This is an article from the September-October 2016 issue: Slaying the Dependency Dragon

The Need For Bivocational Ministry

The Need For Bivocational Ministry

An evangelist from India arrived at a Christian college in North Carolina to raise funds to support some 60 fellow evangelists and preachers in Chennai. He asked to use the college as a base for fundraising and was given free room and board in order to do that. Since I was the missions professor at the time, I had several conversations with him and asked him whether bivocational ministry might not be a viable option for his work. He replied that the American missionary who started his work had always insisted that once a man committed himself to work for God, he should be a full-time worker and not accept any other work. I mentioned to him that the Apostle Paul had worked as a tentmaker in Corinth, and that I had met a pastor of a tiny Nazarene church in Vermont who had to support himself by frying hamburgers at a fast food restaurant! He answered that such a lifestyle would be unacceptable in his ministry.

Consequently, he made yearly trips to the USA to raise funds for the following year’s work, continuing the precedent set by his founding missionary of using American money to pay salaries for Indian workers.

The rejection of bivocational ministry has existed for a long time. Almost a century ago, Roland Allen tackled this thorny issue in two books published in 1923 and 1930. This famous missionary to China was deeply concerned with how much a paid clergy in mission situations was damaging the impact of Christianity. In the first book, entitled Voluntary Clergy, he said that his own Anglican mission had “abandoned the Apostolic conception of the ministry,” since the precedent set by the Apostle Paul was a voluntary clergy (1923:72)1. In the second book, The Case for Voluntary Clergy, he added that paying local mission workers divided all who preached and evangelized into two classes: those who were employed by the mission and those who worked without pay, with the former enjoying higher prestige (1930:201). Yet the paid worker “is financially dependent upon the mission. . . . In relation to his own people, or his congregation, he feels no responsibility to them, and they feel no responsibility for him” (1930:209). Ultimately, this system teaches Christians that “all growth depends on money” (1930:212). This in turn slows down the growth and maturity of the churches planted.

On the other side of this sad picture stand those who do God’s work whether they are paid or not. In a short article published in Mission Frontiers, I related some of the story of Isaac Ndlovu (whose Tonga name is Ndendela), a remarkable evangelist with whom I worked and whose main ministry was in the Zambezi River Valley of Zimbabwe (Sept-Oct 2013:36). In 2014, based on interviews and with his permission, I published Ndlovu’s story under the title “Who Needs a Missionary?”. One chapter is devoted to how he made a living, since he gave up a good job in order to share the blessings of the gospel with his own Tonga people, yet he never asked anyone for financial support. How, then, was he to support his growing family while doing ministry? From the start he planned to be a farmer like most Tongas.

We missionaries wanted to help him get off to a good start, so we helped him buy two cattle in order to start a herd of his own. The nearest cattle for sale were a hundred miles from Isaac’s home due to the tsetse fly whose bite is lethal to livestock. But the fly had recently been eradicated, and he personally walked the two cattle to his home on foot! After some years, he had a good-sized herd that provided milk, manure for fields and a source of money (by selling a cow) should the need arise. But he still lacked the regular cash needed for some things like school fees, soap, matches and some food (he grew most of his food as a subsistence farmer).

A fellow missionary loaned Isaac the funds to purchase what he needed to grow cotton, such as seed, insecticide and fertilizer. This gave him a paycheck once a year when his meager cotton crop ripened, but that was enough to provide the cash he needed for a while (including the repayment of the loan). When global cotton prices dropped due to the US government subsidizing American cotton growers, Isaac had to find other ways to make ends meet. He tried numerous other schemes to make money, but discovered that most of them took him away from his calling to ministry. Finally, he found a way to corner the welding market in his area, buying the necessary equipment from the sale of some cattle. Part of the equipment needed was a generator since his area has no electricity, but he still had an 80 mile round trip to buy diesel for the generator at the nearest gasoline station! In order not to detract from ministry, he partnered with his grown sons in this small business. Isaac’s first priority was ministry, with the bivocational part added on only to support his family, and he increasingly relied on his sons to conduct business as they came of age.

We often forget that bivocational ministry was used extensively on the American frontier, especially during the Second Great Awakening (1800-1830). Open-air revivals at camp meetings were followed by fiery evangelists who planted churches across the thinly populated countryside. Most of these preachers were neither well-educated nor financially supported. Only later did Americans come to rely on professional ministers, yet we often insist that our later model should be adopted even in situations where a bivocational ministry would be more appropriate. Especially in mission situations, shouldn’t we heed the advice of the Apostle Paul: “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of ChristChrist?” (1 Cor. 9:12, NIV) In many mission situations around the world, American support for local ministers of the gospel is undermining the gospel.

Credibility is established, however, when those like Ndlovu who are self-supporting evangelists prove by their lifestyles that their priority is making disciples.  We as outsiders need to be especially careful not to stifle local initiative but to encourage all those who believe God has called them to ministry for the sheer joy of sharing the Good News.

Photo Credit: ECHO/Martin Karimi


Thanks for the good reminder.

Hundreds of small churches across North America go without pastors because this aversion to bi-vocational ministry. The model of the mega-church has, I fear, fed this situation. Thank you for this article.

Thank you so much for this write up.  They are the facts of the Mission field.  I am not surprised about the Indian Pastor who went to the U.S. to raise funds for his pastors, but I am so upset and feel very very sad for him as well his pastors.  Unfortunately that’s the kind of model and precedence set before him by his senior missionaries, overseas missionaries.  Yes there are some cultural issues in every country, but it is the responsibility of the leaders to teach the Biblical principals and truths.  It should never be what an organization things, or as their policy matter.  After all who makes the policy?  Many overseas missionaries who come to India to start such a beautiful mission work, church planting, building organizational structures, Hospitals and institutions.  They were sincere in what they were doing.  But they also made some big mistakes.  At most mission field where they started their ministry while they were doing a great job, THEY FAILED TO RAISE THE LOCAL and NATIONAL LEADERSHIP.  When the overseas missionaries finished their work and ready to leave the country, no body know who is going to the be leader.  This has caused infighting.  There are some great mission centers which is a first class mode. One such mission is “Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore at Tamil Nadu, South India.  It was started by the great missionary Dr.Ida Scudder.  Today this institution is Asia’s largest Christian medical school.  Now the Institution is under the leadership of Nationals.  Very strong in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They have grown and expanded as one of the largest Christian institution. 

In 2. Thessalonians 3:7 St.Paul is pointing to the church, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you.”  Today we are missing the example at the leadership.  St.Paul’s leadership example is being a TENTMAKER.  Dr. William Carey-Missionary in India was a great example and he was a Tentmaker.  Sadly today when the national missionaries have experienced in receiving funds blindly they learning to become a Tentmake is not going to be that easy.  It is very hard to unlearn what they have learned.  Instead of I mention about bi-vocational let people become TENTMAKERS.  There is lot of dignity in it, they can take the ownership.  Sadly even in the Christian ministry there is “Bonded labor” This is very much visible in India. 

Our ministry is focused on training and equipping the Christian workers to be a Tentmaker. We encourage them to be one among the local community.  There is no such thing called “Full time Ministry” Every believer is a FULL TIME FOR THE LORD. We focus on training the community in economic development. Very sadly the Church is not bothered about the health and economic development of their congregation, specially at the rural parts of the country.  Every church is asking for money, funds but no one is bothered, from where will they get their money.  If the pastor is raising his own funds for himself, he can be well off, but the needy people at the church is also looking for their need.  But the pastor can only tell them to PRAY FOR THEIR NEEDS.  How sad.  At every developing country the mission field must focus on economic development through the church.  The church building must be used as a training center, instead of keeping it locked Monday through Saturday.  The local community even the non-Christians will benefit and appreciate it, and the most beautiful thing is the Gospel can be preached without any kind of constrains. 

We offer these training, we also introduce them in the market.  Soon my Book on Tentmaking will be released.  We all know the old chines quote: “Give a fish to a man, he will eat and come back to you.  Teach him how to fish, he will fish for rest of his life.”  But I a problem here, my question is “Who owns the pond?”  So my book is titled “GIVE THEM THE POND”  Finally I want to encourage any funding organizations and churches please fund them if the program is for economic development, The seed money should help them to harvest more seed from their own field.  The fund should never be given to be spent and again and again returning for more funds. If the funds are given to be spent, the program can never be sustainable.  People should be like those servants in the talent story in Matthew 25:14-30

We will be more than happy to provide guidance, consultation and training at any part of India, as well to the ministry at our Neighboring countries.  Our ministry / NGO is known as ‘proVISION INDIA’
Please do contact:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) 
Thank You
Paul C. Dass

“He replied that the American missionary who started his work had always insisted that once a man committed himself to work for God, he should be a full-time worker and not accept any other work.” Where did he learn this? 99.9% of American churches operate on this “full-time worker” version of leadership. American believers consume billions of dollars every year of their own “giving” to buy hired services to benefit mostly themselves. It’s all normal. Leadership Journal’s article on normal church budgeting shows that Americans consume 84% of their giving to generate the “local church” concept. Only 16% goes beyond the “givers”. When believers are sent from these churches, of course they plant churches with this same routine. In the Philippines where I grew up, they must consume 99% of their giving because they are a poorer country than America. It’s amazing any hired pastor can survive there. An association of 2500 churches can only send about 30 missionary units to other parts of Asia. This is a shut down of the gospel. It’s rooted here in every American church. It is the cornerstone of perpetual dependency ministry in every church that hires a leader. When a pastor leaves a church after 20 years of preaching, teaching, and leading, another man must be hired in to do everything the first man did. No one was “fully trained” to “be like” their teacher. Luke 6:40. Nothing was “entrusted” to the “faithful men” in that fellowship, much less that they “teach others also”. 2 Tim. 2:1,2. It is assumed American believers need one hired expert for every 100 -150 people for their whole life. No one will graduate. No one will be seen as competent to “preach” for even 5 minutes during the worship hour. Dependency ministry will not disappear from missions until it’s cleaned up in America. If this sounds harsh, you need to read some of the texts where Paul confronted the problem in even his day for believers demanding professionalized leadership. 1 Cor. 4:11 - 20; 1 Corinthians 9: 15 - 27; 2 Corinthians 11: 7 - 13; 2 Corinthians 12:11 - 19; 1 Thessalonians 2: 9-12; 2 Thessalonians. 3:6-15 If you have a justification for this current system, present your reason to see if it can be tested.

Christian Leaders Institute provides free high-quality training to help bi-vocational leaders be free from debt but still formally trained.  The inspiration for the program is the Apostal Paul. This year they are launching an enterprise program.

Henry - Every man who practices a form of leadership dominated by strict one way communication with only one person doing all the expression of truth, a form called “teaching or preaching”,  will never be reproduced into the life of a man who works in the marketplace, yet is all claimed to be inspired by the Apostle Paul. Here are some of the specific characteristics of the dominant form of leadership today rejected by Paul:
1. The “leader” is viewed as an expert rather than a servant and brother.
2. The “leaders will never “fully train” his students to “be like him” Luke 6:40
3. The leader will never “entrust” what he has said and done to “faithful men” around him who will “teach others also”. 2 Tim. 2:1,2
4. The leader will wear an elevating title and claim an office where only he does certain ministry functions.
5. The leader will maintain a professional distance from from the believers around him.
6. The leader will expect the believers around him to pool their “giving” to pay him to teach and lead them.

The lure of the flesh is strong to suck leaders into the above practices. Does your program warn against these dynamics giving the Biblical basis for doing so?

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