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April 9, 2016

Trend #2 for the Future of Church Planting: Bivocational Ministry

By Daniel Im

Church planting today is not what it used to be. Before, church planters were the ones who couldn’t get a “real ministry position” at a church, so they started their own. Albeit, there were those entrepreneurial few who defied all odds and started churches on their own, by and large, being a church planter wasn’t what it was today. Now, being a church planter is the thing to do. Church planting is getting the attention of the masses. In fact, many church planting conferences are now larger than typical pastoral conferences. This is surprising when, decades ago, there was no such thing as a church planting conference. 

If this is how church planting is today, what will church planting look like in the future? That precisely is the topic of this series on church planting trends. In the initial post, I talked about the first trend for the future of church planting, which is summarized with this statement, “together we can accomplish more than we can ever do alone.” This is the cry of this next generation, and that’s why Kingdom Collaboration is the first trend.

In this next post, I wanted to introduce to you the next trend, which is the rise and shift of bivocational ministry.

Trend #2: Bivocational Ministry

In the past, if a church planter was bivocational, oftentimes that secretly meant that they they lacked financial support. A standard section in any church planting proposal would include the church’s plan to financial self-sustainability, which included paying the church planter and maybe another staff member a salary with benefits. Many denominations would even support the church planter’s salary for at least three years, while also providing seed money for their ministry. As a result, in the past, bivocational ministry was more of a last resort, than a first resort. Interestingly though, we are seeing a wholesale mindset change on the notion and idea of bivocational ministry.

A Missiological Strategy

In the future of church planting, we will see church planters embracing bivocational ministry as a missiological strategy, rather than just as an alternative way to fund themselves. When John Nevius (1829-1893) arrived in China as a missionary, he observed the impact that paying pastors and evangelists had on the growth of the Chinese church. Not only did it lead to Chinese dependency on Western money, but it also slowed the expansion of the church, since it created a two class system of believers. The holier and the less-holy. The paid and the non-paid. The pastor/evangelist and the regular lay person.

As a result, Nevius developed a dramatically different method for missions that he implemented when moving to Korea. A few of his principles were related around the importance of bivocational ministry, where unpaid believers would be able to pastor and lead their own church. Many scholars believe that the Nevius method was one of the critical factors to Christianity exploding in Korea.

In addition, isn’t it interesting that we don’t see any outbreaks around the world of church planting movements that are led by full-time paid vocational clergy? Is this merely a coincidence or something that the church needs to take note of? In the future, church planters won’t see bivocationalism as a penalty, but they will see it as an opportunity. They will see bivocationalism as a missiological strategy.

First Resort, Not Last Resort

In the future, we will see both both full-time paid vocational church planters, as well as fully bivocational church planters. However, the difference is that many bivocational church planters in the future will have chosen that path as their first resort, rather than as their last resort.

We will see youth pastors, associate pastors, and lay leaders choose the path towards bivocational church planting as a missiological method to reach their neighborhood for Christ. For many church planters in the future, choosing bivocational ministry will not be a matter of being out of money, but it will be a matter of being on a specific mission.

Reversed Tier Funding

Lastly, in the future, there will be church planters who will initially plant their church fully bivocationally, but then slowly transition to taking a salary as the church grows. I talk about this in the second edition of Planting Missional Churches as an alternative way to approach church plant funding.

The point of this model is to start the church as a missionary, with a regular job in the marketplace. As the church begins to gain momentum and grow, that is when the church planter will begin taking a salary, since more time is required to develop leaders. It’s a proof-of-concept way of approaching funding. Or, in start-up business speak, it’s a minimum-viable-product (MVP) way of approaching church planting.

Conclusion

Instead of looking down on pastors for being bivocational, we should lift them up as our heroes. Join me next time, as I share the last trend for the future of church planting – Residencies and Theological Education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.

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