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Program Planned for Bivocational Pastors

November 11, 2020

The Bivocational Growth Fellowship, a new Financial Shalom program designed to support bivocational pastors’ growth and well-being, has launched and is slated to begin in early 2021.

Funded with a grant from the Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders, Financial Shalom is now seeking applicants who are involved in bivocational ministry or are considering becoming involved in it.

“We want to create a community of bivocational ministers who can encourage one another and share stories and ideas,” said John Bolt, director of finance and operations for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. “We want to take away the stumbling blocks and help those who are bivocational pastors or are thinking of doing this to be well prepared and successful.”

The Bivocational Growth Fellowship will provide, over a yearlong period, financial assistance, training resources, and support for goal development to pastors who are — or are thinking about — supplementing their church income through outside employment.

“We want to include a diverse range of bivocational pastors in this,” said Nathan Rauh-Bieri, program manager of Financial Shalom. “There are many ways to practice bivocational ministry, and we hope this program serves to raise their profile in the denomination. This is a group of pastors who have, to an extent, been overlooked.”

Being overlooked began to change in January 2017 after the CRCNA received a grant from the Lilly Endowment that helped to establish the Financial Shalom advisory team.

Among other initiatives, the advisory team gathered a group of bivocational pastors Apr. 24-25, 2018, to discuss “What Is the Future of Bivocational Ministry in the CRCNA?

Out of this meeting came the impetus to form the Study of Bivocationality Task Force, whose report to Synod 2021 was released Oct. 30 and is available for review by the CRCNA’s churches and classes.

As part of their mandate, the task force “was to examine what it means to be a bivocational pastor today” in order to “provide care for pastors in various cultures and contexts.”

Bolt said that over time it has become clear that there is a need to assist bivocational pastors serving especially in a range of smaller congregations that have a hard time covering a full-time salary.

“There are many congregations that don’t have the capacity to pay a pastor enough to support a family,” said Bolt, adding that nearly half of CRC congregations are under 100 members. “There are also churches that are borderline sustainable with fewer than 50 members.”

In the task force report to Synod 2021, there are stories of such bivocational ministers as Rev. Jose Rayas, who has planted an emerging church and is doing leadership training in El Paso, Tex. He supplements his income by working as an engineering consultant.

“El Paso is an economically depressed area,” Rayas says in the task force report. “Because of this, the church does not pay my salary. The Borderplex is a local organization that does fundraising for my position.”

Jennifer Burnett is a commissioned pastor at a small church in Kelowna, B.C., where she is employed for 20 hours a week. She is the only staff person at the church, which needs to rent space on Sunday mornings. “I do most of my church work from my kitchen table” while at the same time parenting four children ages 4-15 and working on a doctoral degree.

Rev. Scott Van Voorst pastors an emerging church in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. “The church has received outside support for many years” — and needs to find ways to train members qualified to serve as leaders, he says in the task force report. “Making a switch to bivocational ministry was seen as a way to increase our leadership while at the same time getting us closer to financial stability.”

As a result, he chose to take on a role as a reserve military chaplain. “I see [being a bivocational pastor] as a positive that increases community impact, increases pastoral relational capacity, and increases the gifts being leveraged . . . to build a team” for ministry.

The Bivocational Growth Fellowship will initially have 10-12 pastors per cohort in 2021 and in 2022. Meanwhile, Financial Shalom is looking for a diverse range of applicants and participants in terms of years in ministry, race, ethnicity, age, geography, and gender.

Consideration is also given to whether a pastor is looking into, is transitioning toward, is already active in, or has served before in bivocational ministry.

“Pastors will meet together quarterly. But for the most part, this will be a self-directed process,” said Rauh-Bieri. “We will offer assessment and training for those who are considering bivocational ministry and trying to determine their next steps toward a strong, sustainable ministry fit.”

The program, he added, will offer customized support based on pastors’ specific goals rather than attempting a one-size-fits-all approach.

In addition, there will be a salary supplement component to the program. The amount will vary based on pastors’ individual situations, but the goal is for each participant to pursue the program goals without an added financial burden. "We've learned there are often hidden startup costs to 'going bivocational,'” Rauh-Bieri explained, "and this program will reduce these costs for its participants."

“We will help fill in the gap until they are ready to be employed [in another job],” said Bolt. “We also will help pastors evaluate what their new vocation can be.”

Financial Shalom, he added, is seeking pastors who are motivated and willing to explore and take steps toward work beyond their current situation and are willing to share experiences within a cohort setting.

“Pastors will be reaffirmed in their bivocational ministry call and will have what they need to take any necessary steps forward in their ministry,” said Bolt.

Financial Shalom is accepting applications through December 4, 2020.