Paul was a bivocational minister

Paul: A Model for Bivocational Pastors

It could be argued that Paul was the first bivocational minister. We know from a few accounts that he worked on the side as a tent maker (Acts 18:3; 20:34). Other times he received gifts from one church to support him while planting another (2 Cor 11:8-9). Note however that he never had to! In 1 Corinthians 9 he lays down the theological basis for paying pastors and states that as an apostle he had every right to be paid. However, he chose to lay that right aside for the sake of the churches.

So what motivated Paul to work two jobs when he did not need to? Why, when he could have demanded payment as an apostle, did he lay aside that right? From Paul’s explanations we can see three attitudes which drove him to this task. Paul did this (a) out of love, (b) out of humility, and (c) as an example.

Love, Humility, Example: Why Paul was Bivocational

All three of these can be found in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9,

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.”We see love in that he did not want to burden anybody (v. 8). This same phrase is used in his first letter to them: “Working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you,” (1 Thes. 2:9). Or again in 2 Corinthians 11:9 he says that, “in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you.”

We see humility in that he could have demanded payment, but opted otherwise. As verse 9 says, “not because we do not have the right to this.” This means that they did have the right! This also comes from 1 Corinthians 9, where he states that he and Barnabas both had the right to ask for wages, could get married, and so forth, but laid aside those rights.

Pastors should be willing to be paid less, and congregations should be willing to pay him more. Click To Tweet

We see in the second half of verse 9, that he was setting an example for them to follow. Verse 10 shows us that he particularly had in mind certain lazy men in the church who would not work. Perhaps they used the excuse, “If the leaders of the church don’t work, why should I?”

Paul gave no room for such quibbles from undisciplined men. This is also seen in his ministry at Ephesus. In Acts 20:34-35 he says that he worked to feed himself and others. In verse 35 he says, “I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak.”

So we see the ideas of love, humility, and exemplary behavior permeating each of these texts. We also have the examples of Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica, where we know that he ministered for free! This was a regular part of Paul’s ministry. He laid aside his right for a paycheck every chance he could. Although he had every right to, he never demanded pay, so that he might not burden anybody.

If any able-bodied, middle-aged man pastoring a church in a poor neighborhood demands a bigger check so he doesn’t have to work, we can assume that his attitude is not one of love or humility, and he is not exemplary of a pastor’s heart.

Preaching is Hard Work!

But let us and our congregations not forgot that preaching is hard work! Remember again that a pastor should be paid! There are a few places in Scripture where preaching and teaching is considered work and labor. Paul urges the Thessalonians to give honor and appreciation to those elders who “diligently labor” among them in teaching (1 Thes. 5:12-13). He says we are to esteem highly “because of their work.” In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Paul reasons that pastors are worthy of a pay check, bringing up the Old Testament themes (Deut. 25:4) and Jesus’ own words (Luke 10:7) for support. He states that in particular we are to honor “those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” We see from these texts that preaching is labor, likened to that in a field. In 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, we hear of the household of Stephanas and how they “devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.” He then calls it “the work” and their actions are considered “helping” and “laboring”. Again in this verse we see that we are to have great respect for them and all such men.

So clearly preaching is to be taken seriously–a responsibility never to be spurned, nor taken lightly! To preach in a church is a duty which takes much out of a man! It is a laborious task of both the mind and body. It takes late nights on the knees and nose in Bible.

Exhortations for Pastors: Bivocational or Not

So with this in mind; as we think about the seriousness of preaching, and the amount of labor which ought to go in, let me give two exhortations:

  1. With or without a paycheck, work in such a way that at the end of the week you feel like you deserve a paycheck. No, I don’t mean “Man! That was a great sermon! They should pay me!” But I mean that feeling after you split wood in the yard all afternoon–blisters on your hands and an aching back because you worked!
  2. With or without a paycheck, work in such a way that if there was a clone of you, you would support them as a missionary.

Now, what about one who neglects this? What are some attitudes we’d see in somebody who flaunts this responsibility–who does not see preaching as work?

  • Any wimp without developed theology will spout off many of their opinions from the pulpit. They would not have a deep fear of God. They would not see the Lord as their commissioner but would preach to please men instead of God.
  • Heavenly reward would mean nothing to them.
  • One who doesn’t realize their congregation full of eternal souls at stake!
-Steve Rohn

What do you think?