By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md.—When the early church began, there were no full-time pastors and planters.
“Let that sink into your head for a while,” said Michael Crawford, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) State Director of Missions/Church Planting Consultant at the BCM/D’s inaugural Co/Bi-Vocational Brunch on Jan. 13 at the Baptist Mission Resource Center.
“There were people with jobs who turned the world upside down,” he told the roomful of church planters, those preparing to plant, established pastors and guests.
The event began with a breakfast of omelets, served up by a chef from “The Original Omelette Man.” Visitors enjoyed watching the young man artistically prepare the food, flipping the omelets at just the right time to present the perfect product – smooth and silky on the outside and tender on the inside. The meal gave the folks a chance to relax and share with one another, meeting, greeting, networking and connecting.
Crawford said the BCM/D and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) values bi-vocational pastors.
“You are not forgotten. Our convention and NAMB are working tirelessly and hard to come up with materials and tools to put in your toolbox to support you as you do what you do.”
The guest speaker, Brad Brisco, NAMB’s Director of Bi-vocational Church Planting, shared that he became a Christian at 30 years old. After college, he and his brother went into the restaurant business and successfully ran five different establishments working 80-90 hours a week. “We loved it,” he said.
A man in his late teens the brothers hired as a manager shared Christ with Brisco over the course of a year, and Brisco made a confession of faith. A few months later, his brother came to the Lord as well. Many people urged Brisco to sell his businesses and go to seminary, so, as a young believer, he thought that must be what he should do.
“After 13 years of being in the restaurant business we sold everything and I went to Southwestern [Baptist Theological Seminary] to do an M.Div. If I knew then what I know now, about 25 years later, I probably wouldn’t have still been in the restaurant businesses, but I wouldn’t have sold it when I did.”
Brisco said the businesses he and his brother had were located in four different locations in the city. “I’m sure we didn’t know everyone but it felt like it. We worked in all those stores and saw 300 to 350 people a day and some multiple times a week.”
He, and others at that time, he said, just didn’t have the imagination to think about combining church work with a full-time vocation. They were two separate things, “the sacred” and “the secular.”
Now, Brisco emphasizes the need to “blow up” the concept of the sacred and secular divide, which means “changing the way we think about bi-vocational pastoring and planting—a paradigm shift.”
That’s Brisco’s passion now in his newly created position: “changing the conversation” and resourcing bi-vocational and co-vocational planters. After planting for five years, he became an associational church planting catalyst and wrote several books about planting before stepping into his role with NAMB.
He explained the difference between bi-vocational and co-vocational.
“’Co’ means to have something in common,” he said.
A co-vocational pastor, he explained, “has a primary calling that he will never leave, but at the same time, God is calling him to start something new.” He used the real example of a fireman who knows God called him to be a fireman. He will never leave that called vocation, but at the same time, he felt the call to start a church. He did, and now that church is thriving.
A bi-vocational pastor, he said, may be working at a local Starbucks or Lowes, or driving for Uber, all the while hoping that one day he’ll be able to gain the support to leave the job.
“When we really champion bi-vocational church planting, I hope there will be a lot of ‘bivos’ who decide not to leave because they have access to a mission field they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Brisco said.
Brisco said the other benefits of working are many and include financial stability for the family, the church, and the sending organization as well as respectability or “street cred” [credibility] inside and outside of the church.
“People today are at best skeptical of the church, and at worst, hostile. It gives a pastor ‘street cred’ if they have a job in the marketplace like everyone else has a job,” he said. It also helps the church develop shared responsibility and leadership out of necessity.
“When there’s a problem, the voice of the team raises up. There’s not only a sacred/secular vocational divide but a crazy clergy/laity divide. In bi-vocational conversations, we can diminish that.”
Brisco has developed training material for planters to use themselves and with their small groups. He said the philosophy behind the training, is that the plant, or established church must be “missiologically” driven, and must start with Jesus.
“In church planting, historically we’ve done it backwards. Too often we start with church rather than Jesus and missions. We go to a church conference, or another church and think, ‘I want to plant a church just like that!’ We want to get to ‘church,’ but…we can’t start with church. We have to start with Jesus.”
Brisco stressed that planters must be sure of their calling. “Make sure you’re called to a people group or location and not to a job description,” he cautioned, adding that church members not called to the same people group will eventually leave.
He also stressed the importance of margins, referring to a book by Richard Swenson, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”
Brisco said, “You can open any book and you would never see the ink go all the way to the top, bottom and from side to side. He (Richard Swenson) uses the margin as a metaphor. As Americans, we live on the edge of the page.”
“It is helpful to use introduce that language into church plants,” Brisco said. “Relationships happen in the margins.”
Often, he added, we get so caught up in our busy schedules we don’t have time to share Christ with those around us. “Relationships happen in the margins,” he said.
Crawford re-emphasized the need to slow down. “We get caught up in speed. It’s all a race. You can read the Gospels and you never see Jesus in a hurry. It starts with Christology. We’re more Martha instead of Mary. We stamp Bible verses on it, sell it, buy it, eat it, and begin to believe that’s how we are supposed to live it,” he said.
Crawford said pastors also need to consider whether they’re overscheduling their churches, preventing members from having the margins they need.
Several in the room questioned how to handle the time crunch, and Brisco referred to the “equipping the saints” text in Ephesians 4.
“We’ve always taught that as a leadership text. It’s not a leadership text. It’s a body text. Jesus, at His ascension, has given gifts to the body…and as the body, we are to equip one another. Part of the problem with the non-missionary church is that it’s organized and structured around the shepherd/teacher. We never want to minimize the shepherd/teacher, but we can elevate the ‘APE’s’—the apostles, prophets and evangelists. We need to be fully functioning with all five. Shared leadership means not just senior pastor leading everything, but shared mutual leadership where we’re activating all of the people of God. If the church is being all the church can be, it can’t just focus on two gifts.”
Crawford said that in the majority of the world, people aren’t talking about the subjects of bi-vocational and co-vocational pastors.
“If you go to China or Sudan, they don’t talk like that. The assumption is that if you’re called to be a pastor you’re not full-time.”
Crawford said the majority of ministers in the Bible are bi/co-vocational. That’s encouraging, he said. “We’re the rule, not the exception. We’re the norm. That’s how God usually works.
“It doesn’t mean if you feel called to full-time labor, that’s bad. You have to take a holistic view of ministry, which in part says you have to understand that having a job is not a sin. Your Savior probably worked for 20 plus years.
“Genesis 1 comes before Matthew 28. That’s part of your recalibration.”