Bivocational Growth Fellowship Continues
The Bivocational Growth Fellowship started in 2021 as a way to support pastors who are balancing church ministry and a second career, or who are considering doing so. Living with this balance has unique challenges, and the pastors involved in the program so far have found it helpful to overcome these challenges and meet with others in similar circumstances.
Through the yearlong fellowship offered by the CRCNA’s Financial Shalom Program, participants receive vocational assessments, financial coaching, group webinars, stipends, goal-setting support, and coaching.
“The Bivocational Growth Fellowship is an incredible gift! In many parts of the diverse and worldwide church, bivocational pastoring is a given, but in the U.S. it has often been viewed as a necessary evil. This fellowship presses against that trend by encouraging bivocational pastors to invest in their path to financial and ministerial effectiveness,” said a fellow in the 2021 cohort, adding, “The program is very flexible and can work for a number of leader types in a variety of stages in ministry. For me, it granted space to discern my path in a time of ministry transition. I am extremely grateful!”
The 2021 cohort included 17 pastors already doing bivocational ministry or looking into the possibility. A survey at the end of the program showed that 100 percent of participants rated the program’s success in fulfilling its goals at 4 to 5 out of 5. Many noted that their financial situation improved as a result of the fellowship, and over 80 percent said their vocational fit improved as a result of the fellowship.
“When asked how valuable the fellowship was to their bivocational journey, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being most valuable), the average value was 9.5,” said Nathan Rauh-Bieri, program director for Financial Shalom.
Another participant from 2021 noted, “This fellowship changed my life and ministry. I was about to throw in the towel in the pastorate until this program revitalized me, provided much-needed financial relief, redirected my focus in ministry, and helped me focus on the future with tangible goals and action items.”
This year Financial Shalom is working with its second cohort, a group of 18 pastors. The fellows are undergoing the Birkman Assessment – a personality test that delves into people’s character, motivations, and behaviors to help them better understand their professional needs and preferences. They are also participating in financial coaching and webinars with guest speakers on various topics. The participants will also soon begin training for additional work and will be working closely with coaches to help them achieve their vocational goals both in ministry and in other work.
Steve Brooks, a financial coach for the program, said, “For the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting…CRC pastors across North America . . . to offer some budget coaching tips to help them to be more faithful as stewards of all that God has entrusted to them.”
Brooks acknowledged that sharing personal financial information with a stranger is not easy, but he noted, “I have not sensed any reluctance from them to be completely open and honest with me. My hope and prayer is that the things they’ve learned from me during our budget coaching sessions will impact their financial decisions for the rest of their lives and will be passed on to the people in their congregations.”
The program started after the CRCNA received a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders in 2017. Financial Shalom formed an advisory team to ensure effective use of the grant funding. Among other initiatives, the advisory team gathered a group of bivocational pastors in 2018 to discuss the future of bivocational ministry in the CRCNA.
Based on the findings of this gathering and a subsequent pilot program, in 2019 Financial Shalom applied for and received a second Lilly Endowment grant with a significant focus on equipping bivocational pastors. This grant enabled the design of the Bivocational Growth Fellowship in 2020 and the first cohort in 2021.
Bivocational ministry is a growing trend and is one of the topics to be discussed at Synod 2023, where delegates will consider a report from the Study of Bivocationality Task Force.
“We would like to be able to offer a third cohort of this successful program in 2023,” said Rauh-Bieri. “But to do that, we need additional funding.” People interested in giving to support this program can donate here.