December - January 2023
Lighting the Darkness
Thriving (Not Just Surviving) as a Co-Vocational Pastor
By Greg Fawbush
The demands on a pastor are overwhelming at times.
The nagging feeling each sermon must be on par with the Gettysburg Address, the midnight phone calls from a church member in distress, or a scheduled surgery he feels compelled to attend can easily propel even a seasoned pastor into survival mode. For many pastors, these demands are complicated by a second job. This role, described as the bi-vocational pastor, has become the norm for many in the ministry. However, for a church using this ministerial model to be successful, the pastor must divorce himself from a lifestyle of surviving and embrace a strategy for thriving.
Developing a holistic approach to ministry can help create a thriving ministry. Adopting the title co-vocational pastor rather than bi-vocational pastor can be beneficial. The word bi means “two” or “twice.” This implies separate occupations or ministries and often leads to focusing on one role or the other. However, a pastor with two vocations has just as much a calling from God as the full-time pastor: co-vocations. His ministry at church and outside the church are connected. Embracing this concept brings freedom to co-vocational ministries rather than bondage to one role or the other.
Co-vocational pastoring can also be beneficial to the church. If communicated to the congregation well and carried out correctly, it provides an example of uniting vocations and sharing with the church. Developing a church wide co-vocational view can promote church growth.
In addition to this holistic approach to co-vocational ministry, a realistic approach to pastoring is beneficial. Often, our culture determines success based solely on numbers. This can be discouraging when it comes to co-vocational pastoring. One can assume a pastor working a second job is ministering to a church with limited resources. These limitations may include finances, limited leadership resources, or lack of membership. With these limitations, the church may have less numerical growth in certain areas. Having limitations does not mean growth should not be a goal. It does mean success must be viewed through a different lens.
Rather than focusing on numbers, focus on smaller victories. Survival mode can be overcome through small accomplishments. Develop relationships with the congregation to see spiritual growth in their lives. Celebrate families and individuals who become more faithful to life groups or who accept more active roles in the church. Any of these “small” victories can encourage a co-vocational pastor, but they are often missed due to misplaced focus on how God is blessing “other” churches.
The co-vocational pastor must also understand his own limitations. As much as the pastor may desire to be involved in every aspect of church ministries and needs, it is simply impossible. To escape survival mode and thrive as a co-vocational pastor, he must forge a partnership between himself and the congregation to fulfill the ministry of the church together. Encouraging church members to become part of the ministry will remove pressure and help avoid survival mode.
In forming a realistic approach to co-vocational pastoring, it is important to evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses. God has equipped each of us with unique talents (Ephesians 4:12) that work in tandem with others to carry out the ministry of the church. However, it is easy for the co-vocational pastor to focus less on his talents and more on the pressing needs of the church.
The saying “think outside the box” has often been promoted as a strategy for leadership. Perhaps another approach is better suited for ministry: think inside the box God has given us. Performing tasks outside of God’s gifts—no matter how worthy—often leads to discouragement and frustration. Instead, developing and using the gifts God has given you leads to a fulfilling life and ministry.
Every pastor and church should have the goal of carrying out the Great Commission. For the co-vocational pastor, this can be challenging. But developing a holistic, realistic approach to ministry can help the pastor avoid the detours that take many down the road to burnout and exhaustion.
Don’t just survive. Thrive in ministry!
About the Author: Greg Fawbush is the program coordinator for exercise science and athletic director at Welch College. He also pastors Cane Ridge FWB Church in Nashville, Tennessee.