Pastors: Step into Your Calling with a Side Hustle.
When I approach full-time pastors with the idea that they can do some other work on the side and yet remain faithful to their calling, I get different reactions. Some say, “No way.” Others, “Yes, please!” But either way, most are thinking, “I wish I could.”
If that’s you, you’re not alone. Pastors dream about other occupations for all sorts of reasons. Some want a new challenge to maximize untapped potential in unexplored interests. Others have families in narrow financial straits and would greatly benefit from extra income. In addition, pastoral ministry can be very hard; all of us have thought at one time or another, “If only I could do something easier than this.”
Few pastors, however, take steps to make that dream a reality. We have lots of reasons to rebuke ourselves for contemplating adding a role outside the church. “I’m already being torn away from my family enough as it is. Where is the time going to come from?” Or, “how will I convince the church to let me do this?”
But the deepest and most powerful rebuke is: “A side hustle would make me unfaithful to my calling from God.”
I understand—your calling to serve as a pastor is a precious thing. It may have been the only thing that brought you into ministry, and I am sure it is the only thing that has kept you in ministry sometimes.
But I want to propose a radical idea. What if the right side hustle isn’t a distraction from your calling? What if it is an extension of your calling?
With the right side hustle, you can make a greater impact without demanding a bigger church. By going outside the church with some of your working time, you can reach people you’ve never reached before, display the kingdom of God where it has never been seen before, and do good you’ve never done before. That benefits the world, and it often swings back to benefit your church as well.
In addition, the right side hustle can make you a better pastor. Right now you spend thousands of hours annually serving people in completely different vocational circumstances than yours. You try to show them how to live like Jesus in a day-to-day life that you may not have experienced in years, if ever. Yet the right side hustle can give you experience that powerfully enriches your preaching, teaching, and discipling.
However, I don’t deny there are objections to the idea of a pastor taking on a side hustle, so I’d like to address three of them here.
Objection #1: A church with a bivocational pastor isn’t a real church
Many Christians—Euro-American Christians that is; African-American and immigrant believers typically have no problem with this—harbor the unspoken assumption that a bivocational pastor isn’t a real pastor, though they are too polite to say it out loud.
But this judgment isn’t mainly about the bivocational pastor (increasingly known as a “covocational” pastor, or what I like to call a “freelance” pastor.) It is more about the church whose pastor is bivocational. Churches usually have covocational solo pastors if they are very small and in deep decline or if they are composed of lower-income people; either way, a part-time pastor is all they can afford. It’s awkward to admit it, but the unconscious assumption from many on the outside is that a church in that condition isn’t much of a church.
The flip side of that assumption is that a “real” church has at least one full-time pastor. If the pastor were to go from full-time to part-time, it would be as if the church got demoted from the varsity to the JV.
Reply: Gigging is more real than ever
This assumption has the church lagging behind modern organizations and the labor arrangements of “the gig economy.” While the percentage of workers taking a traditional paycheck from multiple employers is the same as ever, evidence suggests that more Americans are combining employment and self-employment by earning a regular paycheck and freelancing or operating a business at the same time.
Spending a whole career with one company has long since ceased to be a reliable plan. But to many people, even spending a whole working life in one career or field seems precarious. However, the high cost of transitioning from one full-time career to another, whether due to job dissatisfaction or job loss, is often an insurmountable barrier to taking the leap. As a result, having multiple income streams is the new job security; people ease career transitions and hedge their occupational bets by doing multiple things at once.
So, is a schoolteacher who drives for Uber not a real teacher? Or is a physical therapist with an eBay storefront not a real physical therapist? Of course they are. So why would we say that a pastor with a side business isn’t a real pastor?
The bivocational approach can benefit both the pastor and the church. According to the ministry model we’re used to, a pastor gets a bigger raise by getting a bigger church. But what if the pastor could get a bigger raise by getting a bigger call? That way a pastor could go from an incremental raise to an exponential raise not by leaving for a bigger church but by growing an income stream where they are. A church that cannot afford to substantially increase their pastor’s salary, especially one with a growing family, can still enjoy the benefit of long-tenured leadership and worry less about losing their pastor to greener pastures.
A critic could reply by quoting Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4 NASB). In other words, engaging in worldly activities can distract from the Lord’s work. Yet Paul himself made tents while he was on mission for the Lord. That brings us to the second objection.
Objection #2: A bivocational pastor doesn’t devote enough time to the church
This objection is less common from pastors than from church people the pastor has to please. Nor is it always an idle or selfish complaint: Paul gave his warning to Timothy for a reason. Pastors certainly can pour their passion into alternative pursuits that make them unproductive in their calling. But so can believers who aren’t pastors, and in fact many of them do it all the time. What is the church doing to address that crisis?
The solution isn’t to shut down the covocational conversation but to open it up to the possibilities of what would happen if all the people of God, pastors and otherwise, learned to pursue their calling from God in a variety of vehicles not limited to one name on a paycheck.
Reply: Expand and diversify pastoral leadership
If experienced pastoral leaders were freed to reduce their hours at church to engage in the right side hustles, they could engage unbelievers not as “the pastor” but as the coworker, the contractor, or the vendor. This would significantly lower a barrier that keeps people from engaging with pastors who want to make disciples. In this way pastors would not only lead people to Christ but also lead other believers by example in how to make disciples where they are.
Of course, if current pastors were to spend less time in the church apparatus, things would need to change on the church’s side too. The church may have to shift its expectations from the pastor being chief program-manager to being chief disciple-maker. The church may also have to widen the talent pool of who can serve as pastors.
Churches are often blessed more than they realize with effective leaders who are open to God’s call into pastoral ministry but do not sense him telling them to leave their current occupation entirely. They are able to serve as pastors for 10, 15, or 20 hours a week and would pursue training to be equipped for the task. If these people were given opportunities, the covocational blessing would go both ways. As current pastors step back a little for the right side hustle, other church leaders step up a little and make pastoral ministry their side hustle!
Many of these marketplace leaders, however, do not fit the well-known shepherd-teacher mold. They are often richer in (lowercase-A) apostolic, (lowercase-P) prophetic, and evangelistic gifts that the body of Christ needs to be built up to maturity (Eph. 4:11-16). Integrating them as full-fledged pastors would inject new shades of grace into leadership that would align the church to Christ’s mission in new and exciting ways.
Objection #3: But God called me to be a pastor
The last objection comes from pastors themselves. As I already affirmed, our call to serve as a pastor—or as some put it, the “call to preach”—is sacred. Any suggestion that we divert from it sounds like an enticement of the devil.
This is especially so for pastors in traditions where the words “call” and “calling” are exclusively applied to pastoral and missionary roles, and no one else is believed to be called by God to what they do. Even in traditions that consider all believers to have a special calling from God, there is still a stigma attached to pastors who are considered to have “left the ministry” because they left church employment. Even if we don’t completely believe this ourselves, it is difficult not to internalize it.
There is a certain irony in how pastors hold fast to their calling. Tenacious devotion to serving as a pastor looks like very strong sense of call. But in many cases the strength is brittle and easily shattered. Many pastors confuse calling with a role when in reality, calling is a mission. These pastors actually have a weak sense of call because they confuse their lifelong mission with a particular occupation.
It is sort of like confusing the destination of a trip to the other side of the world with the vehicle one takes to get there. If you are going to travel from your home address in North America to a village in Laos, you are probably going to need more than one vehicle!
Reply: God called you to a mission bigger than a role
I do not want anyone whom God has called to serve as a pastor to walk away from that calling. I sincerely believe that God calls us to different places of service and functions at different moments in our lives. I am not saying that your calling from God is something other than pastoral ministry; I am saying that it is more than pastoral ministry. Your unique calling is more than a role that you share with hundreds of thousands of other people around the world. Rather, God made you to serve him and serve his church in a way that no one else can or will.
Having a firm grip on your unique calling from God not only liberates you to pursue a side hustle. It also integrates your side hustle, your pastoral job, and everything else you do where you live, work, and play. Without awareness of your special calling, you are prone to live a disintegrated life—a life that is not integrated, that lacks integrity and wholeness. This is the genuine danger behind the objections to pursuing work on the side. But it is overcome by a grasp of your One Thing, the calling that you live out everywhere, which ties it all together.
Are you interested in learning more about how pastors can develop a side hustle? I am presenting a FREE webinar on that topic on Thursday, October 17 at 2 PM Eastern Time. Register here.