Bi-vocation as Incarnation

“I don’t like the word bi-vocational. We need to find another word.”

This was the first sentence of a conversation with a pioneer at a recent pioneer learning community. Lots of people are talking these days about the changing landscape of ministry leadership and the very real possibility that many leaders will draw an income from a variety of enterprises not necessarily tied to a church or a denominational entity.

A problem of terminology

Even now, I know plenty of entrepreneurial ministry leaders who lead a fresh expression of church while also working in another job, from freelance social media work to carpentry to teaching to running a coffee shop.

But that’s not what this pioneer leader was getting at. He was suggesting that the word bi-vocational implies a bifurcation between what is spiritual and what is worldy.

Bi-vocational suggests that one is called to two unrelated things, as if somehow in one job a leader serves God and in another a leader waits tables. But what if we believe that we serve God, no matter what job we are engaged in? Furthermore, what if the “bivocational” job is actually the locus of the ministry? What if the “bivocational” choice is inherently incarnational?

It’s not merely the job one takes outside of the church bubble that funds the ministry; it’s the job one steps into in order to do life with those he or she is called to do ministry WITH.

This specific pioneer has chosen to work as a food server.

He has a heart for those in the food service industry who are trying to get their lives back together, or who are trying to figure out where they are going in life. He waits tables 3 nights a week, and leads a fresh expression of church with fellow restaurant servers after closing once a week.

While he has had multiple offers to consider a management position, he has chosen not to do so because it would create barriers to connecting with the people he feels called to love and serve.

Remembering incarnational ministry

As the incarnation of Jesus was the inbreaking of the holy into this messy, broken world, so also bi-vocation is the incarnation of the holy into the everyday lives of people in their everyday workplaces.

What if we reclaimed the sense of “vocational” being the way we live as integrated, creative, servant leaders wherever we happen to receive an income, not just our church-work? Maybe the best way we can connect with those whom God has placed on our hearts is to work alongside them, to love and serve them in the process, and discover what doors God might be opening to walk with others towards deeper fellowship with one another and with God.

Yes, we might have to consider a new ministry economy, in which leaders may get paid from multiple sources. But let’s not miss the very real opportunities to live out all of our vocations in service to God.

After all, vocation at its essence, is one’s calling to serve God in the world.


Shannon Kiser

Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.


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