Bi-Vocational or Co-Vocational?

This past week, the Leadership Journal e-newsletter included an article with a new take on bi-vocational ministry or missions.  The majority of the article was about a friend of mine who planted a church in Minneapolis.  A key component of his strategy was to buy a coffee shop in the community he planned to plant the church and create a for-profit revenue stream for funding the ministry of the church.  It also has given his church a presence in the community the six days of the week when they are not meeting for their worship gatherings.

The point of the article is that we need to think differently about what it means to be a bi-vocational minister.  We need to get beyond the stereotype notion of a minister who can’t make a living doing their ministry, so they get a second job to pay the bills and support their “ministry habit.”  We need to get to a place where we see a second vocation as a compliment to the mission a minister seeks to fulfill in their community.

In my own ministry, I’m glad to be working with an organization that has embraced the value bi-vocational ministry as a legitimate part of fulfilling it’s mission in the world.  I enjoy meeting people who have found creative ways to engage their community and establish a presence as they seek to launch a new faith community among people who have not connected with traditional church.  This requires a willingness to think outside the box in how we define our call.

I wonder if we need a new word to describe this approach to ministry, though.  When people speak of “bi-vocational” careers there is generally a connotation that they are two unrelated vocations with little connection to one another.  Perhaps “co-vocational” would better convey the idea that a person can have two vocations that compliment each other.

For the past three and a half years I have worn two vocational hats.  The first hat is as a community missionary seeking to do missional outreach on the southeast side of Indianapolis.  I also have been involved with the special education department at our local high school, either as a volunteer or paid staff.  More and more I have come to see this second vocation as complementary to my primary call and mission.  It allows me to be involved in the lives of those on a margins of our community in areas of their lives I would not be able to if my only vocation was as a missionary.  It also informs the vision of the missional community we are planting in such a way that it becomes part of my identity as a minister.  I choose my second vocation on the basis of how it ties to God’s mission in my life and not the income it provides so I can do ministry. The two become compatible to each other: co-vocations.

Perhaps it is time for new language and new thinking in how we view vocation and calling in the church in America.

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