Financial and other pragmatic realities of churches often point those of us committed to a life as ‘professional’ church leaders to bi-vocational ministry as our best, and sometimes only, option. I entered into a bi-vocational life because the church I was called to serve, New Vision United Church of Christ, could not (and still cannot) afford a full-time pastor. I’ve worked many part-time jobs since then. Currently, I am a Starbucks barista. I’m lucky; they offer health benefits, flexible hours and are willing to work around my church schedule. Yet, this life is not for everyone.
Being a part-time minister sometimes benefits both me and my congregation. I am not at the beck and call of my congregation. I have working hours for church and I am held accountable to them, by my family and by my congregation (except in the case of emergencies, of course). Also, my other job helps me to be not so absorbed in what I am doing as a pastor that I forget the struggles and passions of those outside of church life. My congregation, by necessity, is greatly involved, actively self-governing and empowered to determine their own future as a community of faith. Each and every congregant must engage in faith development through action and participate in community building. This collaborative church culture creates a more sustainable community and one that learns to work with the diversity of people both within and outside the church.
There are some struggles as well. I sometimes feel that I’m not fulfilling my full calling as a pastor. I dream of the things that I could do or inspire if only I had the time. I’m tired much of the time and it is not always easy to shift gears between the two jobs when I have them both on the same day. My congregation struggles seeing this and want to provide a stable/full time workplace for me. The fact that they can’t (previously they had a full time pastor) sometimes fills them with regret and guilt and sometimes leads to feelings of being ‘less-than’ other communities of faith.
We have all learned together that through all of this, we can remain faithful. Each day brings new challenges, a new balance between jobs. Through it all, every day I have the opportunity to feel blessed. Every day I am at Starbucks, my congregation grows to include people I would have never met who share their lives and their concerns with me. My care as a pastor extends to Lois, a lonely widower, and Sean, (names changed to protect privacy) a man with a chronic illness and children that he worries about, and to all the young baristas with whom I work who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I may have a part-time call, but I have a full-time vocation in serving God’s people, wherever they may be.