First of all, as far as I can see "bivocational ministry" is just a fancy term for "part-time ministry" that makes it sound like something the minister wants because they have some other wonderful job they don't want to give up.
What are the problems with bivocational ministry? It can be a great choice if:
- You're independently wealthy
- You're a second-career minister with a lucrative first profession
- You have a spouse with a good income
- You're a first-career minister
- You're not independently wealthy
- You don't have a spouse with a good income
Part-time work in this country usually comes without benefits. As a 3/4-time minister, I therefore threw much of my total cost of ministry (TCM) into benefits. I had a benefit package that looked much like a full-time ministers, but with a tiny salary attached to it. The other 1/4-time job would make up some of the income difference, but not all of it. Full-time work, because of the benefit balance piece, pays better than two part-time jobs. Esssentially, you see, I was paying for 1/4 of my benefits that wouldn't be part of a balanced 3/4-time job out of salary. And adjunct salary being what it is, it wasn't equivalent to 1/4 of a professional salary.
This leads to my second point: part-time employment is usually under-paid. Even if the minister isn't underpaid in their half-time ministry, their other half-time job probably is underpaid, especially if this is a first-career minister. As you find in ministry, being well-trained for ministry doesn't exactly put you on the top of the market for non-ministry jobs out there.
And part-time ministry is overworked. Full-time ministers in our movement often get one Sunday a month off. Most half-time ministers seem to get two Sundays a month off. And 3/4-time ministers get one Sunday a month off. That's what I find as I talk to my part-time colleagues. So a 3/4-time minister is often doing full-time ministry for 3/4 of the money. And since full-time ministry is often a job and a half at full-time pay, that's even worse.
I left part-time ministry for health reasons: I was pregnant. And I had good health care through my ministry profession. I probably could've gotten maternity leave (although this was a debate with the congregation, which is another story). But an adjunct professor gets no paid maternity leave. So essentially getting pregnant meant I would lose 1/4 of my income at the same time as I gained 1/3 of my family. That math didn't look good or sustainable to me. And the idea of working as much as I was working with a baby also didn't sit well. And so I found myself in search and pregnant at the same time.
For me, bivocational ministry looks like a ministry model to attract older and wealthier ministers. It looks like an even more classist ministry. And it looks like a future that if we pursue it will lose a lot of ministers who would add a lot to our movement, but who simply can't afford the luxury of part-time work.
In a movement that's talking about how work should be sustainable for a family, let's quit the talk of bivocational ministry as our future fix, and keep thinking about how to make a sustainable ministry sustainable for congregations as well. It's a challenge, but if we don't meet this challenge we aren't living our faith.