Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is Being Bivocational Possible? Musings From One who is Trying

I have been described as a bivocational pastor (some have been exploring the term "co-vocational") for nearly three years now. The longer I am a bivocational pastor, the more I wonder if it is truly possible to be bi-vocational. If vocation possesses some deep meaning related to a life calling, can one person (who only has one life, may I remind you) truly have two callings?

Just over a year ago, I professed to be a man with two life callings: pastoral ministry and higher education. Since that blog post, I left JCCC for a full-time position at the Global Ministry Center for the Church of the Nazarene. Five months later (and ever since) I found myself back at JCCC in a new, full-time role as Manager of Student Activities and Leadership Development. Also since that blog post, Faith Church of the Nazarene has doubled in size (that has a lot more to do with the movement of God than anything I've really done, I must confess!)

I think that I'm about to contradict myself.

I am not sure if it's really possible to have two life callings. I'm beginning to think I was wrong last April when I wrote that part of the blog.

I am a committed fellow. I find myself either being totally committed or entirely apathetic about most things. What happens when I want to be totally committed to Faith Church and JCCC at the same time?


Perhaps bivocational ministry is simply mislabeled. I think what people often mean when they use the term is that there is an individual who feels called to be a pastor, but is serving in a church that isn't able to pay a full salary so he/she gets a second job to support the ministry. Bivocational doesn't seem like the right word for this model. Let's consider this suggestion for a new descriptor: a-person-called-to-pastor-but-needs-another-job-to-pay-the-bills-so-the-person-can-still-be-a-pastor-ism.

Ok, so I understand the need for a simple term for this model for local church ministry. I'm just not convinced that bivocational is the right one for this.

This understanding of the term certainly is not a good fit for how I feel about where I am right now. I feel utterly convinced that God has placed me as both the Lead Pastor at Faith Church and as [insert unfortunately long title here] at JCCC. I don't just work at JCCC to pay for my pastoring habit.

I'm just not really sure if the term "bivocational" is helpful for any situation.

Vocation is such a muddy word. When people say it, they mean life-calling. Or they mean a specific job. Or maybe they really mean a whole career field. Maybe they mean all three at.the.same.time! Does anyone else find that confusing? It doesn't seem too clear to me.

When we say "vocation" and are really talking about the invitation from God for us to be engaged in this world in a particular way? Let's move this term beyond jobs and careers for a moment. This sort of definition, a broad understanding of calling that encompasses all of our relationships, all of our life seems to be more in line with the New Testament's use of the term (did you know that there is not a single occasion in the New Testament where someone was called to a specific position of employment?).

When Paul was called to be an apostle, it wasn't his job. Paul was a tent-maker. Being an apostle, his vocation, was a description of how he related to both those who were already Christians and those who were not followers of Christ. Paul has been described as a church planter, an itinerant preacher, and a missionary, but he was called to be an apostle.

The more I have tried to be bivocational, giving myself fully to two different "vocations," the more exhausted I become. Perhaps the reason is that I don't really have two callings. I was wrong when I thought God called me to higher education and pastoral ministry as life-callings.

I really only have one vocation: telling and teaching the Good News about Jesus, making disciples who go and make disciples. So I'm a vocational pastor. I'm also a vocational manager of student activities.

While there are similarities and shared skills, these two occupations are very different. Being the leader for an entire faith-centered community has different expectations than being middle-management in a large organization, responsible for student engagement. There are [very different] things I love about each of these positions.

I am constantly wrestling with significant questions: How do I give my whole life to both of these positions at the same time? Will being faithful to God's leading in my life always include having two jobs with this level of responsibility? Is there a healthy balance between JCCC, Faith Church, and my family? 

The answers to these questions are open-ended answers, to be sure. I will likely continue to wrestle with these questions and others like them as long as I am in two fields. However, knowing that I am being faithful to my one vocation through both jobs is incredibly helpful. I do not have to see Faith Church and JCCC as two responsibilities competing for my faithfulness. It is because of my single vocation of being a teaching disciple-maker that I work in local church ministry and higher education. If the time ever comes that I am led to leave one position or the other, I am not at that time giving up my vocation.

It's time we think of a better term for this way of living out vocation through two fields.
P.S. I do believe that God calls us to specific positions, places, and situations throughout our lives. I would make a distinction between these callings that last for just a season of one's life and a calling that seems to encompass the entirety of one's life.

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