Behind the Curve?

By Mike Ruhl  |  April 1, 2016

It’s not a good feeling at all. 

You walk into a crowded room and realize that what you are wearing is out of style and reflective of a previous generation.  Or you become increasingly dependent on your children or grandchildren to bring you up to speed on basic technology.  Or the demand for your company’s standard, time-tested products and services is shrinking rapidly and appears to be ‘drying up’.  Hardly anyone on your leadership team wants to talk about it – let alone strategize to change it.  The truth of the matter is that you have allowed yourself and your organization to fall ‘a bit behind the curve’.  Ouch!

Some denominations, evangelical movements and seminaries appear to be ‘behind the curve’ in the area of the emerging trend of the Bi-Vocational Pastor.  Fully convinced of the urgency of the mission to make more and better disciples, the Bi-Vocational Pastor disengages from ‘entitlement mentality’ (the system owes me a full-time salary and benefits) and obtains gainful employment in the marketplace in order to move the mission forward in a ministry of limited financial resources.  Precedent for Bi-Vocational Ministry can be found in Acts 18 where the Apostle Paul went to Corinth and teamed up with Aquila and Priscilla.  All three of them were tentmakers – living and working together while doing mission work in the synagogue and in the community among both Jews and Greeks.

One evangelical mission leader who stays ‘ahead of the mission curve’ is Thom Rainer.  In a recent blog post, Thom affirmed how bi-vocational pastors are incredible servants who fill a huge need among American congregations – both new church plants and established churches.  He suggests that the designation ‘Marketplace Pastor’ is a better term for describing the ministry of the Bi-Vocational Pastor – mainly because of some key differences:

1. Marketplace Pastors serve in churches that could offer full-time compensation to the pastor, but they choose not to do so.

2. Marketplace Pastors get their name by their desire to remain in the marketplace with one of their vocations.

3. Marketplace Pastors tend to have exceptional leadership skills.

4. Marketplace Pastors have a high workload capacity.

5. Marketplace Pastors tend to have long tenures.

6. Marketplace Pastors are able to deal with critics and criticism (hopefully unjust) more freely since they are not financially dependent on the congregation.

7. Marketplace Pastors will be serving churches of varying size – including larger churches that worship 300 disciples and beyond.

8. Marketplace Pastors will get more and more of their ministry and theological training through legitimate ‘alternate route’ and online training systems.

How are we doing when it comes to staying ‘ahead of the mission curve’ in terms of preparing pastoral ministry students to study and prepare for this emerging vocation of Marketplace Pastor?  Numbers of U.S. missiologists, including Thom Rainer, can see the day when attorneys, physicians and key business persons will continue their marketplace vocations while serving a congregation as well. It would be well for our universities and seminaries as well as our congregations to consider how to stay ahead of this curve.


Moment Extras
Questions for Discussion

How would your congregation react to the idea their pastor was a Marketplace Pastor, supplementing his income with a full or part time vocation in the community?

What would you lift up as the ADVANTAGES of a Marketplace Pastor planting a new church?  Serving in an established church?  Serving in a church needing revitalization?

What CONCERNS do you have about the accelerating trend toward Marketplace Pastors?

What can our Concordia Universities and Seminaries do encourage the training of courageous and competent Marketplace Pastors?

Why - or why not – would you consider serving the Lord and the Church as a Marketplace Pastor?

Resources You Can Use

Blog from January 2016 by Thom S. Rainer, Eight Characteristics of the New Bivocational Pastor.

An article by Ray Gilder, The Demands and Benefits of a Bivocational Minister.

A book by Hugh Halter, Bivo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints.

See the Lutheran Society for Missiology’s latest journal articles which focus on Pastors and People in Mission.


Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website:

Center for U.S. Missions – Contact Information  | Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, Executive Director;  | Rev. Michael Ruhl, Director of Training;  | Kathy Meier, Coordinator;  | Mil Behnken, Office Manager;