Why bi-vocational working doesn’t work in deprived communities

An interesting discussion opened up yesterday on Twitter. Gareth Russell tweeted the following:

There were lots of really interesting comments in response. But the discussion reached an interesting point with the following:

I don’t have a vast amount to add here. The fact is, bi-vocational ministry does not work well in deprived communities. If we are relying on public sector roles we are necessarily relying on middle-class believers coming in to serve. Whilst I would love to see more of that happening, the reality is that it almost never does. You can read my extended commentary on why that is here, but Mez summed it up: ‘no Christian professionals are willing to move into our communities in the first place! They’re too busy worshipping at the altar of comfort and climbing the work/social/housing ladder’.

Few working-class people will have the skills to enter into the sort of jobs that would give them enough money to work bi-vocationally. Most working-class people have to run several jobs just to keep their head above water. Even the middle-class guys willing to come (such that they are there) will struggle. Most will end up working part-time and either doing two jobs badly or simply expanding two part-time jobs into time that simply doesn’t exist. One guy who was working part-time as a teacher whilst in ministry noted that the choice was often so time limited that it meant choosing between marking books or sharing the gospel with someone, there just wasn’t enough time to do both.

It strikes me that this form of bi-vocational working doesn’t serve anybody very well. The church they work for and the other job they take often both lose out. The only people who do well out of such a setup are those middle-class, affluent churches who want to justify not supporting workers in areas that they have no real intention of ever trying to reach.

It is my view that we need a more pointed system of partnering churches together. We need more affluent churches to commit to supporting workers in churches that couldn’t afford to have one. We need to commit to actively supporting those willing to go to deprived communities, put our hands in our pockets and – for the good of the kingdom – meet the costs of appointing pastors to full-time ministry.

That doesn’t necessarily mean only one church must bear the whole cost. If several churches could commit to supporting a proportion of a full-time salary, that would go a long way. It is amazing that we seem happy enough to appoint ever-expanding staff teams on full-time salaries but rarely seem able to support ministers working in those communities most of us aren’t willing to go to. If you have managed to appoint an assistant pastor or several members of staff, why not consider funding a minister in a deprived community who can’t be supported full-time by his church? Instead of adding more and more in-house posts, why not forego the additional staff member and commit to supporting gospel ministry in an area that might have no (or only part-time) staff without your help?

If we are serious about reaching deprived communities, we need to do better than ‘maybe your minister could do two or three jobs to support himself?’