Ralph Wright Jr: Changes in Bivocational Ministry

How has bivocational ministry changed since the 1960s? How has ministry changed during this time?

Ralph B. Wright Jr., an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), spends his retirement in Patchogue, New York.

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

In Chapter 3, “Changes in Ministry and Bivocational Ministry Since the 1960s,” Ralph B. Wright Jr. presents personal reflections based on 45 years in bivocational ministries in the United States as well as overseas. He observes a crisis of decline among White, mainline churches within a context of increased secularization in North America and suggests that bivocational pastors, offering a broader set of skills and talents than traditional, univocational pastors, are often well positioned to meet the changing needs of congregations in the twenty-first century. Addressing issues of racism, ethnocentrism, classism, and patriarchy, Wright draws on his own experience to show how bivocationality can provide new opportunities for ministry within the larger community. Bivocational ministry can be an opportunity to revitalize the church in mission to the community at large, particularly majority-White congregations that have lost touch with the changing communities around them. He concludes with a plea for increased collegial and judicatory support for bivocational pastors, especially women in ministry.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Jessica Young Brown: Black and Bivocational

Why are we not looking to Black bivocational ministers to inform our understanding about what it means to thrive in this context?

Jessica Young Brown, a lay member of the American Baptist Churches USA, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and teaches in the areas of Christian education, spiritual formation, and pastoral care and counseling.

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

In Chapter 4, “Black and Bivocational,” Jessica Young Brown provides deep insight into bivocational ministry based on empirical research with Black pastors and ministers. Noting that Black pastors have been engaged in this ministerial dynamic for a long time, she asks, why are we not looking to Black bivocational ministers to inform our understanding about what it means to thrive in this context? Thus, this chapter looks to Black bivocational clergy as exemplars for navigating bivocational ministry. Based on survey and interview data, Brown explores issues of gifts and call, finances, self-care, professional responsibilities and boundaries, as well as challenges, such as patriarchy. She observes, among other things, that women may need additional resources and sources of support than men in bivocational ministry. She concludes that the Black church must reckon with the expectations that are placed on ministers in general and bivocational ministers in particular, and suggests a scaling back of the functional expectations placed on ministers to hold sacred space, allowing for their human limitations and sense of wellness.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Ben Connelly: Spiritual Growth in Bivocational Ministry

Pastors rarely become bivocational in order to grow spiritually. Yet, they often find bivocationality an unexpected path of personal, spiritual growth.

Ben Connelly, founder of The Equipping Group, is a church planter and part of the servant leader team for Salt+Light Community in Fort Worth, Texas.

In Chapter 10, “Bivocational Ministry as a Path of Unexpected Spiritual Growth,” Ben Connelly shares results and insights from a survey he administered to bivocational ministers regarding their motives and outcomes related to ministry. Motives were grouped in three categories: finances, mission, and convictions. Reported outcomes of bivocational ministry revealed several themes: growth in humility and dependence, a deepened need for a team, and growth in sanctification. Connelly’s own experience in bivocational ministry and working with other bivocational ministers in various contexts revealed a pattern of unexpected personal spiritual growth within the bivocational minister. This pattern was supported by the research. Those surveyed entered bivocational ministry for one or multiple reasons, rarely related to their personal spiritual growth. Yet, nearly every minister surveyed shared personal spiritual growth as an outcome, which they did not expect but which came through this unique form of ministry. Regardless of motives, bivocational ministers often find this a path of personal, spiritual growth.

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Jo Ann Deasy: Multivocational Plans of Theological Students

How can seminaries respond to the reality of multivocational ministry? Learning about the multivocational plans of seminary students is a good place to begin.

Jo Ann Deasy, an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, is Director of Institutional Initiatives and Student Research at The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

In Chapter 15, “The Multivocational Plans of Students in Graduate Theological Education,” Jo Ann Deasy challenges seminaries to respond to the reality of multivocational ministry, based on data from student questionnaires. Since 2013, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) has tracked the bivocational plans of entering and graduating students among member schools. In 2019, ATS revised the questionnaires to better understand the nature and scope of bivocational ministry, expanding the idea of bivocational ministry beyond paid ministry. The ATS data reveals a complex landscape of multivocational students and graduates navigating work, ministry, vocation, and education in a wide variety of ways. In response, theological schools have the opportunity to rethink current educational models to focus more on integration and life-long learning, to attend to the broad financial ecology of ministry, and to create a more just system designed to equip and support those preparing to serve in multivocational and volunteer ministry roles.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Steven C. Van Ostran: Incarnating Christ through Bivocational Ministry

How can the incarnational church enable holistic mission in the community? What are the incarnational beneifts of bivocational ministry?

Steven C. Van Ostran, an ordained Baptist pastor, serves as Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains and previously taught at Ottawa University.

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

In Chapter 9, “Incarnating Christ through Bivocational Ministry,” Steven C. Van Ostran encourages the church to reframe its understanding of bivocational ministry as a positive way of incarnating Christ. First, he offers the “incarnational church,” based on 1 Corinthians 12 and Luke 10, as a model of holistic mission. Then, he presents four benefits of bivocational ministry that might lead churches and pastors to engage in bivocational ministry even when a full-time ministry is possible. The incarnational benefits of bivocational ministry include breaking down the sacred-secular divide, creating community and relationships outside the local congregation, uncovering new opportunities for ministry and mission outside the walls of the church, and reducing the dependencies of the pastor that hinder authentic leadership and prophetic action both in the church and in the community. This chapter draws on Ostran’s experience as a pastor and as an Executive Minister in the American Baptist Churches, as well as experiences of the many bivocational pastors he knows personally.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Financial Basics for Church Leaders

Spreadsheets. Budgets. Fundraising. Debt. If you’re a church leader, lay or ordained, a new four-part series Financial Basics for Church Leaders helps you get more comfortable with these aspects of your ministry. The series is offered by the Pennsylvania Academy of Ministry at Lancaster Seminary. Take all four classes in the series for the price of one, and earn 10.3 CEUs. First class starts Feb. 17. Get the details: https://tinyurl/PAMseries

Phil Baisley: Preparing to Teach Bivocational Ministry

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

Phil Baisley, a recorded Friends minister, is Professor of Pastoral Studies at Earlham School of Religion and serves as pastor of Greenfield Friends Meeting in Indiana.

In Chapter 16, “Preparing to Teach a Bivocational Ministry Seminary Course,” Phil Baisley shares the research behind his seminary course syllabus in bivocational ministry, informed by his own bivocational experience as well empirical research. As part of a larger grant-funded project, the author spent much of 2015 driving across the United States, from Pennsylvania to Oregon, interviewing bivocational pastors and members of their congregations. He discovered a wide variety of ways of being bivocational as well as many commonalities among bivocational pastors and congregations. Interviewees also shared their ideas about what seminaries should teach about bivocational ministry. The author provides a succinct list of topics to be covered in a bivocational ministry course, along with suggested resources. He concludes by noting continuing challenges to teaching about bivocational ministry.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

What Centrists Need to Know about the Proposed Global Methodist Church

Traditionalist United Methodists are making plans to launch the Global Methodist Church. This would be their new church home upon leaving The United Methodist Church (UMC). Heather Hahn, assistant editor of United Methodist News, has written a helpful background article. What do centrists need to know about this proposed denomination?

To answer this question, I have examined their Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline (updated October 10, 2021), which offers a glimpse of the kind of church imagined by members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and their allies. This denominational blueprint provides a lot of detail, grist for debate, but there is also a lot unstated. One could easily get into the weeds of itinerancy, sacramental privilege of deacons, election and term of bishops, educational requirements for ordination, no trust clause, the definition of “valid Christian baptism,” exclusively masculine language for God, and of course the pages and pages of judicial administration. Steve West does a good job naming the most critical features of the Transitional Book in his open letter to Chris Ritter. I will focus on what I consider to be the most problematic issues: control, privilege, and patronage.

Control. Conservatives in the UMC have long lamented the theological pluralism of this denomination. Through church law and judicial enforcement, they have fought to reign in a denomination considered out of control. The Transitional Book serves as a corrective. First and foremost is an emphasis on right doctrine. The first few pages of this 103-page document emphasize orthodoxy, “settled doctrines and discipline,” canon, creed, authority, protection, preservation, fidelity, and accountability. The book provides “constitutive standards” as “a bulwark against false teaching” (para. 106).

How are true teachings discerned? There is no Wesleyan quadrilateral to be found in the Transitional Book. Scripture is touted not only as containing “all things necessary to salvation” (UMC Article of Religion V) but is also considered “the primary rule and authority for faith, morals, and service” (para. 104). Scripture is the moral rulebook. Apparently, the bulwark requires more than scripture, though, as adherents must affirm and are held accountable to the doctrinal standards and moral statements. The paragraphs of Social Witness assume a “consensus vision transcending cultures” when interpreting and “affirming a scriptural view of sexuality and gender,” for example (paras. 201–202). Not surprisingly, this “scriptural view” consists of heteronormativity, marriage, and a gender binary: “We believe that human sexuality is a gift of God that is to be affirmed as it is exercised within the legal and spiritual covenant of a loving and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman” (para. 202.7). Gender is “defined throughout this Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline by a person’s immutable biological traits identified by or before birth” (para. 306).

This attempt to provide a culture-free “consensus vision” ignores the multivocal witness of scripture as well as science. While admitting a role for scientific knowledge, “we encourage dialogue between faith and science as mutual witnesses to God’s creative power” (para. 202.4), the Global Methodist Church’s understanding of sexuality and gender seems uninformed by science. This impression is confirmed a 22-page document produced by the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Task Force on Sexual Brokenness (December 2021). The writing team set out “seeking the wisdom of our God who is love through Scripture and our Wesleyan heritage.” The Traditionalist understandings of sexuality and gender, as explained in these documents, has nothing to do with science. Instead, the writers asserted what they call “our Christian sexual counterculture” in the face of “the clash of cultures between the Kingdom and our earthly surroundings” (pp. 8–9). This stance begs the question, Who are the arbiters of this Christian counterculture?

Privilege. The interpretation of scripture and tradition controlling the Global Methodist Church and its members’ moral behavior is shaped by white, US privilege. The Social Witness statement in the Transitional Book provides clues. It does not speak as the poor; it speaks about the poor (who are presumed not to have Jesus). There is no solidarity here. There is a presumption of privilege when offering Jesus, alms, and protection to the “less fortunate” and “those who may be powerless to protect themselves” (paras. 201–202).

The presumption of privilege is no accidental feature of the Transitional Book. Privilege is an inherent feature of the Traditionalists’ proposed denomination. The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s offer to provide vaccines to non-US delegates to General Conference is an example of this harmful mentality. Likewise, US privilege is enshrined in the Transitional Book through its funding for bishops (para. 505). All bishops’ salaries in this proposed, global denominational would be paid for by US funds.

This is a white, US project infused throughout with the trappings of hetero-patriarchal privilege and a need for control. All of the authors of the members of the Task Force on Sexual Brokenness are white people from the United States. The drafting team for the Transitional Book consists of only white men from the United States. This is an alarming starting point for anyone who takes seriously the racist past of white Protestant America as a sinful part of our history as Methodists.

Patronage. Conservatives are protecting more than their version of theological orthodoxy. They are also conserving a system of privilege and patronage with deep neo-colonial roots. Folks considering joining the Global Methodist Church must consider where they fit within this power structure—economically, politically, and morally. Will the protection and authority of the Transitional Leadership Team serve their best interests?

The answer will likely depend on the ways in which they benefit from US, hetero-patriarchal, white privilege. There are many in the UMC—both in the United States and abroad—who want to preserve their relationships of patronage and privilege, and Global Methodist Church promises a way of doing so.

Kathleen Owens: Empowering the Full Body of Christ

This is one of a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry (forthcoming April 2022). This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers.

Kathleen Owens, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is former moderator of the John Knox Presbytery in Wisconsin.

In Chapter 13, “Empowering the Full Body of Christ,” Kathleen Owens aims to equip the full body of Christ for ministry using the variety of gifts, or charisms, found in all members. She employs the image of the Body of Christ, as developed by Paul in the early church and invoked by Luther during the Reformation, to guide the church through times of great technological and societal shifts, such as today. The church still needs people trained for various forms of ministry; changing, argues Owens, is the need for all these skills to be found primarily in one person. She proposes a new model of theological education, empowering the full Body of Christ through discernment of gifts, education and training, and ongoing support and accountability. The transition from full-time to part-time, or bivocational, pastorates offers the church an opportunity to utilize existing educational resources to empower and equip members with specific gifts for ministry. Bivocational pastors need the partnership and support of seminaries and middle-judicatory leaders in this effort.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.

Distributive Ministry by Kwasi Kena

This is the second in a series of video posts from the authors of Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry. This book is an edited volume for church leaders and those that teach and support them. Contributors include bivocational pastors and other reflective practitioners as well as theological educators and researchers. The book is scheduled for publication in April 2022.

Kwasi Kena, an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, is Associate Professor of Ethnic and Multicultural Ministries at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University.

In Chapter 8, “Exploring Distributive Ministry,” Kena argues that bivocational congregations are well positioned to offer the gospel to people in an ever-changing environment. Congregations in the midst of change have an opportunity to re-imagine their ministry configurations as bivocational, allowing non-ordained followers of Christ to participate fully in leadership. For these churches, the shift to bivocational ministry includes a shared-ministry framework the author calls “distributive ministry.” Distributive ministry employs a team approach to leadership in which all persons in the congregation function as ministers, sharing pastoral responsibilities. This understanding of distributive ministry is derived from four schools of thought: the priesthood of all believers depicted in Scripture and Martin Luther’s writings; missional ecclesiology, as articulated by Lesslie Newbigin and others; distributive leadership theory; and the distributed pastorate model described by Geoffrey MacDonald.

For resources on bivocational and multivocational ministry, see the book’s webpage.