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Convergence of Vocation: A Covocational Primer for Church Planting Networks

Convergence of Vocation: A Covocational Primer for Church Planting Networks

The Send Institute recently commissioned a study through LifeWay Research surveying bivocational church planters. The full results of the research will be included in an upcoming guide called Convergence of Vocation: A Covocational Primer for Church Planting Networks. As indicated by its name, this guide will be a theological and strategic primer for church planting leaders who are thinking through how to orient an organization and its processes around covocational concepts, particularly in church planter recruitment, ecclesial innovation, and long-term sustainability.
This article focuses on one particular question from the survey which asked, As you think about leading your church toward health and growth, if finances were not a factor, how long would you continue to plant bi-vocationally?”
The question was crafted so that church planters had in mind church health and growth and not necessarily personal finances. This is how the participants answered:

  • 41% indicated that being bivocational was integral to a long-term ministry strategy
  • 38% indicated they would stop being bivocational immediately
  • 21% indicated they would continue for the short-term or for a few years

As you can tell, a substantial percentage of these planters have intentions of staying bivocational while still leading their church towards health and growth. We learned that some of their reasons for remaining bivocational included joy in working outside the church, stronger identification with the target population, and regular interaction with unchurched people.

So do bivocational church planters want to be fully paid ministers in the church?

At least from what we’ve learned in this study, 4 in 10 may not. And it’s at this point that we would call these church planters covocational rather than bivocational. (Listen to my podcast with Brad Brisco on the differences between the two.)
Admittedly, the conversation is much more complex than what this question and our study are able to explore. (i.e, Are these church plants self-sustaining? Are they effectively reaching the unchurched? Are the planters long-term pastors?) However, there is something significant that is lying in plain sight that we uncover through this question, and that is:

It is normal and good in the economy of the Kingdom for someone with a fulltime vocation outside the church to plant and care for new churches.

This is a reminder that longterm bivocational church planting, or what we call covocational, is far from abnormal or unideal. Perhaps the rise of fully funded church planting models over the last few decades has made it seem so. This data, however, tells us that many who are employed outside of the church have both the time and the means to live missionally – even to the point of starting and leading new churches without full-time pay.
Covocational church planting isn’t without its challenges, and not everyone should or could do it. In fact, the upcoming primer will describe more in detail the challenges faced by these church planters and what they want church planting networks to know about their experience. (Spoiler alert, they say it’s hard and not everyone should do it, but it’s effective and rewarding for those who do.)
But if 4 in 10 bivocational church planters are covocational, might that number increase if our church planting models and processes were adjusted to account for more covocational strategies rather than the assumed fully salaried strategies? To ask it another way:

Could more people who are called to work outside the church become church planters if organizations and processes accounted for their convergence of vocation?

Intuitively, most organizational leaders might think “yes.” But structurally, most organizations are set up for the fully salaried church planter/lead pastor in mind.

This guide is geared to help the organizational leader think through pertinent issues that can increase the imagination for a convergence of vocation and a covocational stream of church planting.

Here is the chapter outline of the guide:

  • Chapter 1: Repenting From Success and Size
  • Chapter 2: Hearing Firsthand From Bivo Church Planters
  • Chapter 3: Defining a Theology of Vocation and Mission
  • Chapter 4: Developing A Better Lexicon for Vocation and Ministry
  • Chapter 5: Creating Innovative Pathways for Leadership
  • Chapter 6: Expanding Training Platforms
  • Chapter 7: Rethinking Support Systems
  • Chapter 8: Converging Covocational Streams

Convergence of Vocation releases Spring 2019.
In the meantime, we suggest Brad Brisco’s Covocational Church Planting and ReThink: 9 Paradigms Shifts for Activating the Church as a foundation for covocational concepts.