This article was Written by Steve Nerger on Church Planting Village.

The greatest church planter that ever existed was a bivocational church planter!

This man is perhaps the most quoted speaker and writer in the history of the Christian church other than perhaps Jesus Himself.

This man not only started a church planting movement but also had time to write over a dozen books read by millions upon millions of people.

It was not easy for this man; for you see he was quite educated, quite wealthy, quite intelligent, and quite successful before he was ever called into the ministry.

To become bivocational he had to empty himself of everything in his fleshly spirit. He had to seek God, rather than what this world could offer. He had to say YES!

Did I tell you that it cost this man dearly?

Yes, he was probably disowned by his family, disinherited, and alone.

Listen to his own words as he describes the trials of his experience as a bivocational church planter, comparing his life to others who think they have accomplished something.

2 Corinthians 11: 23-28, NIV
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

By now you know that I am referring to the apostle Paul, one of God’s choicest servants. He was a servant of God first and foremost, an apostle to the Gentiles, a preacher of the gospel, and finally, a bivocational church planter.

Most of you know that Paul worked as a tentmaker so that he would not take money for himself from anyone to do ministry. This was a part of his ethos, his ideal, his thought pattern, perhaps even his theology. He did not want to be indebted to the ones to whom he ministered. He had no trouble collecting money for anyone else. He did not even have trouble with people being fully funded by the ones to whom they ministered. He just simply thought it would be best to be bivocational; serving the churches and making a living.

Many people think Paul was taught tentmaking by Priscilla and Aquila, who he met in Corinth after they left Italy because of persecution. But Scripture tells us that Paul was drawn to them because they were of the “same trade” (Acts 18:1-3).

We all know Paul came from a wealthy family in Tarsus. Maybe his family business was tentmaking. This seems like a long shot, but no one knows. A more plausible explanation is that when he was first saved, and went to Arabia for three years, he learned tentmaking as a means of survival, preparing himself for the ministry ahead.

Whatever the circumstances, Paul was equipped mentally and physically to be a tentmaker, serving his Lord as a church planter!

What is a Bivocational Church Planter?

By most definitions, a bivocational church planter is someone who starts a church, and gains part of his personal income from an outside source and part from the church. This outside income could be from work, investments, retirement, or any other sources. The income from the church could be as little or as great as plausible. It could include housing allowance, travel allowance, annuity, or any other form of income. Usually, these agreements can be seen in one of the following arrangements:

1. The church plant cannot pay a livable wage at first, and the pastor works anywhere from 20 to 40 hours in a secular job to support his family.

2. The church planter has a very adequate profession and wants to only accept a token of his worth to the church, such as travel or annuity.

3. The church plant cannot pay a livable wage, so the church planter accepts another ministry position, such as a part-time staff member in another church or a consultant for an association or state convention.

4. The church can pay a livable salary, but the pastor needs to help in other areas of ministry; therefore, they release him a day or two per week to hold another ministry job.

5. The church planter desires to have some time in the workforce to meet people. This is an intentional part of his church planting strategy.

6. Sometimes a church planter just does not want to be in financial bondage to a church body such as the apostle Paul–-and desires to stay bivocational for this reason.

7. Finally, this could be a retired person who sees the need for a new church plant and “steps up to the plate.” Using his retirement as his primary source of income, he takes a small stipend from the church (such as a housing allowance, which can be a tax advantage.)

8. As you can see, there can be any mix of possibilities as God would lead.

Why the Need for Bivocational Church Planters in North America?

At the time of this writing, there are approximately 300 million people in North America. It is estimated that at least 200 million of them are lost – without Christ as their personal Savior. The easiest solution to this lostness problem is to train and require the 100 million saved people to lead two people to Christ this year. Then all of North America will be saved. Sounds too good to be true, but the math works. The method, however, is flawed by humanity – especially saved humanity.

God desires the church to be salt and light among the nations. We all pretty much agree that healthy church plants are the most effective method of evangelism and discipleship. So how do we start enough churches to reach 200 million people?

Using the most common method available today, it will not be done. Training people for three years in seminary and sending them out will not be sufficient because of people, resources, and time. This method only allows us to begin a certain number of churches each year determined by the number of resources to fund a pastor and the number of pastors available, which is limited to graduates from seminary.

Now I am not against seminary, and I believe every pastor should be trained to the best of his life and church planting circumstances. However, to reach North America with gospel-preaching churches, we must utilize more bivocational church planters who will use their talents and gifts for making money to free a church to start without all the costs involved in our “one, seminary-trained man/one church start” model.

God has blessed men with abilities and humility to work bivocationally as He did the apostle Paul. To do this, he could not burden the churches to care for him. Today, there are men available to do the same thing if they would consider and humbly accept the challenge.

This is the future of church planting if we are to reach the nation: men of every people group and population segment who are called by God to start churches. These are men who have different cultures, languages, and jobs, but the same calling as fully funded pastors.

In America today, eight churches close each day. Six new churches are started each day. Four of these six church starts are Southern Baptist church plants. Last year, Southern Baptists started 1,781 new churches and the United States lost 730 churches for a net gain of 970 churches. These statistics will not win America, but be not dismayed; God is raising the bar of the bivocational pastor and church planter.

Everywhere I go in the country people are exploring and talking about both bivocational and lay church planters. So what do we do now?

Raising Up and Utilizing Bivocational Church Planters

1. Raising the bar.
What if we really let our young men know that it is acceptable to go to college, get a degree, and start churches? What if we really let our retired believers know they can serve God in their retirement like never before through church planting? What if we were able to tell young seminarians that part of a strategy of church planting will include working in the town where they are starting a church? What if bivocational church planting was used by God to bridge the gap of laity and professional clergy?
What if God helped us see the potential of this kind of church planting movement in America as it is happening in other parts of the world?

2. Calling them out.
To some people, calling out bivocational pastors is an impossibility. I am not so sure about this. In every existing church, there are leaders that people follow. They are deacons, Sunday School teachers, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, laborers, and even staff members. Each leads in their own way. Suppose we were able to discover the people who lead in our existing congregations and challenge them to go to the next level of leadership. Suppose that we made available opportunities, experiences, and training to prepare them for a church planting assignment. I think we are just around the corner from such a movement because the average discipled church member in America today is asking privately, “Isn’t there more to this than rotating jobs within the walls of the church as it grows bigger?”

3. Developing the training.
Training can come in one of two ways. Locally, it can come from the church and association through training events and ongoing training. If a person is not in a place where this could happen, then the Internet is a great place for us to begin to develop pastoral training for the bivocational church planter. Each of these two are now being considered and developed at the North American Mission Board.

4. Developing the implementation strategy.
Strategies of church planting abound all around us. Bivocationalism will, and should be, embraced by all people groups and geographical areas in the United States and Canada. Do you know there are at least 17,000 bivocational churches in North America today? Suppose that these pastors and churches found it in their heart to reach out to another people group or small town around them. Wouldn’t a church that is lead by a bivocational pastor be the best sponsor for a new church that will be bivocational? Wouldn’t a bivocational pastor be the best mentor for a new bivocational pastor trying to start a new church? Sure they would, and we would be wise to implement a strategy that includes these elements. Our God has given us tremendous resources in North America that include the word “bivocational.” Isn’t He the ultimate planter?

Challenges and Benefits of Bivocational Church Planting Benefits

1. If a church planter works in the right secular job, he can meet and reach out to many people in his community. For example, if a person takes a job at a school, he would have contact with many people. If this was the school in which his new church met, it would be even better. Or, what if a person worked in a grocery market? He would meet all the customers, as well as the employees. These examples are just a token sample of what lies in the field of bivocational church planting.

2. In order to start a church, many a church planter either has his wife work outside the home or lives in a substandard financial condition. However, many of our church planters come on the field just to develop a core group or to work with a very small group of people. They do not need 60 hours weekly to develop what they have been given. Working bivocationally will lighten the financial load, while at the same time help him meet people.

3. If a church planter works bivocationally, he will stay in touch with the lost humanity in his community. Quite often, and quite quickly, church planters get caught up in just dealing with “saved” people and their difficulties. This can come at the expense of meeting people who need Jesus as their Savior. Working in the “world” allows a mission pastor to continue to experience life as his community also does.

4. One more benefit would be that with a bivocational pastor, the people of the church membership will be more willing to step up and help, not just allow the pastor to do it all. This usually helps the church grow spiritually, as far as service and commitment are concerned, much faster than a fully funded church plant.


1. It is not easy to focus your mind on two distinct jobs and job descriptions. Whether a person works 20 or 40 hours weekly outside the church, his brain will continue to view them as two full-time responsibilities. This can be difficult for most people.

2. Time is always an issue. How do you divide your time between family, church, job, self, and others? When you hold another job, there is a real strain of time that must be constantly worked and evaluated as the church grows and takes more and more time. Remember, some church plants may remain bivocational forever, while others are bivocational only for a given period of time.

The Future of Church Planting

As I write this chapter, I am so excited about the future of church planting in North America. I sense a small breath of wind from God that is leading us to a place where we have never been before. When I began church planting 24 years ago, a young church planter was not allowed to work outside of the church field if he were given any type of financial funds. Today, more and more state conventions and associations are realizing that allowing a church planter the opportunity to work outside of the church frees him financially and gives him great opportunities within the community. Bivocationalism is becoming a viable strategy of church planting – as it should. In the last 25 years, we have learned how to start churches in the North American context using one seminary- trained person, along with volunteers and assistance from all over. We do not want to throw out this model, but now is the time to go to the next level of church planting – using indigenous people who start churches where they live out of their own life experience. Bivocational church planting fits this plan.

However, an even brighter star is shining. Bivocational leaders and pastors are beginning to see why God has allowed them to operate like the apostle Paul. Where for years, being a bivocational pastor was looked upon as second-rate, today – because of the great needs in North America and the ethnic diversity we find here – we are looking at the bivocational pastor with new glasses. And so we should! All across North America, God has placed bivocational pastors who thought that all they were there for was to keep one church going; but in the near future I see a day when the small spark of these men beginning new bivocational churches becomes a fanning flame that stretches to every people group, small town, and village in North America.

The future of North American church planting may very well like in the hands of men from every nationality whom God has led to North America – to work hard at making a living, and at the same time, start churches to meet the needs of their lost fellow travelers. It just might lie in the hands of the farmer, feed salesman, or insurance agent in middle America or Canada, who says to himself, “I must bring the gospel to the people who live around me.” We can help them. Let’s raise the banner of the bivocational church planter.

So what about you, the reader of this chapter? Has God specially prepared you – maybe even without your knowing it – to become a bivocational church planter? Does your heart burn with excitement and challenge as you think of this next step of leadership and responsibility? If so, just do it. Talk to your local church leader or pastor. Tell them your thoughts and heart, and let God work out the rest. It probably will not be easy, but in the end it will be well worth the ride. To God be the glory on earth as it is in Heaven!