One of the first people who helped me understand the place of bi-vocational ministry in the future of the church was Mark Platt. He started a lot of church plants in Northern California using bi-vocational people: plumbers, piano tuners, window washers, house painters. These bi-vocational ministry leaders worked jobs in which they could support themselves flexible hours, often less than 40 hours a week. His success with these types of plants challenges our assumption that ministry is always going to be a paid, full-time position.
The Apostle Paul himself did both, depending on the situation. Sometimes he worked as a tent-maker, sometimes he raised support. In either case, the calling to ministry is what drives us. How you can support yourself is a function of the situation you’re ministering in.
Here’s a personal story from several years ago when I transitioned to doing church planting using a simple church approach. Typically a simple church approach doesn’t provide a way to be self-supporting unless you either 1) have donors from the outside, or 2) you’re bi-vocational. That’s especially true when you’re ministering among people who don’t have much. The Lord spoke to me clearly and told me to give up my donor support before embarking on this new ministry, in part because I’d be challenging others to plant bi-vocationally and I needed to be willing to do that myself.
So I wrote my supporters. Imagine that missionary letter! My first line was something like, “The vision has been accomplished. Please stop giving. I’m going back into church planting.” For the last number of years I’ve been bi-vocational, supporting myself and my ministry through my coaching and training work.
Here’s how I see the new reality: Most of the churches that need to be planted need to be planted by bi-vocational people.