or a social worker were all vocations—they were all jobs of spiritual worth, all jobs we are called by God to do because they serve a common good, a communal neighbor, and thus serve Christ and his Gospel.
Thus I have four questions I believe to be worth discussing:
1. So why is it that only now, when there aren’t enough full-time calls for Lutheran pastors, that the ELCA is calling us to discern a second vocation?
2. For that matter what does this “bi-vocational” language say to pastors who are fathers and mothers? GED certifiers? Volunteers of all sorts? What if a pastor has discerned that God has called him to be a pastor, God has called him to volunteer at a homeless shelter, God has called him to be a husband, and God has called him to be a father? That’s four vocations already! Four holy callings upon a man’s life!
3. The lifestyle of a pastor makes maintaining other vocations, such as parent and spouse, hard to do ( why is the ELCA only concerned with a clergyperson’s other vocations once it involves money? (As a side-note yes I am aware of the wholeness wheel
4. For that matter, when we discuss lay-folk and non-ordination track folk we lessen the use of this language of vocation. Why is it only when the work life of ordained-folk is concerned that we trot out this language of vocation?
I guess it seems that as a church it is important to call things what they are.
Chris Halverson


Dustin G. Wright said...

Chris- I like this a lot. It's really important to clarify that the vocation of a pastor has always been multifaceted.

Chris said...

The "bi-vocational" language might not be theologically very precise, as you point out. It refers, as far as I can see, to the need to have the ability to work part-time as a pastor and part-time or full-time in a profession that can offer adequate compensation. The reality is that the church has a decreasing capacity to pay 10,000ish pastors full time salary and benefits. Thus, we who look to the church not only as the realm of our vocation but also as our employer need to have a Plan B, C, and D. There is a pending HR crisis in the church. The timeline of that HR crisis is not clear, but the trend is.

So, the important parsing of theological language aside, when it comes to vocations that will also provide pay and benefits, we pastors need to be prepared for the day when the church can no longer pay us full-time salaries ... are we ready?

One last thing: did that candidacy committee do a darn thing to help you prepare for bi-vocational ministry? Did seminary? It's all well and good for them to tell you to be prepared for bi-vocational ministry, but do they equip you to do that?


Christopher said...

@Chris-They have not prepared us for bi-vocaitonal ministry as far as I have seen. One student asked how to balance the two jobs (for example you're serving beers at the local pub and you get a call that someone has been put on life support, do you leave the pub and possibly get fired or stay and not be pastor to someone in deepest need?). The answer we got was that that's something we'll need to figure out in this brave new world of bi-vocationality.
@DW-Thanks! I think it is easy to forget vocations aren't always the things we get paid to do.

Anonymous said...

I read this with great interest. The concept of "bi-vocation", or as you illustrate "quad-vocation", or any other numeric variation, is thought provoking.

A pastor is called to serve the Lord and His people. Jesus called his disciples and asked them to drop everything (including family) to follow Him and to preach the good news. Can a pastor do justice to a bi- or multi-vocation? Is promoting bi-vocation due to a decreased commitment by the faithful to tithe and support the one who is ministering to them? Do some pastors misuse their vocation to enrich themselves, thus turning off others from the faith? (undoubtedly some, but I believe most are modest in their requirements for earthly enrichment).

I struggle thinking of how one can fully apply themselves to multi-vocations as I look at my life and how difficult it is to balance work, family life, church responsibilities, etc. I advocate strong support of the pastor, so the pastor can focus full time ministry, so that when I need him he doesn't have to decide whether leaving the bar could cost him his "night job" :-)

Peace to you as well!

Rob D. in Texas

stinal81 said...

Preach it, brother. Vocation, as the word implies, is that to which we are "called." I indeed feel called to multiple facets of life, and the one I'm getting paid for happens to be ministry in an ordained sense. Your statement about that language lessening the vocational call of laity is crucial, and what about the lay ministry that we ask of our members? Is that not vocation?

Gary-Andrew said...


You are right to point these things out. I believe that the bi-vocational possibility has always been there, but the expectation is arising because of economic concerns as so many peers have noted. As someone who has been discerning a bi-vocational call to teaching in schools as well as pastoral ministry, I feel that stronger descriptions of individual pastoral calls are required. With the example above of a pastor working a bar, where does the idea of an "on-call" pastor come from? A pastor is not always a chaplain. I feel that what you're getting at goes to the heart of the systems congregations build and the expectations being placed on pastors (at least in this country). We need to reevaluated the very idea of what a pastor is, could be, might not be, and is not (starting with adopting those two middle categories as valid).

In Christ,

Christopher said...

@rob-I think there is a decreased commitment to tithing, but I also think there is a more general decreased commitment to church. While some of this has to do with pastors accruing wealth and behaving badly in a variety of ways, I think there is a deeper malaise going on in North America regarding church, trust in institutions, as well as activities that involve community in general.
As I near first call I really hope I am called to a church in which I am full time so I do not have to make choices between the job I get money from and the calling God has upon my life.
As for dropping one’s family, I do see the draw of, for example monasticism or the celibate priesthood, you can exclusively devote yourself to prayer/poverty/etc. Yet, I think this creates a dangerous divide between clergy and laity, and I genuinely believe God calls people to multiple vocations.

Christopher said...

@ Stina-Yeah, if Lutherans are going to talk about the common priesthood and variety of gifts we should affirm more clearly that vocation is something for everyone.
@ Gary-Any thoughts of what a pastor could be and might not be?
I suppose I do not know where the idea of on-call pastor comes from. I guess it is often seen as a good idea to have someone trained to think theologically and who is trained in pastoral care to be with people in times of great distress and need.
I see that aspect of ministry to be important to my call, but that need not be the case for all ministers or ministries.

Katie Drefke said...

I remember a car ride with a pastor/mentor from undergrad a couple of summers ago. He talked to me about it being a good idea for pastors to be cross-trained (at the time I was in grad school for social work). He thought the two would go well for me. And I don't necessarily disagree. Chris, you are one of the most disgustingly smart people I know. And while you certainly break many of preconceptions about such freakishly smart people having no social skills, I wonder about those persons who have basically spent their life in school studying history, religion, philosophy, etc before going directly to seminary. Where are the specific and generalizable SKILLS (not knowledge)? In this respect, cross-training would likely be beneficial for the pastors and the communities being served. But you then run into practical concerns about the cost of education, poor pay, multiple employments, licensure/ certification for the other profession, and a myriad of other considerations. And these tend to compound. For example, if I were to go to seminary, I'd double my current student accrued debt and MAYBE make an extra $10k over my current salary, plus I have to maintain my social work license which involves continuing education, which means more money.

Cross-training, does not always mean bi-vocational, either. Chris' points about the multiple vocations a person serves (ie: partner, parent, volunteer) is not be overlooked. Perhaps, a focus on the multi-faceted roles within the pastoral vocation should be promoted. Most people only see a pastor working on Sundays and religious holidays. They forget about all the time a pastor spends in committees trying "to keep the lights on." This latter item, keeps a pastor from doing the vocational work of the church: being among and serving with the people!

I've lost where I was going with all of this and it's long. Done for now.

LutherPunk said...

Sadly the reality is that this is where we are going, and in some ways it doesn't really matter why. I've been at both ends of the spectrum. In my first call I was an associate at a larger congregation with plenty of money. It was the kind of place where I could raise $20k at a single wine tasting for various ministries. Now I am serving a tiny storefront where we have to scrape just to get by. I haven't had a raise in three years, and the truth is I have thought that maybe they either need to have a part time pastor in the future (something they do not want) or they need to yoke this congregation to another smaller one and make it a multipoint parish. Multipoint parishes - though something from our past - just may be the future.

The other thing we need to seriously think about is the possibility of federated ministries. The ELCA isn't the only church having this issue. We are in full communion with other churches and need to really work that for the good of the future of the church. I am Lutheran, but trained in a Methodist seminary while participating in an Anglican Studies program. I would be more than comfortable in a federated parish where the style was UMC or TEC at one service and ELCA at another, or even a blended style that all could agree upon.

I have been seriously considering what else I could do in this economy and the one emerging that wold provide me with a way to care for my primary vocation: my family. At 37 I am too damned tired for law school. A PhD in any of the liberal arts is waste of time and money. Do I get certified to be a social studies or literature teacher? Do I become a therapist? Do I become a fire arms instructor (now there's a twist!)? I just don't know what to do other than to keep on preaching.

Scott Alan said...

Christopher - these are worthy reflections. Thanks for posting them.

One point none of us have broached thus far, though, is financial stewardship and how it relates to the life of the church. Were we pastors better at 1) modeling generous giving and 2) encouraging (and even prodding) our members to do the same, some of these difficulties would disappear. Not all, of course, especially in these sketchy financial times. But all of us are called to examine our own financial priorities and, as much as we are able, to bring them in line with God's vision for the world. (And I stand under that umbrella of conviction myself - faithful financial stewardship is by no means easy or uncomplicated!)

Derek said...

I think that part of the issue here is the definition and scope of the ordained ministry. The scope of the ordained ministry is actually rather small--it is the proclamation of the Gospel through Word and Sacrament. This is what ordination means and grants.

Check the Confessions again and see where pastoral care and committee responsibilities appear. The problem here is that these very well can and should be lay vocations as well. The *fundamental* difference between clergy and laity is the sacramental ministry. Do we challenge our qualified lay people to be teaching and caring for one another or are do succumbing to the pastor-as-hero model that both feeds our control-freak sides while killing our families?

Granted, you can never fully separate sacramental ministry from pastoral ministry et al. (as preaching in particular flows from your pastoral experiences with your congregation) but I see this again as a devaluing of the laity in favor of seeing the pastor as the congregation's sole Professional Christian.

LutherPunk's got a keen sense of the current and future problems, and one of the few good resources to draw on is trained and empowered laity.

LutherPunk said...

Chris - I did want to add that I have looked at mission development models from outside the ELCA to see how they work. There are some models where the mission developer is intentionally bi-vocational from the very beginning. Some never draw a salary from the sponsoring denomination/judicatory, leaving all funds they receive to sink into building the community.

My wife worked with one such guy last year. He had degrees (M.Div., Th.M. and D.Min) from legit sems but also was teacher certified. He taught Algebra at one of our local high schools and led the church by night and weekend. He never took a salary. Now the church is getting big enough to pay someone part time at least, and he has stepped down to do that whole plant thing over again. It is scary but it is being done effectively.

Anonymous said...

Jesus called Peter when he was a fisherman, he called Paul who was a tent-maker by trade and he called me as a college student. When push came to shove Peter could fish, Paul could make tents and I can pontificate, which neither puts food on the table nor pays for the fancy Graduate degree the ELCA required for me to be ordained.

As an unemployed ELCA pastor, who has been seeking a full-time call for over three years, I have given this matter a great deal of consideration asking myself, "What am I going to do now????" Here are some of my thoughts.

Truthfully not everyone is called to be a teacher. I knew I wasn't called to the full-time teaching of children ever since I was in the 6th grade and my Wisconsin Synod Teacher left me to teach a room full of kindergarten students for two hours. Even if I wanted to teach my B.A. is in religion, not education, so I would need to return to school. (Definitely out of the question.) All of this is in addition to the fact that many schools and school districts are consolidating and laying off teachers so it is extremely unlikely that a pastor could rely on teaching. Substitute teaching, which is the only type of teaching one can do without certification, pays a mere $12 an hour in the major city where I live and even here one can't count on working every day. Imagine how bad the situation is out in rural America!

I think the ELCA has its head in the sand. The national unemployment rate is 10% and that figure does not include those who are underemployed or slipping through the cracks. The church has no business REQUIRING an Mdiv. for ministry and asking that pastors work an additional job. True, there are denominations where bi-vocational pastors are the norm but in those denominations the clergy are not required to have a college education, let alone an Mdiv.

What are pastors supposed to do in the small town to which we are called? In my experience as a small town pastor locals hired locals and I can guarantee you they would not have wanted their pastor serving drinks at their local bar, which was the ONLY major business in town. The words that ring in my ears for the rest of my life are as follows, "We didn't want to tell you this pastor but the cafe/bar is [Anytown]!" Oh yeah there are lots of secondary employment opportunities in rural America....NOT!!!!!!!!! Pretty much all a pastor in small town or rural ministry can hope for is getting hired 40 miles up the pike at the Super Wal-Mart, where there will be an expectation that the pastor would work evenings, weekends (including some Sundays) and holidays.

My present hope is that I will get an endorsement to do chaplaincy but my first call concluded 6 months shy of the 3 year requirement for the endorsement, due to the financial instability of the congregation. Personally I am praying that the church will change its policies to reflect the present crisis. After over three years of being on "call waiting" I can only hope and pray for some leniency and sanity in this denomination.

Pastor Anna

Christopher said...

@KD-Just some gentle pushback, I would say the M.Div. does an okay job at skills training, for example three hundred clinical hours, a year of internship, and a year of field education. As for the question of vocational work versus upkeep work, other folk are pointing this out too.

Christopher said...

@LP- Why is it that churchs all want a full-time pastor? Do you know what the process is to do a federated church, or alternatively get called into one of our ecumenical partner churches?
Do you know off hand how the mission developer has paid for his 3 previous theological degrees? I will have 2 masters level religion degrees when I start the first call hunt, and around 80,000 dollars of debt. Not an economic place from which I would feel comfortable getting paid for something that has nothing to do with either degree (is that self-ish/irrational of me?).
Also, I’m glad to hear that your family is your primary vocation! I guess that might answer my bracketed question—I would take up that vocation despite not having a M.Spouse or M. Father. :P

Christopher said...

@SA-Good point. We often do not talk about money easily. One thing my intern supervisor made very clear was that he tithed. It was a small thing, but he was consistent about that, and talked about it more than I think most Lutheran pastors do. It isn’t “just stewardship” but in fact an aspect of discipleship.
And now I’m off to class, will respond to PA and D later… I’ve not forgotten you guys.

Christopher said...

While I agree that word and sacrament are the central things of my vocation I do think my training has also prepared me for the particularities of both a teaching ministry as well as the “chaplain” aspect of parish ministry. Additionally I have found some gifts in disciple making. While these may not be directly Lutheran Confessions type of stuff I think it is important and not unreasonable to consider them to be part of my calling. That said they should also be seen as part of the calling of various lay-folk in whatever parish I am called to.
I remember my confession’s professor talking about his annoyance at most books for youth about “Christian heroes” always focusing on Luther, Bonheoffer, and Dr. King. All wonderful people, but also, as you named them, all “professional” Christians. All professing Christians should be seen as ministers in the church and as potential “Christian Heroes.”

Christopher said...

@ Anon-Pastor-Anna
I guess I would begin by letting you know I am praying about your situation. I can only imagine the sense of betrayal and frustration you are feeling.
Your description “I can pontificate” speaks both to your humor, as well as to the urgency of Kate’s “Skills” comment.
A question I would have is do you think the ELCA should go the route of less training for M.Div’s (B.Div’s?) but affirm bi-vocation as the norm (and perhaps waiving the 3 year chaplaincy requirement), or keep the 4 year M.Div. as a requirement but hold more strongly onto the full-time assumptions?
Your stark description of the actual job opportunities out there for pastors, especially in rural areas, is really frightening!
Again, I want you to know I’m praying for you.