Monday, September 10, 2012

Simple, obvious solution to modest clergy pay

The churches I have served were different I many ways but were all mature congregations which ranged in age from 96 to almost 200. One could say that they were quite well established. Some might use the dreaded term, "traditional."

In each congregation the history included a time looked upon with great pride when the church "went full time," an event that occurred in the 1950s for each of the three. Prior to that the church shared a pastor with one or more other churches. 'Half-time' and even 'quarter-time' churches were an important part of the Baptist landscape in those days.

A full time church with a full time pastor is great but the pay scales are not. What I read regularly is that seminary trained and educated pastors have difficulty in smaller and average sized SBC churches. Whatever the expectations of compensation for an MDiv pastor, the reality is determined by the size and income of the church. A smaller church translates into lower pay regardless of the education level of the pastor, regardless of the student debt of the pastor, regardless of the number of children of the pastor, regardless of what the pastor could make with equivalent education in a secular job.

So what is this simple, obvious solution?

Going bi-vocational, of course. 

The average annual salary of a bi-vocational pastor in the SBC is about $20,000. That plus a 'real' job adds up to a decent income. Churches benefit by not having the pressure to provide a minimal living wage to a pastor and family and pastors benefit by having a job for his primary income and the church as supplemental income.  

So, why not solve pay problems with churches and pastors going back to part time ministry as bi-vocational ministers?

I can only think of a couple of problems with this:  (1) the church does not want to do it, and (2) the pastor does not want to do it. Other than those, I'm thinking it is a slam dunk, done deal. Unfortunately, both groups seem to consider this a backward, regressive move.

My humble hacker and plodder opinion is that this would be a very good move. A little secret in SBC clergy life is that 'full time' pastors often envy their bi-vocational colleagues because the latter have a higher degree of independence. Churches with only part time pastors are forced to lower their expectation for pastoral duties and to assume many of these that have been automatically handed over to the preacher, "because that is what we pay him to do." Happier church. Happier minister.

Alas, our system is not conducive to this. Seminaries are expensive and depend on a head count of warm bodies in classrooms for much of their funding. It would be tough to sell an expensive education on the basis that the student would then serve a part time church. Neophyte pastors are taught to look down the road and see larger churches, more prestige, and better pay and are willing to make a short stop in a smaller church even if the pay is parsimonious.

At the recent North American Mission Board church planting conference Jimmy Scroggins led a session entitled, The Math Doesn't Work: Why Bivocational Church Planters are the Future. The thrust of his session was about a deliberate effort to approach church planting by enlisting and training bi-vocational pastors. Why do that? Well, because the math just doesn't work for full time pastors. I liked the concept.

The pay scale math for many average and smaller sized SBC churches with full time pastors doesn't work too well either. But it will work, however poorly, as long as there is a steady stream of churches who provide such and pastors who are willing to accept it.

Only the Lord and current economic realities may force the bi-vocational solution upon some churches and ministers.

....but what do I know. I'm not even a mega pastor.


Kevin Sanders said...

I've been thinking about this, too. I wonder if we should be emphasizing bivocational ministry more than we do now.

This is especially true for less affluent countries, where it can be even more difficult for churches to support full-time staff members (I'm speaking as a missionary that lives in the Philippines).

Anonymous said...

"Why Bivocational Church Planters are the Future"

But likely not the future if it must be tied to a particular faith group. In addition to the increasingly irrelevant presence of the church in many parts of the world, the (related-issue) cost structure (i.e., church prioritites and the expensing of the priorities) of church is steering the church aground.

When you hear a mega-church pastor talk about his pay and that of other leaders of large organizations (already we are mixing employees and volunteer members), it is time to change pastors, but if the argument wins in the pastor's favor, it is time to change churches.

Dave Miller said...

I agree in part. Iowa needs bivocational ministers. But the problem is that often the expectations are for full time work on part time pay.

And the pastor often does not have the time he needs to do those things that are necessary.

William Thornton said...

Bivocational pastors and churches have been a regular part of the discussion of the SBC for as long as I can remember. The same points are always made and bivocational ministers are often held up as examples of faithfulness and sacrifice; however, it has always seemed to me that bivo pastors are generally looked upon by their full time counterparts with some degree of condescension, as if the bivo pastor is not really a pastor but only as a moonlighter whose real work is in a secular job.

Perhaps, Dave, the attitude is different outside the SBC legacy states. I hope so.

Jack Carver said...

Is the bivocational pastor a preacher who is also banker (insert whatever career track he is in) or a banker who is also a pastor? Both the church and the pastor/banker need to settle that issue before the hiring takes place.

Anonymous said...

Having been in both roles as full-time pastor and as bi-vocational pastor, I know the pros/cons of each setting. Ultimately, the pastor has to be spiritually sensitive as to what he has to do to provide for his family. The pastor is first and foremost the spiritual leader at home, and with that role, also the provider for the physical needs of his family....not saying there could not be a dual income by wife, but that if there is a consistent shortage of funds, the man needs to step up to the plate to do what he must in order to provide for his family. If a church does not, or cannot provide sufficiently for that man and his family, they must accept his necessary additional work, or find another man. If a man feels called to a specific church, he needs to count the cost if the salary is not sufficient and realize additional labors outside "the ministry" are required. "All things work together for good to those who love God" is true even for those who find themselves in this necessary role as bivocational pastor........Kevin

Tim Bonney said...

William, what would you think of pastors sharing churches again? It sounds like Baptists in your part of the world did that in the past. Could that be another solution along with bi-vocational ministry?

I had a DOM in seminary who really was pushing bi-vocational ministry. At the the time I thought he was out of his mind. Why would I want to have two jobs when I can pastor a full-time church? But now I see he was forward thinking seeing the future realities.

Anonymous said...

A quick look through the pastor job postings on and other pastor job type sites you will find job descriptions for churches who are looking for part-time / bi vocational men. These job descriptions are not written for part-time employment. I am not disagreeing with your premise but, as I see it, the first line of thinking on this must begin in the church.

If smaller churches want this and look for only this, they in time will find it.

I think a church position has a more flexible means of service where a job outside the church will more than likely demand specific times and hours to be worked. How many funerals can a man leave his "other job" for before he is looking for another job?

Then we have to deal with the economy and lack of jobs. Here, there are few jobs to be had except for entry level work flipping burgers or delivering pizza.

Not a bad idea but reality don't think it will happen. It is not the 50's anymore and to many churches do not want a pastor independent of their ball and chain.


William Thornton said...

I share a bit of Ben's cynicism/realism, as noted in my article above.

The expectations of a church for their bivo pastor are a big part of the discussion with a church.

At at $20,000 compensation level if compared to the average full time SBC pastor pay, that translates to about two days work per week.

I've never heard of a bivo pastor admitting to working less than two days (one full Sunday, half a day Wednesday, and another half day somewhere else) for his church, although I have observed quite a few bivo pastors and conclude that they spend the two days or less.

If an interim pastor can have a clear agreement with a church as to pay and responsibility, a bivo can certainly do the same.

Tim Dahl said...

My church might be transitioning into a bi-vocational ministry in the future. My problem is that while I'm thoroughly trained for ministry, I'm not trained for much else.

Looks like this Seminary Trained Minister will be a great addition to the unskilled labor force of North Texas.


Matt said...

I resound with Dahl's comment. The idea of a bi-vocational pastor sounds great on paper. Except, I'm not sure what else I am qualified to do with a seminary degree. Become a school teacher perhaps (after paying to be certified), but then I doubt I'd have much energy or desire for church work. My wife is a teacher, and I know what kind of hours they keep!

Maybe Bonney's idea of sharing churches again is a middle way into this bi-vocational model.

Tim Dahl said...

Just a quick update. I might be going bivocational sooner than I thought. I'm interviewing for a teacher's aide position. Will pay around 20K a year if I get it...thus, saving my church 20K a year as well. I also think that some of those "saved" funds can be repurposed for other ministries. Like, to pay a youth and music minister.


William Thornton said...

Tim, you have my prayers for your future. Though we have never met, you have always come across as a faithful, caring, selfless pastor.

Tim Dahl said...

Bivo-Update #2

This one didn't work out. God's in charge. I look forward to where he's leading.