“No one can serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24, ESV
Jesus once said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” The story for this passage speaks on the pursuit of wealth overtaking the desire for serving God. But what happens to the one who truly seeks to serve God, enters into a ministry, and is forced by circumstances to work a secular job to sustain themselves and their family? Are they serving two masters?
This is the dilemma faced by many pastors of small-member congregations that have limited financial budgets. These working pastors, also known as bi-vocational pastors, attempt to serve God and their congregations in full-time ministry within part-time “hours”. (It should be noted that pastors who are truly called by God serve as pastors around the clock. There is no set time to “clock in or out”. The churches they serve are either too small or too poor to pay their clergy full-time pay. In turn, these same pastors take on jobs outside the church to meet the needs of their families. Does this mean these ministers of faith are serving two masters? How does this show faith or lack of faith in God providing for those who serve Him faithfully? What conflicts arise for the bi-vocational pastor?
Faithfulness of God
Pastors who serve constantly show an undying faith in God. They KNOW that God is faithful to them. They truly embrace and believe the passage that states, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). If a pastor serves a church “part-time”, God does not become a “part-time” God. God is consistent with His faithfulness towards those who serve Him. Even though the church might not be able to financially support their pastor, God can and does. Thus, God opens up opportunities for the pastor (or their spouse) to have a vocation that will meet the needs financially. These needs are not just in terms of money, but also include items like health benefits, 401 Ks, life insurance, and more which are not offered to the part-time pastors. Certainly, monies may be tight at times, but most of the burden will be lifted in order to allow the pastor to serve with the main focus on ministry. The apostle Paul was a bi-vocational pastor (a tent maker); in order to not be a burden to the churches he served. Paul and other bi-vocational pastors are not serving two masters; they are serving the same master in two different worlds. After all, the most effective ministry takes place outside the church walls.
The Demands of Two Masters
Because a bi-vocational pastor has two jobs, they often feel the demands of both; sometimes at the same time. The pastor might be scheduled to work at their secular job when someone from their congregation is scheduled for an operation and wishes their pastor to be by their side during that time. Some pastors have employers who are gracious enough to allow the pastor to have flexible hours to accommodate the needs. Many, however, have no choice and must make hard decisions of which one to honor. It is true many parishioners would understand the pastor’s dilemma, but in the back of their minds they still long for the touch of God that their pastor brings in their visits. And these pastors know this and struggle continually.
Along the same lines, some companies mandate the need for mandatory overtime within the hiring process; meaning the employee agrees to, upon hiring, work the overtime when demanded. If this is the only employment the pastor can find, then they are faced with the dilemma on a larger scale when the church need arises and they are unable to juggle their schedules around. To some, this is a no-brainer: the pastor should go do God’s calling, which most pastors do. But if the pastor is receiving health benefits and the bulk of their finances are from the secular job, it is an extremely hard choice knowing that by choosing the ministry, it would cost them their secular job.
Another issue for the bi-vocational pastor is their ministry itself. Some small-member congregations may only have a single weekly service because their pastor works a secular job and can only do a single service. In these churches, only the basic needs are met, and the pastor knows this. Try as they may the bi-vocational pastor’s hands are tied in areas of visitation, counseling, mid-week services, and administration to name a few. These dedicated pastors want and long to do these ministries and more, but are often overworked at either or both vocations. For this reason, God assigned the Levites to the temple work alone. They were not permitted to own lands or to hold any other job, so that the focus could be totally on ministry and serving God. (See the book of Leviticus) These pastors do not have that ability in many cases.
Assisting the Bi-vocational Pastor
In what ways can the congregation assist the bi-vocational pastor? Here are some simple, yet effective ways to help your pastor help you:
- Pray for and with your pastor – pastors need prayers more than you think!
- Encourage them in their ministry – honest and real appreciation can do wonders to increase the passion for the ministries they already have.
- Partner with them in their ministries – the church can get more accomplished when the body of Christ works together.
- Be a friend – contrary to popular belief, there are many lonely pastors who serve in churches. Pastors are human too!
- Inspire them – help them to achieve greatness in the Lord. Challenge them in love to go beyond themselves.
- Remember they are human – love them through their mistakes and allow God’s mercies to flow through you to minister to your minister.
- Although supporting the church financially helps the bi-vocational pastor transition into a full-time ministry, this is only a portion of what it takes to assist the bi-vocational pastor. When you incorporate these concepts with increasing giving, the bi-vocational pastor’s ministry will become fulfilling to all. Who knows, maybe the bi-vocational pastor can become a thing of the past: allowing these dedicated shepherds to become the full-time leaders God intended.
Please be with our pastors and leaders of the church. Please bless the efforts of those who must work outside of the church to support their families. Give them rest, family time, alone time, and the passion to continue to serve You in every way possible. Bless their efforts and may they find joy in what they do for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.