My Father, my hero, has been a bi-vocational Pastor since before my first memories. My father is an ordained Elder in the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American Pentecostal denomination in the country. Growing up in a small rust belt city in northeastern Ohio, I watched my father work a full-time job as a social worker, own a small business, and work as a part-time/bi-vocational Pastor. My father worked three jobs and remained present and active in my life and the life of my siblings. Every morning when I got up for school, I walked past my parents’ room, and I saw my father on his knees praying. Before I ventured off to school, my father would hug me and remind me that he loved me. My father, my first pastor, and a pastor to so many people throughout the years, sacrificed so much to ensure that my family thrived and that the churches he served were able to thrive as well. Looking back, I wonder how he did it all. How was my father able to attend deacon board meetings, come to my basketball games, be a present husband to my mother, prepare weekly sermons, teach Wednesday night Bible study, lead prison Bible class after church on Sundays, remain healthy and keep a smile on his face as he worked through the hustle and bustle of the week? As my father moves towards retirement, I am grateful for all that he has sacrificed as a father, husband, non-profit leader and as a bi-vocational pastor.
My father’s story mirrors the stories of many bi-vocational pastors across Massachusetts. As many church budgets decline and membership dwindles, more and more pastors are becoming bi-vocational. There are also spaces where bi-vocational pastoral opportunities are emerging out of spaces of excitement, vision and growth. Immigrant, African American and culturally diverse churches across Massachusetts are being planted with bi-vocational pastors at the helm, guiding congregations into deeper community. As the Body of Christ across denominations in Massachusetts wrestles with the questions of sustainability, relevance, and even the purpose of the church, bi-vocational pastors are often asked to serve in spaces that are the least desirable, fix problems deemed irreparable, and make hard sacrifices with very little recognition or compensation.
In reflecting on my Father’s life as a bi-vocational pastor, I am deeply moved with emotion and awe for how he was able to give so much of himself to our family and to the churches he served. My father’s ministry continues to influence me. I have served as a bi-vocational pastor for the past 8 years. My desire to serve as a bi-vocational pastor is due in part to the many interests that I have that range from educational equity and workforce development to youth ministry, Christian Education and organizing faith communities to work towards social justice. I serve as a bi-vocational pastor so that I can prosper economically and financially. Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the country. In order to pay down debt, save, enjoy life, travel and build financial wealth, working multiple jobs is necessary to thrive and accomplish my financial goals. I serve as a bi-vocational pastor due to the increasing changes within the Christian pastoral marketplace. Some denominations across the state and across the country have an abundance of clergy to serve in their parishes. However, full-time appointments are few and far between. Consequently, to thrive in Boston as a pastor, serving bi-vocationally is necessary. I have learned to appreciate my own bi-vocational ministry. My divine vocational circumstance has allowed me to sharpen and develop skills that I might not otherwise be aware that I even possessed if I did not have the opportunity to work as a bi-vocational pastor.
Serving as a bi-vocational pastor can be enriching and exhausting, exciting and overwhelming, beautiful and sometimes full of struggles.
I am deeply excited to lead the new Lydia Fellows Program that supports bi-vocational pastors in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Council of Churches
recognizes the continued struggles of pastors serving in part-time ministry positions across Massachusetts. We’re hearing this both from leaders of our member denominations and through our regular visits to local congregations. As part-time positions are rapidly increasing in New England, we see three major barriers to thriving in part-time ministry: financial pressure, time management, and pastoral identity.
The Lydia Fellows program will address these barriers by increasing connectivity, esteem, authenticity, and engagement through financially compensated fellowships.
The Lydia Fellows Program will support Pastoral fellows who will meet over the course of 1 year for retreats, fellowship, pastoral support and peer coaching. Through these gatherings and ongoing peer support, we will increase connectivity among part-time pastors; we will increase the esteem for the skills, creativity, and complexity involved in part-time ministry; and we will increase the sense of authenticity and engagement among pastors serving in part-time positions. Ultimately, the Massachusetts Council of Churches desires to create spaces for pastors to flourish in part-time settings, providing new models of vibrant ministry for the Church in Massachusetts.
This program will support pastors from a wide variety of denominations and traditions who work in the Church in less than full time positions. These pastors may identify as part-time, bi-vocational, underemployed, or working multiple jobs out of economic necessity.
The Massachusetts Council of Churches will remunerate fellows for their time in the program with hopes of making learning and peer consultations possible for a new group of pastors seeking to grow in community and share best practices for supporting part-time ministry.
As I reflect on the experiences of my father, my own lived experience and my relationships with committed, brilliant and effective bi-vocational pastors across the state, I am excited to invite other bi-vocational pastors into community to learn from each other, share best practices and thrive together.
P.S.: Please help us spread the word. Who do you know who would benefit from this opportunity? We strive for an atmosphere of mutual benefit and delight--do you know a part-time pastor who would be interested? Please forward this invitation!