Christianity Today is a great resource for leadership articles, you can sign up for their Leadership Journal articles here. I highly recommend it as a valuable resource.
Here is the full article I was using when referencing bi-vocational pastors in its entirety for those who do not wish to sign up yet.
Originally posted on Christianity Today’s “Leadership Journal”
Two young pastors are finding fresh ways to combine pastoral ministry and entrepreneurial ventures.
In the mid 20th century, most seminary discussions about the apostle Paul’s tent-making were likely theoretical. Yes, there were part-time pastors—but most of them would never have gone to seminary.
How times have changed! Today, seminarians from even well-known schools are starting to talk openly about the “stark realities” of bivocationalism. Some of the conversation around bivocationalism is driven by the weak job market. Seminary students aren’t exactly bombarded with well-paying jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, some see bivocationalism as a ministry plus, a way to keep one foot planted in the secular world.
Recent research from The Barna Group reveals that over 50 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) and younger Gen X-ers believe some form of entrepreneurship will be part of their career path. I’m guessing young seminarians are no exception.
Because I help start faith-based businesses, I have regular conversations with many young pastors. I have come to see bivocationalism as a gift. My relationships with members of the next generation of bivocational pastors have shown me that even their tent-making efforts are part of their calling.
According to data from the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors report being bivocational. But what are the most common “second jobs” for these pastors? How many bivocational pastors start businesses versus hold a “job”? Are bivocational pastors thriving or just surviving? We know little about this phenomenon. Yet we can start to answer some of these questions by seeing how two younger pastors in Minneapolis, Tim Schuster and Scott Woller, have embraced an entrepreneurial version of bivocationalism.
Moving in Circles
Tim Schuster graduated from Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2012. During his time there, he worked part-time as a youth pastor. He also planted a church. What started out as the “Midtown Church Project” became a fast-growing community that recently decided to drop the word “Project.” Why? Because they started seeing themselves as a bona fide church, just a few months after Tim’s graduation.
“When people say `plant a church,’ what they actually mean is `start a worship?service.’”
Midtown is an unconventional kind of church. According to Tim, “When people say ‘plant a church,’ what they actually mean is ‘start a worship service.’ Our contemporary notion of church is a group of people, facing in the same direction, where a stage becomes an altar. Then we look at programs, ministry, and service projects as ‘extra credit.’”
Midtown wanted something different. Within 10 minutes of the start of a Midtown “service,” chairs (and attendees) move from facing forward and are arranged into circles of 5 to 10 people in order to facilitate conversation.
Midtown Church is, in essence, a series of conversational circles. Brandon Schulz, a social media entrepreneur, describes Midtown as “the closest church to embodying how social media works, except it’s live, in person.” The relational emphasis doesn’t mean skimping on theology. Midtown is unapologetically orthodox in its teaching and Tim talks boldly about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and work.
What you won’t see, though, is a sermon or traditional service structure. Tim sees the primary role of the pastor as a facilitator. This stems from the Midtown founders’ shared fascination with self-organizing models. Tim even researched Tupperware parties and “Open Space” business conferences as part of the design for Midtown.
One key benefit Tim sees to bivocationalism is how it’s enabled the church to take a different approach to money. Tim and his Midtown cofounders decided that the pastor would not draw a substantial income from the church (and perhaps none at all). Why? They feared that money might get in the way of forming and deepening relationships, especially in the early days of planting the church.
Tim didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. He was considered for a planting grant from another church, but, because he’d only recently been married, was told he was “not ready.” (A good caution against being too quick to tell young, innovative pastors they’re “not ready.”) In hindsight he’s grateful for having been turned down. Through the grant evaluation process Tim realized he was in a classic struggle between “passion” (for Midtown’s strategy of not forcing economic ties between pastor and congregants) and “paycheck” (the reality that life would be a bit easier with seed funding).
Because of my work in faith-based business development, a friend introduced me to Tim to help him and Midtown’s other three original founders, Eric, Kelsey, and Jenna, find strategic options for the church, including income streams. Most of the business development I do is at the intersection of faith and financial services. This work connects me with many churches and ministries. Still, I found Midtown’s model remarkable.
Tim and I began a months-long series of conversations, thinking through bivocational options. For Tim, bivocationalism is one piece of an overall strategy. As he left his job as youth pastor, he actively sought an income-generating role to support his family that would also leave enough time for him and co-founder, Eric, to devote sufficient time to Midtown. Jenna, the fourth cofounder of Midtown, is now in seminary herself.
I asked Tim if seminary professors had introduced him to any role models, mentors or even examples of bivocational pastors. In short, the answer was “no.”
“If you don’t have a fulltime, paying role as a pastor, it’s somehow treated as a failure,” he said.
On reflection, though, he recalled that I had introduced him to a potential model for bivocationalism in Scott Woller, of Corner Coffee/Corner Church, as well as another entrepreneurial pastor in the Twin Cities. Ultimately, Tim decided to pursue an entrepreneurial path himself.
“Well Tim,” I said “I’m about to feature you and Scott in my writing. Perhaps you can become one of the role models.” Maybe future seminarians (as well as seminaries of the future) will realize that bivocationalism should not be seen as a failure, but in fact can be a successful strategy and a legitimate way of pursuing one’s calling.
Scott Woller leads a church in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. Corner Coffee/Corner Church is actually two distinct legal entities sharing a single location—and the same vision. Monday through Saturday, Corner Coffee is, you guessed it, a coffee shop. Their product is coffee, although creating a sense of community is the underlying goal.
Given that a fair amount of this article was written in the coffee shop, I’m able to attest to the fact that Scott and his team are accomplishing this goal. Corner Coffee is a for-profit LLC that creates neighborhood jobs. While the coffee shop has never paid a salary for Scott or other church staff, 100 percent of the profits of the coffee shop go toward the church’s operating budget. The church, as a legal entity, is the sole shareholder of the coffee shop. Scott is, in effect, the coffee shop’s volunteer CEO.
Corner Coffee was conceived as a way to plant Corner Church in an urban setting. Being an Assemblies of God plant, members of that denomination would feel theologically quite at home at Corner Church, just so long as they don’t mind the espresso machine hissing in the background. By having a fully-functioning, profitable business six days per week, the separately incorporated church has very low overhead for Sundays, and is able to meet in a comfortable, casual setting. (By the way, it took two years for Corner Church to be profitable. Scott hastens to add that a coffee shop is not a way to make “easy money.”)
Being in a non-traditional environment is crucial for the work of Corner Church. The vast majority of the church’s Sunday attendees are formerly churched individuals, many of whom have been scarred by past church experiences. Some of these negative experiences involve issues with the offering plate. So to grow and reach new attendees, Corner Church must keep a low overhead and strive to keep pressure around giving low, especially for newer attendees. In addition, Scott explains that being held in a coffee shop allows Corner Church to be an important part of the neighborhood. Scott feels meeting in a coffee shop “as church” sends that signal quite naturally.
Scott never wants to have a conversation about why the church doesn’t pay taxes: Corner Coffee does! And he never wants the neighborhood to have a sense that the doors are closed or the parking lots are gated Monday through Saturday. And most of all, Scott doesn’t want the “church community to let their faith become dormant during the week. We want the church facility to encourage people to live out their faith every single day.”
Unlike Tim, Scott did not remain bivocational, nor did he intend to. Indeed, Scott doesn’t think of himself as a classic bivocational pastor. From the beginning his income has come from the church, even though initially it was a very modest income. Scott encourages people to view Corner Church (via the coffee shop) as an “investment,” not just a donation, one that creates jobs in the community and revenue for church replication.
Those investments are paying off. After several years, Scott draws a full income from Corner Church. Meanwhile the revenue from Corner Coffee is strong enough that Corner Church planted a second coffee shop/church this year in another urban neighborhood in Minneapolis, a neighborhood so secular local pastors call it the place church plants go to die. So Scott now has a pastor colleague embarking on an entrepreneurial journey similar to his, with a model that has been proven to work in an urban, secular setting.
Pastoring in a coffee shop presents unique opportunities. Scott can’t hide in an office and he certainly doesn’t face the common tendency for pastors to get stuck in a church bubble. He’s expected to be active in the neighborhood, to live in the community, and to be visible in the coffee shop while doing his work. It’s a different role for the pastor than what Scott was used to. “Growing up, the pastor was this lofty ‘Man of God’ in the town,” he says. “But this role of the pastor as being down-to-earth, a real person, has really become who I am.”
It’s not just him who has benefitted. The church has attracted members seeking greater authenticity and community. The whole vibe of the church fosters dialogue and allows people to be real.
“Instead of sitting inside a church building, wondering how we can get our community to come here, we’ve flipped things around,” Scott says. “We’re putting our church in the middle of the community.” Members of the community can come and enjoy the coffee shop, even if they don’t worship or identify as Christians. To Scott, “that’s the difference between putting a church inside a coffee shop and putting a coffee shop inside a church.”
Recently, a neighbor-customer who has been coming in for many years and had never attended church approached Scott. His mom was in the hospital, and though he was obviously nervous and awkward, asked if Scott would pray for his mom. “This is a non-churchgoer, during coffee shop time, engaging me as a pastor,” Scott said. “I know I would have missed that moment, and many more like it, if I were in a traditional church setting.”
Such stories should make us rethink bivocationalism. Is it solely something to adapt to out of necessity? Or, like Tim and Scott, can we also come to see it as a path to greater ministry success? Many still regard bivocationalism as a second-class calling. But given the current economic woes and the challenges of reaching an increasingly secular culture, perhaps it’s time to rediscover “tent-making” models of ministry.
Chris Kopka is helping launch an integrated business/ministry model around faith & finances with Brightpeak financial.
The Corner Church/Coffee Economic Model
The economic model for Corner Church/Corner Coffee has many moving pieces. The coffee shop is designed to become profitable within 2 years, church expenses start and remain incredibly low (approximately 20 percent of the expenses of most plants), and modest church planting funds are stretched as long as possible because of the low overhead. In time, we begin to take offerings as church members start to embrace principles of generosity. Stressing the church’s active involvement in the community is essential. I’ve found people are ready to give to something they feel really makes a difference. They see our coffee shop/church as being transparent and making a difference where they live and work. That makes it easy for them to give.—Scott Woller