By Robby Christmas
National Bivocational Church Planting Catalyst, North American Mission Board
Picture a ticking alligator and a scared, one-handed pirate. Some of you may remember watching Peter Pan as a kid. If you do, you recall that Captain Hook had a ridiculous fear of clocks because the gator that bit off his hand swallowed a clock. Every time he heard the tick-tock he freaked out and did something crazy. This sounds a lot like the situation in which a traditional church planter can find himself as he thinks about the funding. The clock starts ticking on day 1, and he better find enough givers before the last tock or the money runs out.
Church planting experts advise the traditional church planter to build a network that can financially support him and his church for 3-5 years. This usually means they need several hundred thousand dollars. Yet there is no guarantee that this massive investment is going to result in a new church. It makes me wonder if there is a better way?
This is why I appreciate Pastor Jimmy Scroggins’ approach to this dilemma. When you put all the finances on the table and combine them with your church’s commitment to actually reach lost people, it often just doesn’t add up. It’s clear that we need to be moving more intentionally and rapidly toward bivocational church planting models.
Here are six reasons why this shift is crucial to the future of church planting:
I’m stationed in South Florida where we have a vision to plant 100 churches. To launch these churches with a full time planter would cost millions and millions of dollars. Because of that ticking clock, most church planters will unintentionally shift their focus from reaching the lost to reaching the lucrative. Have an honest conversation with a planter in this situation and you’ll find out that wasn’t on his heart when God called him to plant. This is as crazy for a church planter as Captain Hook jumping into Mr. Smee’s arms at the sound of a ticking clock.
2. Missional Platform
How many of you in full time ministry have been hit with the reality that you don’t often interact with unbelievers? This makes it difficult to model a life on mission like we expect from those we lead. Yes, there are many creative ways for full-time pastors to engage with lost people, and many do. However, bivocational pastors have an automatic in because their secular jobs allow them to be around unbelievers all day, every day.
3. Team Planting
When you plant bivocationally, you quickly realize that you can’t go it alone. This healthy realization leads to a stronger leadership plan. Though many full-time planters wisely develop a team, a bivocational planter must develop a team if the work is going to get done. This is a biblically sound model (read the end of some of Paul’s epistles) that brings with it built in accountability. It also gives you the opportunity to model the kind of Gospel community you want to develop in your church.
4. Walk in Their Shoes
Planting bivocationally will help you relate to the people you lead. When your schedule resembles their schedules, it will help you plan realistic leadership development strategies and meeting times. It also gives you opportunity to model being a Gospel witness in the workplace.
5. Biblical Precedent
This isn’t a new strategy; it’s been done before. Acts 6:7 says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” How did this happen so fast? There wasn’t enough time for a 90-hour MDiv, church planting conferences, networking, and fundraising required for this kind of growth. (By the way, I have a 90-hour MDiv, have been to many church planting conferences and done plenty of networking and fundraising.) However, it’s clear that professional, full-time pastors weren’t the only ones responsible for the rapid growth in the early church. God also used—and still uses—ordinary, working people with a passion for Christ.
6. Reaching the Lost
When you’re not constantly worried about the weekly budget numbers, it frees you up to stay focused on your reason for planting. It seems silly that we would need to reiterate that church planting is for the lost. Perhaps plants that reach saved people (unintentionally I’m sure) should be called church reshuffles instead of church plants. Think about it like this: in 3 years would you rather grow to 300, with 5% of that growth representing new believers or grow to 100, with 50% being new believer growth? Do the math. Would you rather reach 15 people or 50? Based on what I’ve experienced, the bivocational planter who is laser-focused on reaching the lost is likely to experience the second scenario.