Support the Café

Search our Site

A bi-vocational pastor says it is not a cure-all

A bi-vocational pastor says it is not a cure-all

Carol Howard Merritt, a bi-vocational Presbyterian minister, notes that many pastoral positions will disappear at the same time that a huge percentage of clergy will retire. The temptation will be to depend on bi-vocational ministers to fill the gaps in both staffing and decreased money to pay salaries. She warns that dependence on bi-vocational ministers may not be the cure-all we expect it to be.

Christian Century blogs:

So what will we do in the next ten years, if we have choked out all of the available pastors in this bottleneck and the shortage comes upon us? Even if we simply plan for 70% of our positions to go away as 70% of our pastors retire, we will still need the 30% who are left.

We will not be able to sustain our educational, internship and ordination requirements. When I went to school, most people who borrowed money were leaving with $40k of debt. That was 15 years ago. The costs have gone up while some seminaries have provided less tuition support. On top of it, we ask our students to do internships and Clinical Pastoral Education, without any consideration of the costs. Often the three-year degree takes four. How can we ask students to go through all of those requirements and expense, and then say that they are only going to get a part-time job at the end of it?

Part-time work has a different sort of commitment level. Part-time pastors love to say, “There is no such thing as a part-time pastorate!” Our calling is to serve God and serve people, and so most of us would do it, no matter what the check looked like at the end of the week. I understand the sentiment. It’s not as if we’re going to be on the phone with Margaret, listening to how she found her husband without a pulse on the bathroom floor, and interrupt her with “I would love to be there with you, but it’s time to punch the clock. My hours are up this week.”

But if you’re expected to make a living doing something else, then there should be a different commitment level with part time. Your other job will need some energy.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matthew Buterbaugh+

I agree that bivocational ministry with a seminary degree is not a sustainable model. Perhaps locally ordained clergy and a mutual ministry model would best serve those congregations and clergy that are part-time. Leave the administration to one person, the pastoral care to another and the sacraments to another. Honestly, I’m starting to think we’d be better off training more church planters and starting over in a few places.


If the church’s business model is to require the current level of expensive seminary education, while providing only bi-vocational or non-stipendiary positions, it is doomed. There aren’t enough wealthy people to replace all the clergy of all denominations that will be retiring over the next 15-20 years. My bride of 66 just completed an M.Div at Perkins, magna cum laude, and there is no place for her in the Dioceses of Dallas or Fort Worth. What path is open to her to allow her to use the knowledge she has gained? Maybe the Druids are hiring…..

Bruce Culver, Dallas TX

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café