Your Calling Is More Than Your Paycheck

Don’t Rule Out Bi-Vocational Ministry

This week, Benjamin Vrbicek released his new book, Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church. I was honored to not only provide the book an endorsement but also to have contributed an article on bi-vocational ministry. Benjamin has kindly given me permission to share my portion. I hope that it helps convince you to pick up a copy.

Benjamin has also been a previous Pastor Writer podcast guest. You can listen to his episode here: Reflections on the Pursuit of Writing.

“Applying for a job as a pastor can be a strange and disorienting process. It can feel like the means used to land the job—working your connections, crafting a personal brand, positioning for a vote—are the very things you’ll want to preach against your first Sunday in the pulpit. Benjamin’s book serves as a trusted friend to help you keep hold of God in the process. Practical, wise, and well written, I don’t know of any other book as valuable during your transitions.” — Chase Replogle Pastor of Bent Oak Church, Springfield, MO; host of the Pastor Writer podcast


Your Calling Is More Than Your Paycheck: Don’t Rule Out Bi-Vocational Ministry

No one dreams of someday becoming a bi-vocational pastor with a 9-5 side hustle. I sure didn’t. Through Bible college and seminary, I had all kinds of ideas about the church I would pastor: the building, the preaching, the programs, the sermon graphics, the passionately engaged and talented congregants showing up punctually each week.

The churches we imagine so easily construct themselves on the scaffolding of our best curation, never plagued by reality but aided in the limitless potential of abstraction, the best bits and pieces we’ve collected always forming together into what we proudly call our calling—a pastor and his church. No one has to add full-time, salaried, with retirement benefits and reserved parking. It’s what we most naturally imagine when we use the word pastor.

Imagination and ambition are a part of every occupation, but given the proximity to holy and eternal things, pastors may be most prone to dream. I was, but my dream wasn’t panning out. Seven years into a church plant, it hadn’t gone exactly according to plan.

Our church started in a home basement, twenty or so people gathering on Sunday nights for food and Scripture. Before long, we gave it a name and rented space at a local community center. I started to draw a paycheck. It was about one-fifth of the income I needed to pay our monthly bills and put gas in our cars. I had to find additional work, but we sensed God was doing something. So, we continued.

In seminary I got interested in web development—I’ve always had an impractical curiosity. Alongside courses in Greek and Hebrew, I taught myself PHP, CSS, HTML, and Javascript. I started building websites for a few friends and churches. The work continued to grow. In fact, the web work grew faster than the church did. What had once been only curiosity was quickly turning into a career and also a predicament.

I was called to be a pastor, not a web designer. I was supposed to become Moses, not Zuckerberg. I was terrified that allowing web design to become my full-time job was like Moses deciding to cash in on building Nile riverboats while moonlighting the whole exodus thing on the side. How could I call myself a pastor if nearly everyone knew me as a web designer? I felt like I was losing my calling.

Calling and vocation are words we throw around, I think, without really understanding them. We live in a world that only knows how to appraise specialization and expertise. You’re allowed one calling—one vocation—anything more creates a fraction, and fractions are always a compromise, a sacrifice of real potential.

We too often confuse vocation and career. The word vocation comes from an old Latin word meaning “to be called.” Career, by alternative, comes from the Latin for a “wheeled vehicle,” literally, a wheel barrel. A career is a task, a pile of dirt that needs to be moved from one place to another, and hopefully someone is willing to pay you to do it. I mean no disrespect toward the work. There is great dignity in it, and it’s this kind that I have spent most of my life doing.  But a vocation is something far more wholistic than a timecard. Your life is made up of countless vocations, a patchwork of callings: spouse, parent, child, neighbor, citizen, hobbyist, friend, employee, follower of Christ, and, for some, pastor. No one’s life is ever a single calling.

So here it is: what I really want you to see is that your calling is not primarily defined by how you pay back student loans or purchase groceries. These are simply the logistics of life. A calling is something far more comprehensive. Your career doesn’t have to define that calling. There is room for a calling and a career.

When I finally came to this realization, something profound happened. I realized that the mark of a pastor was not his paycheck. It meant I could carve out a pastoral vocation supported by, and in my case improved by, outside work. With a paycheck secured, being a pastor took on a reenergized set of priorities: personally knowing the people in my congregation, preparing myself to lead them in Scripture and worship, and cultivating time for prayer. That work can be fit into life beyond a 9-5.

It means most nights you’ll find me with a commentary instead of Netflix. It means we host a lot of meals in our home with church members. And it means I prioritize prayer, forcing me to involve a lot of volunteers for tasks other pastors might find in their job descriptions. But at the end of each week—closing our services in prayer, chatting with couples in the lobby, hauling my son with me to hospital visitations—I still feel like a pastor.

It’s not perfect, and certainly not void of stress, but pastoring never is. I think Paul would have offered similar advice as he did for marriage. If you’re married, great. If you’re single, great. Is your church able to pay you a full-time salary? Great. Do you find yourself having to work outside the church? Great.

The real work is not figuring out a path to the lustrous, full-time image you’ve previously imagined. The real work is recognizing what God is doing and receiving each invitation with vocational gratitude. Dreaming about what you wished ministry looked like is robbing you of what God is doing right in front of you. God alone knows where your career and callings will lead you, but I do know this, the joy is in faithfulness. The dignity of being a pastor is earned in faithfulness, not in a salary. Don’t rule out how God might use another career to make you a better pastor.

The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at the . . . moment. –  Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best

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