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Bivocationalism and the Priesthood of all believers

Joshua Tong

 

Introduction

      In today’s climate, the role of the institutional church is seen to be diminishing based on the declining attendance figures in large churches. As a result, many churches are seeking to reinvent themselves and pursue new methods of ministry.

      One model which is being increasingly explored is ‘tent-making’ or ‘bi-vocational’ ministry wherein preachers continue to hold full or part-time ‘secular’ employment instead of being solely supported by their church. While it is being promoted as a new innovation by some and is viewed with skepticism by others, the truth is that this model of ministry was in fact the norm in the early church and has many distinct benefits and challenges when compared to the full time paid ministry model that most consider traditional.

      In this essay, I seek to demonstrate that bi-vocational ministry is a fuller realization of the priesthood of all believers than traditional full time paid ministry based on scripture and a selection of literature including publications from major organizations involved in the movement. 

  1. What is vocation?

      The term comes from the Latin word vocare meaning ‘calling’. This term covers far more than simple economic activity or religious commitments and refers to all aspects of a Christian’s individual life (1 Corinthians 7:17) including all kinds of relationships, interactions and positions in family and society (Paul gives relevant examples in Ephesians 5-6).

      Luther viewed God’s particular calling of every individual including non-believers as His means of acting in the world – i.e. individuals of different stations in life and society are used as instruments of His providence. The only difference he saw between the vocation of believers and non-believers is that believers are additionally called to be members of Christ’s body and some believers are further called to be part of the formal or hierarchical clergy. [1]

      In fact, God’s own purpose for the creation of mankind is for us to order creation on His behalf (Genesis 1:28) and productive work was esteemed in Old Testament times (Psalm 90:17). [2] Even John the Baptist in his message of repentance called for tax collectors and soldiers to perform their official duties with renewed integrity as opposed to demanding that they leave for a ‘holier calling’. (Luke 3:12-14)

 

  1. What is Bi-vocationalism?

      ‘Bi-vocationalism’ or ‘bi-vocational ministry’ is a term that is increasingly being used to refer to ‘tent-making ministry’ as modelled by Paul in Acts 18:3-4, i.e. engaging in at least one ‘secular’ vocation alongside a ‘sacred’ church vocation, of which either or both may be financially compensated.

      This method of supporting ministry was actually the norm in the early church [3] and Paul himself was actually self-supported with a profit making occupation (Acts 18 describes him making tents) to avoid burdening the regional churches (1 Thessalonians 2:9) even as he advocated for the financial support of ministers. (1 Timothy 5:17-18). [4]

      The spread of the Western churches also occurred on the backs of bi-vocational ministers who established themselves in the mission field as members of secular professions while providing pastoral care to local believers when the need arose. The concept of a fully funded pastor is a relatively recent innovation which stemmed from the increasing academic qualifications expected of the pastoral ministry. [5]

 

  1. What is the priesthood of all believers?

      God intended for the entirety of His people to be priestly figures to the world (Exodus 19:6) but the sinfulness of Israel necessitated an intermediary between them and God so that they would not be destroyed by His holiness (Exodus 19:24).

      Once Christ offered himself as the prefect sacrifice for the sins of all believers, he became the only intermediary necessary (Heb 10: 10-14). As a result, all believers today can engage in the priestly ministry that God intends for His people, consecrating every thought, word and action to Him as a living sacrifice (1 Peter 2:9-10).

      While pastors and other appointed or elected clergy do have a special assignment to teach scripture and oversee spiritual development, they have no advantages compared to lay believers in terms of obtaining salvation and accessing the grace and providence of God. [6]

 

  1. Loving our neighbors

            Jesus’ second New Commandment is that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30) and he further clarified that ‘neighbors’ here refers to everyone we come into contact with who has needs, even outside of the religious establishment (Luke 10:29-37).

            The simple reality of life is that God places believers in both church and non-church occupations into extensive contact with ‘neighbors’ who are of the world and each of these relationships brings with it a range of responsibilities which can be consecrated and used as an opportunity to show the love of Christ where it might otherwise be absent. In other words, God uses people to meet needs but believers can go even further as His priests by doing what they do to the best of their abilities out of a genuine love for others as a Christ-like living sacrifice.[7]

            A key advantage of bi-vocationalism in the vocation of loving one’s neighbors is that a bi-vocational pastor may have an easier time staying in touch with the needs of those outside of the church simply due to spending more time with them. He or she would have a better understanding of the demands of ‘secular’ working life as well as various work-related issues which may not occur with as much frequency or as great intensity within the church. It may also be easier for a bi-vocational pastor to develop relationships with non-believers when they are his or her co-workers than when speaking to them as a member of the clergy. [8]

 

  1. Being in the world but not of the world

            Christ himself did not pray that his disciples would be taken out of the world but that they would be sanctified and kept from the evil one while they are on earth (John 17:15-18), therefore we are to engage with others in a way that demonstrates our identity as new creations.

            The role of the Christian is, in the end, to bear witness to Christ in all aspects of earthly life. In addition to demonstrating the love of Christ as stated in the preceding section, the believer is also to join in God’s work of bringing all things under His Son by helping to build up the community where they have been placed. With this in mind, being ‘bi-vocational’ can be thought of as simply being involved in multiple different kinds of service to one’s neighbors. [9]

            A key aspect of earthly life is that the vast majority of people on Earth are outside the church and have no intention of joining the church, the result being that they will not experience Christian witness and ministry if it is only conducted in a church setting through ecclesiastical activities. A Christian can reveal the nature of God and His Son to these people by conducting the activities of their ‘secular’ jobs in a manner that seeks to serve God above all else and to care for the needs of others. A Christian demonstrating a high degree of professional and personal integrity along with selflessness at work will immediately stand out to his or her worldly colleagues and thus create avenues for outreach.

            There are also many areas of the world that are closed to overt Christian ministry work but these communities and their governing authorities still welcome professionals and businesses with open arms. Bi-vocational workers can effectively penetrate these areas and additionally have the advantage of being self-supporting.[10] In addition, there has been a degree of distrust created in the governments of closed regions due to more traditional missionary efforts using professional activities as a mere front for religious work at the expense of the quality of their services but this can be overcome if the missionaries are sincerely interested in providing excellent ‘secular’ services and improving the welfare of the people. [11]

 

  1. Being transformed by the renewing of the mind

            Bi-vocationalism can have benefits in enhancing a Christian’s spiritual growth due to its unique demands compared to those of full time paid ministry. Being forced to divide time and focus between a congregation at church and a ‘congregation’ at work can foster willingness to depend on God and on others rather than micro-managing every aspect of one’s ministry [12] while the expanded work schedule helps to overcome the temptation of laziness and creates a need to take control of and organize one’s life around God’s priorities. [13]

              Above all, bi-vocationalism has the capacity to transform the entirety of the way a Christian views earthly life by exposing him or her to God’s works and the needs of others in even the most mundane areas of everyday life and worldly society that a full time church worker may simply not be free to engage with. This can have sanctifying effects on the way the believer thinks and acts in all of life by destroying perceived boundaries between the sacred and the secular. [14]   

Conclusion:

            In summary, I have found that bi-vocationalism is a fuller realization of the priesthood of all believers than full time paid ministry as it allows the church to be priests to the world at large rather than just those who are targeted for ministry. It is in fact closer to the original definition of ‘vocation’ than the newer views which led to the coining of the term and the related ‘tent-making’ and was the original modus operandi of the church until relatively recently. 

            Bi-vocationalism creates more opportunities for believers to love more of their neighbors in more appropriate ways by widening their social circles and bringing them into contact with the problems of secular working life. It also allows them to demonstrate Christlikeness to a wider audience including those who may be in closed regions and allows them to join in God’s overall redemption of Creation by transforming their community. Finally, bi-vocationalism can aid in the believer’s Christian growth by formally bringing his or her entire life under God’s purview and forcing a greater degree of dependence on Him and on the rest of the church.

            In light of all these points, I believe that the movement towards ‘bi-vocationalism’ is indeed closer to realizing the priesthood of all believers than traditional concepts of ecclesiastical appointments and I would further venture to say that it is redundant in light of what ‘vocation’ really means. Christians’ true vocation is to live as God’s people where He has placed them in the way that His Scripture has revealed.

 

 

Bibliography

Veith, G.E. “Vocation: The Theology of the Christian Life”. Journal of Markets & Morality 14 no 1 (2011): 119–131.

Philips, J.T. “What is the Reformed Doctrine of Vocation?”. In Reformation Bible College. Database on-line. Available from:  https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/students/the-reformed-doctrine-of-vocation/. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017.           

LaRochelle, R. Part-time Pastor, Full-time Church. Pilgrim Press, 2010.

Piper, J. “ “Tentmakers” in Minneapolis”. In Desiring God. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/tentmakers-in-minneapolis. Internet.Accessed 23 August 2017.

Bickers, D. The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry. Kansas: Beacon Hill Press, 2004.

Sproul, R.C. “A Royal Priesthood in Christ”. In Ligonier Ministries: the teaching   fellowship of R. C. Sproul. Database on-line. Available from:  http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/royal-priesthood-christ/. Internet.          Accessed 23 August 2017.

Veith, G. E. “Masks of God”. In Lutheran Witness (2001). Database on-line. Available from: www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=607. Internet. Accessed 23     August 2017.

Siu, F. W. “The Bi-vocational Pastor”. In Grace Communion International. Database online. Available from: https://www.gci.org/church/ministry/bivocational. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

Kuecker, A. “Tent Making and Christian Life”. In Theology of Work Project. Database on-line. Available from: https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/acts/a-clash-of-kingdoms-community-and-powerbrokers-acts-13-19/tent-making-and-christian-life-acts-181-4. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017.

Ovalle, D. “What is Bi-vocational Ministry?”. In Desiring God. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-bi-vocational-ministry. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

Connelly, B. “Five Perks to Being Bi-vocational”. In CT Pastors. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2013/january-online-only/five-perks-to-being-bi-vocational.html. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

Gilder, R. “The Demands and Benefits of the Bivocational Minister”. In LifeWay. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/pastor-bivocational-minister-demands-benefits. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.


 

[1] Veith, G.E. “Vocation: The Theology of the Christian Life”. Journal of Markets  & Morality 14 no 1 (2011): 119–131

[2] Philips, J.T. “What is the Reformed Doctrine of Vocation?”. In Reformation Bible College. Database on-line. Available from: https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/students/the-reformed-doctrine-of-vocation/. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017

[3] LaRochelle, R. Part-time Pastor, Full-time Church. Pilgrim Press, 2010.

[4] Piper, J. “ “Tentmakers” in Minneapolis”. In Desiring God. Database on-line. Available from http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/tentmakers-in-minneapolis. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017.

[5] Bickers, D. The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry. Kansas: Beacon Hill Press, 2004.

[6] Sproul, R.C. “A Royal Priesthood in Christ”. In Ligonier Ministries: the teaching fellowship of R. C. Sproul. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/royal-priesthood-christ/. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017

[7] Veith, G.E. “Masks of God”. In Lutheran Witness (2001). Database on-line. Available from: www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=607. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017.

[8] Siu, F. W. “The Bi-vocational Pastor”. In Grace Communion International. Database on-line. Available from https://www.gci.org/church/ministry/bivocational. Internet. Accessed 276 July 2017.

[9] Kuecker, A. “Tent Making and Christian Life”. In Theology of Work Project. Database on-line. Available from https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/acts/a-clash-of-kingdoms-community-and-powerbrokers-acts-13-19/tent-making-and-christian-life-acts-181

[10] Piper, J. “ “Tentmakers” in Minneapolis”. In Desiring God. Database on-line. Available from http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/tentmakers-in-minneapolis. Internet. Accessed 23 August 2017.

[11] Ovalle, D. “What is Bi-vocational Ministry?”. In Desiring God. Database on-line. Available from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-bi-vocational-ministry. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

[12] Connelly, B. “Five Perks to Being Bi-vocational”. In CT Pastors. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2013/january-online-only/five-perks-to-being-bi-vocational.html. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

[13] Gilder, R. “The Demands and Benefits of the Bivocational Minister”. In LifeWay. Database on-line. Available from: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/pastor-bivocational-minister-demands-benefits. Internet. Accessed 26 July 2017.

[14] Veith, G.E. “Vocation: The Theology of the Christian Life”. Journal of Markets  & Morality 14 no 1 (2011): 119–131

 

|posted 18 Dec 2017|

               

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