Mark Wastler gets up most mornings between 5:30 and 6:00. Before doing anything else, he pulls on his work clothes, heads out the kitchen door to the enclosed field behind his house, and checks on a flock of some seventy sheep. Wastler has lived on this farm for just under ten years. He tried a few ways to make it sustainable before settling on sheep farming. He can show you a spreadsheet in which he has carefully plotted out his costs for obtaining and feeding the lambs, the amount he projects the sheep will grow in weight, and the amount of profit he can expect to receive when the sheep go to market—assuming, that is, they all stay healthy and out of the clutches of the coyotes that range across his part of northwestern Virginia.

Sheep farming is a hard life. It makes for early mornings and, very often, late nights. When lambing season comes, sleep is a rare luxury. And notwithstanding the sweet image that most urban dwellers hold, sheep can be cantankerous, unpleasant, and clueless when it comes to keeping themselves out of danger. Come to think of it, that may be why for centuries the ordained leaders of congregations have been called pastors—a direct borrow of the Latin noun pastor, shepherd. People—at least people in the church—can be a lot like sheep.

In Wastler’s case, the term turns out to be more than a little bit appropriate. Because he is also an ordained minister, and he serves as the rector—the senior (and in the case of his congregation, the only) ordained minister in an Episcopal church—in his parish. It’s a parish seventy-three miles and two state boundaries away: Saint Paul’s, in Sharpsburg, Maryland. It’s a parish of some 170 or so members; on any given Sunday, about fifty-five of them are in church.

Mark Wastler is a bivocational pastor. So is Joseph Wilkes; he’s the rector of Saint Andrew’s in Methuen, Massachusetts, and an oral surgeon in Boston. So is Kate Harrigan; she’s the rector of Saint Paul’s Church and the chaplain at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School, both in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And so, as it turns out, are an increasing number of pastors across the mainline Protestant traditions.

Many pastors are part-time. More often than not, their status, as a wise mentor of mine once quipped, would more accurately be summarized as “partially compensated.” They provide ordained leadership in the increasing number of faith communities that can only afford an ordained minister on a part-time basis; but the seeming limits on the time they give the parish are rarely rigidly observed, and the paradigm shaping how ministry is structured and shared between ordained and lay members of the community is still strongly shaped by the ideas and expectations of the “Standard Model” of ministry that takes for granted the presence of a full-time, benefitted professional in the clerical role. The expectations of the community, often based on an understanding of ordained ministry formed by decades of that model, as well as the discomfort that deters many pastors from insisting on the limits to their presence when there is work to be done, often make the idea of “part time” more of a semantic construction than a reality shaping the structure of ministry in a community.

But for bivocational pastors, those limits are very real. They exert strong grip on the whole parish, because they make it necessary for all members of the community—not just the pastor—to find different ways of sharing the responsibilities of ministry. Said plainly, the clear and unavoidable limits around the availability of bivocational pastors, the plain result of the restrictions placed on all of us with jobs in the secular world, requires the whole community, and not just its ordained leader, to come to terms with some basic questions about what ministry is. The good news is that, in a moment of tremendous change in the circumstances of the church, this confrontation with the meaning and structure of ministry may just about the best thing we could ask for.

It’s no longer the case that pastors like Mark Wastler, Joseph Wilkes, and Kate Harrigan are anomalies. As we will see in later chapters, the institution of the church may not yet be fully aware of, or fully responsive to, this bivocational reality; nonetheless, the weaving together of a number of economic, cultural, and societal forces have made it an adaptive response to a fundamentally changed set of circumstances.

The idea of ordained ministers of the church also working in a job outside the church is by no means new. On the contrary, it is very old indeed—just about as old as the church itself. In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, we find the apostle Paul in the midst of his second missionary journey, arriving in Corinth after leaving Athens. He ends up staying there for a year and a half, with Aquila and Priscilla, a married Jewish couple recently exiled from Rome. As Luke reports, “because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3).

For many years it has been a commonplace to refer to ordained ministers working outside the church as people in a “tentmaking ministry,” using the imagery of Paul’s example. It is a tradition that has been expressed, in various ways, from the founding days of the church. Over the centuries of Christian history, the form and social structure of ordained ministry has taken on a variety of forms, ranging from monks in religious orders cloistered away from the secular world to Mennonite deacons working at a trade while pastoring their church. Each of these expressions, and countless more besides, are equally valid as expressions of a response to God’s call to ordained ministry. The question that each must answer has to do with the gifts of the individual, the needs of the community, and the working of the Holy Spirit in a particular set of circumstances and within a particular gathering of the faithful. The instinct to define in narrow terms what ordained ministry should be, and then to make dogmatic significance of those contingent choices, is another example of our well-developed tendency to confuse the human instinct for creating systems of disposing power with God’s relentless purpose to reconcile and restore humanity.

•  •  •

You may be reading this book because you’re a member of a faith community—or maybe the leader of a faith community—on the cusp of having to make some hard decisions about the future structure of the ministry you offer. Or you may be reading this book because you’re an ordained pastor thinking about taking on a pastorate in which you’d be spending some of your time in a job outside your role in the church.

In either case, there’s one overarching reality to grapple with up front: the successful implementation of a bivocational model of ministry is a work of the entire faith community, and not just the ordained member (or members) of that community. “Bivocational ministry” is much more than a shorthand description of the working life of the pastor of a church. It’s a way of describing a different way of thinking about how the ministry of the whole community works.

So at the outset, it’s necessary to understand that much of the responsibility for the success of a bivocational model of ministry lies with the entire community; it’s in the pews, not just in the pastor’s study. Chapter 2 will deal more directly with the sorts of qualities that characterize congregations that make a success of bivocational ministry. Here, I want to focus first on the pastor. I do this not because all ministry begins with the pastor; all ministry begins with baptism, and with God’s call to us in community. Instead, we’ll begin with the pastor because, whether we like it or not, that is how our history, our institutions, our polity, and our organizational culture have taught us to think about ministry.


The Pastor in a Bivocational Community

What sort of pastor flourishes in the setting of bivocational ministry? Some of the qualities that contribute to success in this revisioned way of structuring the work of the faith community are obvious; some are less so. One thing is certain: The sort of person who tends to succeed in this reimagined expression of community ministry is in many ways quite distinct from the kind of person the coffee-hour ladies and the commissions on ministry have long thought would be “ideal” for the pastor’s office.

Of course there’s no one set of requirements for a pastor in bivocational ministry, just as there isn’t for a pastor in the traditional “Standard Model.” But there are some things to think about, if you’re a person contemplating taking on such a role—a self-assessment that you might walk yourself through to come to a considered understanding of whether such a step might be a good expression of your gifts for ministry.

Let’s group them into three categories: professional skills and interests, personal gifts and talents, and leadership style.


A. Your professional skills and circumstances

Professional skills. It may seem obvious, but bears stating plainly, that a precondition to success in bivocational ministry is a set of skills that equip you for work in the world outside the church. In practical terms this probably means that you have had a career of some sort before thinking about preparing for a role in the ordained ministry. Said differently, if your career path has been predominantly in an ordained role within the church, and you’re now thinking of moving into some kind of role in which you’d also pick up another job alongside your work in ministry, your choices are likely to be fairly limited.

As the average age at ordination has increased across many denominations, the good news is that more and more people coming to the ordained ministry of the church bring with them professional accomplishments in the world outside the church. But those of us considering a bivocational path need to bring some holy scrutiny to our curriculum vitae. How current are our skills? How recent are our experiences?

Flexibility. A second consideration is the flexibility of your secular employment. The professional engagements among the bivocational clergy I surveyed in researching this book were tremendously varied, but the clear theme in all of them was a fair degree of latitude in setting one’s own schedule. Pastoral needs, like the hospitalization or death of a member of the community, do not neatly schedule themselves around other professional demands.

Of course, there are two dimensions to this flexibility. One is the willingness of a cleric’s employer outside the church to be understanding when an unexpected absence arises. The other, which we’ll explore more fully in the next chapter, is the flexibility of the parish itself in adapting its expectations around the pastoral presence of the ordained minister, whether that means lifting up a stronger pastoral visitation ministry of the laity, or (as seems more frequently the case) finding comfort with the practice of holding funerals or memorial services on evenings or weekends, when more people are likely to be able to take part anyway.

A couple of points are worth considering here. It might seem as though the ordained minister in a self-employed position outside the church—a sheep-farmer, like Mark Wastler, or an oral surgeon, or a realtor, or a therapist, or a software coder—might have the greatest degree of flexibility. It turns out that this is not necessarily the case, as any self-employed person will quickly tell you. Any form of work that is client-focused—even if the clients are lambs—needs to be responsive to the needs of clients, and conflicts will inevitably arise between those demands and the expectations of the faith community for the presence of its pastor. The single most important aspect of managing those conflicts is not to find ways of avoiding them; they can’t be avoided. Rather, it’s to anticipate them, discussing together as a faith community how everyone together will handle them—rather than dealing with them as they arise.

Integration. One other consideration in a self-assessment for bivocational ministry is a reflection on how, and how naturally, you feel the ideas and insights of one area of your professional life integrate with your work in the ministry of the church (and vice-versa). This turns out to be crucially important, for a number of reasons.

First, and perhaps most important, your own spiritual health depends on how well you can integrate these two aspects of your working life. If your work outside the church is in a setting in which your organization’s goals conflict with the ethical claims of your faith—and you feel unable to articulate that conflict in ways that will be heard—you’ll quickly become less effective in both spheres. Less obvious, but equally as difficult, are circumstances in which your workplace outside the church has an organizational culture indifferent or even hostile toward the influence of religious belief in shaping choices about life priorities. Many workplaces set out policies of neutrality toward, or acceptance of, all faiths in the workplace, but then actively promote a working culture that effectively creates conflict between success in the organization and the choices we make to devote time, the only finite resource, to our spiritual lives.

Still, there’s a profound gift in this conundrum for the ordained minister in a bivocational role. It’s simply this: it places us in exactly the same circumstances that every other member of our faith community already confronts in their own working lives, and by doing so places us alongside our people in living out our shared call to Christian ministry. It gives us deeper familiarity with the pressures every Christian in the post-industrial twenty-first-century economy has to make, and through that familiarity gives us greater credibility as leaders in those communities, helping people to navigate those choices. This is a source of informal authority, as contrasted with the sort of formal authority that hierarchy confers; we’ll take up this distinction more deeply in chapter 3.

Here’s one example. At one point in my own work in ministry, it became clear that the job I held outside the church—a grant-funded job in higher education—was likely coming to an end. When it became evident that I would need to be focusing time and energy into a search for a new position, I spoke to members of the parish vestry—the governing body of the congregation—and, eventually, to many members of the parish. It was a moment of considerable stress; my work outside the church provided not just a salary but health insurance for my family, and the possibility of investing in a retirement plan. Eventually a new job came along, and what had loomed as a transition that would bring some hard decisions instead brought some new commuting patterns, and not much else in the way of change.

The real lesson of this experience came later that year—at stewardship time. I gave what I regarded as a middling sermon on Stewardship Sunday, and as the service ended I found myself walking into coffee hour thinking of all the things I wished I’d said. My epiphany came when another member of the parish—a man about my age working in the private sector—approached me privately and gave me a compliment I didn’t feel I deserved. But then he explained it: “You know, somehow it was different this year, listening to you. I knew—we all knew—you had a hard moment there about the job. A lot of us have been there. I don’t know, maybe it made it easier to believe you or something. I get it that you have to earn a paycheck just like I do.”

I still think about that conversation. It had never occurred to me, in the years I worked full-time in (and only in) ministry, that when I stood in a pulpit and presumed to speak about the economics of stewardship, or the way we all share in carrying out the financial responsibilities of the parish, that at least some folks were having a hard time taking me seriously. From their perspective, my family didn’t experience anything like the economic risk they faced every day. Even the most accomplished and well-compensated members of a parish can experience sudden and precipitous reversals; living with that knowledge can make people understandably risk-averse when it comes to judging how much they should commit in their annual gift to the parish.

At least for that member of my parish—and, I now realize, many more besides—a full-time minister didn’t have any way of understanding the way their economic lives had to be lived. But that changed, significantly, when my own principal source of income and access to benefits became a job outside the church—a job with all the ups and downs, all the vicissitudes and all the risks, of the jobs people hold in the pews of our church.

Second, your sense of flourishing as an ordained member of the community working in a role outside the church will likely be directly related to your ability to find and share insights from one part of your working life in the other. One of the most thoughtful examples I’ve met of this ability lived out is Elliot Moss, who is the vicar of Saint John’s Church, an Episcopal church in the town of Ashfield, one of the “hill towns” of western Massachusetts. Elliot also expanded my understanding of the range of jobs bivocational pastors do; he’s a tenured professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

I wasn’t surprised when the ministers I met researching this book worked as teachers, counselors, non-profit executives, or even in healing professions like nurses and oral surgeons. But computer scientists?

When we sat down for coffee, Elliot did his best to explain in terms I could grasp what he does in his academic research. “Really, what I study is systems,” he summarized, “and systems work or don’t work for specific reasons. So when I came to Saint John’s, I tried to think of the community in terms of systems—what systems worked? Which ones didn’t? What did the working systems have to teach us about fixing or rebuilding the systems that weren’t working?”

My own experience has a parallel to Elliot’s. When I was called to my first genuinely bivocational post in ministry, my work in the secular world was running a cross-disciplinary behavioral science laboratory in a university. The people who were my colleagues in that setting were social psychologists, behavioral economists, and a range of other scholars exploring the peculiar ways in which our decisions are made. Our lab provided a facility for researchers to conduct experiments, and to monitor things like heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone levels in the people who were answering the questions the researchers had designed.

While the connection might not be evident at first (or even second) glance, the more I spoke with these investigators about their findings the clearer it became to me how I might apply their insights in the life of the parish. Many of them studied how our decisions are often not merely mechanistic, rational calculations, but processes of choice shaped unconsciously but predictably by our emotional lives. And in some cases, our emotional makeup seems to be aligned with the way we set our priorities in the moral sphere. People who tend to be angry are most animated around issues of rights and freedoms, for example, while people who tend to rise quickly to a feeling of disgust are likely to place great value in ideas of purity.[1]

A community of faith is, among many other blessings, a community of people striving to live their lives in terms of their moral aspirations. Of course, those aspirations don’t always align, much less harmonize. I realized that the parish I’d been called to had just endured a pretty difficult period of loss and disappointment, and that this shared emotion was shaping how the people in it understood the possibilities ahead and the priorities we should seek. Because of my work outside the church, I knew there were resources within the community of scientists who study these things that could give me some insights about how to acknowledge this—and help the community move forward toward a better, healthier place.

Most bivocational pastors know the feeling of being identified in their secular workplace as a counselor, mentor, or sounding board. What seems to help people flourish in this role is the ability to bring insights from each world into the other—to see a parish in terms of its systems, for example, like Elliot Moss. So if this is a form of ministry you see yourself offering, it will be worth taking a moment to ask: what tools do I have from the work I’ve done outside the church that can strengthen the gifts I bring to the church’s ministry?

B. Your Personal Gifts and Needs

There is a broad variety of gifts that find expression in ordained ministry. There is also—let’s be honest here— an equally broad range of needs that draw people into the ordained ministry of the church.

My first boss in ministry taught me this lesson in a way I’ll never forget. Not long after new seminarians signed on for a fieldwork rotation in the place I first served—which happened to be in a large, nondenominational university church with a large staff—the senior pastor brought us in, sat us down, and early in the conversation asked a simple question: “Why do you think you want to be ordained?”

After you’d stammered through the answer you had likely already practiced on your parish discernment committee or congregational support group, and had deployed in your interviews with the Commission on Ministry, he smiled kindly and said, “What you’ve shared with me is why you think you should be ordained. But what I asked you was why you want to be—what’s in it for you. Have you thought about that?”

I’m not sure what answer my colleagues in the seminarian corps offered to this question. I’ll admit that, when it came my turn for that conversation, the question stopped me cold. To that point I’d genuinely never considered it. What’s more, I wasn’t at all sure it was a question I was allowed to consider.

When my blushing face signaled my inability to respond, my boss offered me this bit of wisdom: “Nearly everyone who offers themselves to an ordination process is looking for something. They’re looking for the attention, or for the respect, or for the love they didn’t receive as a child. It doesn’t really matter what it is you’re looking for. But it does matter that you figure out what you’re looking for—or else it will lead you around by the nose.”

I left the office more than a little abashed. But in the nearly twenty years that have passed since that day, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of my boss’s insight. I’m an only child, and my family was, to say it generously, a little complicated growing up. Having the respect of my community was something I craved, in a way that was both deep and largely unconscious. Growing up in the church, and observing the regard paid to the ordained leader of that community, made a considerable impact on me.

Some of the personal needs we bring to our work in ordained ministry align well with work in a bivocational setting. And some, to be very candid, don’t. No matter how you approach the prospect of working in a bivocational pastorate—whether you’re a full-time pastor thinking of moving in this direction, or a person considering ordination to offer ordained ministry alongside the work you do already—it will serve you well to spend some time in prayerful reflection about your own needs in ordained work.

If you have a need to be the center of the faith community you’re a part of—to be the designer, chief architect, and principal spokesperson of the community’s goals in carrying out the ministry of the church—a bivocational parish probably won’t be a happy place for you. And if one of the things you seek in being ordained is a sense of distinction and differentiation from the lay members of the congregation, it’s not likely that this style of ministry will be fulfilling to you. One trait I found in common among practically all of the bivocational ministers I’ve been privileged to meet—at least those who flourish in the role—is a willingness to interrogate everything that creates a distinction between ordained and lay ministries, to evaluate them against the standards of necessity and efficacy, and to give up those distinctions that have come more from custom than from scriptural evidence or theological ground.

Much the same goes for authority. Being an ordained minister within a Christian community confers a degree of authority. The French philosopher Michel Foucault held the view that while a relationship between a pastor and a flock was a central metaphor for leadership in a variety of ancient cultures, in Christianity it took on a kind of authority that made it a core idea for the authority of state power in the development of Western culture.[2] But the exercise of that authority can take many different forms, expressed in both formal and informal ways. Pastors successful in bivocational settings tend to have less interest in formal sources of authority—the structures that create the distinctions noted above—while being adept at understanding how informal authority works in the context of their specific communities. They look for ways to hand over formal authority in meaningful and observable ways, while finding ways of exercising informal authority in more subtle ways.

If you are more comfortable with roles that come with a relatively high degree of formal authority, or if you find that is what attracts you to the work that you do, bivocational ministry probably won’t be a place of great satisfaction for you. By contrast, if you sense in yourself a need for social engagement and inclusion, this style of ministry will answer those needs in rich and varied ways. The work of ordained ministry has places for a pretty wide range of introverts and extroverts, but—at least in the observations I’ve made of these parishes—folks who tend toward the naturally extroverted seem to be better aligned with the challenges of a bivocational pastorate.

And if you sense in yourself a need for the deep connections of genuine community, a place in a gathering of faithful people who live out their call to love each other even when liking each other is not always easy, then a bivocational setting might be a place that brings out your gifts for ministry in rich and rewarding ways.

Everyone who takes part in the life of a faith community comes with an offer to make—an offer of gifts, of skills, of talents, of energy, of interests. Too often our understanding of ministry in the church has focused on the gifts and skills of the pastor alone. (Think of it this way: Why do some churches put the name of the pastor on the sign outdoors? What is it meant to communicate? What does it say about that community’s understanding of ministry?) Not all people in ministry have the same interest, desire, or skill around developing the gifts of others. There is nothing wrong or surprising about that. Not all virtuoso performers are good teachers, and not all great teachers are excellent soloists. Bivocational pastors—at least those who are happy and who tend to flourish in the role—are more likely to be teachers than virtuoso soloists. They would rather lead from within the ensemble, playing along with the same music, than be the featured performer playing a solo in front. But that gets us to the last consideration: the way you most naturally exercise leadership.

C. Your Leadership Style

Just as there are a variety of gifts that people bring to ordained ministry, there are a variety of leadership styles that can make for successful work in congregational life. Success in a bivocational pastorate, however, seems to be associated with a pretty specific list of leadership styles. That means it’s probably a pretty good idea to ask yourself, as you approach the possibility of such a role, whether your own style of leadership will make for a good match.

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s begin with a simple assertion: ordained ministry is a ministry of leadership. This would not, at first glance, seem a controversial statement, if only because in the Standard Model of ministry there are a number of assumptions about roles the ordained minister will perform within, and for the benefit of, the larger community—roles beyond the one-on-one role of pastoral counseling, or even beyond public role of presiding over the worship offered by the community. And yet, leadership is not itself traditionally an area of focus of the training offered in seminaries, and the capacity for leadership is not generally a factor systematically considered by commissions on ministry in identifying those called to ordained ministry.

Over the past century—since the emergence of the study of management as a clear academic discipline—a vast literature has emerged on leadership. It is not possible here to survey all of the theories, findings, and methodologies of that literature, but two basic observations can help orient a study of leadership as it applies to a specific pastor in a specific context of congregational life.

The first of these is that all of us in leadership positions have a sense of how we function as leaders. That is to say, we have a sense of our own leadership style. The second of these—as true as the first—is that our communities also have a sense of our leadership style, a perception often different from our own. A first question to ask, then, has to do with how closely aligned these two perspectives are. Are you seen by others in the congregation in much the same way you see yourself? Or do these two perspectives diverge? If they do, in what ways? To find the answer to these questions, you first need to be able to find and accept candid input from members of the community. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself how much work you are willing to do, as an ordained minister, to listen to and learn from your community—about what’s most and least effective about your exercise of leadership, to understand how you are perceived, and to consider how that perception may differ from how you imagine yourself.

Success in any form of leadership—but especially in the kind of community in which a bivocational pastorate takes root—is significantly conditioned by the presence of this alignment. To draw on two well-studied archetypes at opposite poles of a spectrum, if you see yourself as a laissez-faire sort of leader, allowing those in the community to pursue their own interests and develop their own skills, but are perceived as micromanager, providing direction and controlling developments at a close level, then there’s a good chance your efforts to exercise leadership will be misunderstood and limited in their impact. If you see yourself as an effective delegator, but are perceived as distant and distracted, you may well have difficulty finding the ground under your feet in a faith community that will depend on the effective and coordinated sharing of responsibility.

While there is a place within ordained ministry for a wide range of leadership styles, that is somewhat less the case in the particular circumstances of bivocational ministry. Because success in a bivocational pastorate is connected in deep ways to the encouragement and unleashing of the ministerial gifts of all members of the congregation, effective leadership in this setting depends on skills centered in interpersonal connection, clarity of communication, and comfort with leading from the side rather than the front. To use an image familiar to readers of leadership scholar Ronald Heifitz, successful leadership in a bivocational pastorate takes someone who knows when it’s necessary to go up to the balcony to see the whole dance floor, and who also knows when it’s time to come down and dance on it along with everyone else.[3]

In my visits with faith communities living out a bivocational pastorate, I observed one consistent leadership skill that distinguished ordained ministers thriving in the role: the ability to get others to say “yes.” There are a lot of ways of describing this skill—empowering the laity, lifting up the skills and gifts of all members of the community, mutual ministry—but no matter how it’s labeled, it boils down to being able to get others to step up and take their part in the shared work of ministry.

The bad news is, many of us who come into the ministry are the sort of folks who are easy to say “no” to. There are good reasons for that. We don’t want to appear judgmental. We don’t want to be demanding. We want to be pastorally sensitive to the many burdens carried by all members of the community. And we’re forgiving, because we’re in the forgiveness business. So it becomes easier to do the thing ourselves instead of asking for help—printing the Sunday bulletin, getting the food offerings to the pantry, organizing the scripture readers, running the bible study, you name it. And we may even do it well—but that doesn’t help the community grow into healthy patterns of shared ministry in the long run.

The good news is, becoming the sort of leader who can get people to say “yes” is only about ten percent charisma and ninety percent learned skill. The first step is something we just covered—a willingness to do some work understanding how you are perceived by the community as a leader among other leaders. The second step is doing the work of exploring and learning about what motivates each member of the community to be part of the community’s work. One consideration is critical: the reasons that you went into the ministry are almost certainly not the reasons why the members of your community come to church. Think of it this way: for most of us who went into ministry, our love of the liturgy and the life of worship means that there’s almost no problem we can’t imagine solving by laying on another worship service. But in the life of small parishes, that is the sort of answer that can quickly sap the community of energy by spreading the glowing embers of the fire too thin.

The final step is connecting in a clear way each person’s motivations with the needs of the community’s ministry, less by asking than by helping them see the connection themselves. Sometimes what this requires is not so much a skillful recruitment pitch, but rather work on the task of making the community’s needs clearer. I’m surprised how often simply taking the time to explain, for example, what eucharistic ministers are and why they are important to the whole life of the community somehow seems to flush out volunteers who would never have agreed to a flat-out request from me to sign up.

This much is certainly true: Leadership in a bivocational pastorate is a great way to learn more about yourself, and the way you are seen in your community. Those lessons are sometimes deeply affirming, and sometimes deeply humbling. If you can keep the prayerful discipline of being open to both of those possibilities, chances are you will find this a place in which you can thrive.

•  •  •

Leadership is an inherently social work. There is no meaningful concept of leadership separated from the life of a human community. Exactly because of this, there is one final and increasingly significant consideration to bear in mind—one on which both individual pastors and faith communities need to reflect. It is simply that how we see ourselves as leaders, and how we are seen as leaders, is not only a product of our own skills and how they are expressed; it is something deeply conditioned by social expectations and often invisible cultural narratives.

I am fortunate enough to be of an age that I knew members of the first generation of women who were ordained in my church. Those pioneers found themselves having to confront in every moment of their vocation a set of cultural expectations deeply ingrained in both church and society that said women could not possibly be leaders—at least not of faith communities. Not only did they have to challenge those expectations directly; they had to teach, and to demonstrate, that what “leadership” meant in the context of congregations could be something broader than the notions we had received from centuries of our cultural inheritance.

That work is still going on. So too is the work of imagining that leadership can be exercised by people of color, by people of all sexual orientations (and none), by the differently abled and socioeconomically underprivileged. Each pastor contemplating the idea of entering into a bivocational pastorate needs to reflect prayerfully on how these dynamics might play out in the specific context of a given congregation. Theologically and theoretically we want to be committed to the notion that anyone, of any background and any orientation, can lead any community anywhere; but the practical reality is that leadership is highly contextual, and an individual pastor who might thrive in one setting might well stumble in another—even one that, to all outward appearances (size, setting, demographic composition) appeared to be nearly the same.

To say all this is simply to acknowledge that leadership is an expression of authority—and the exercise of authority in community always happens in both formal and informal ways. We’ll look in more depth at these two categories in chapter 3; here, our focus is on the individual pastor. In a bivocational pastorate, that individual needs to be alert to how the unique circumstances of their own gender, race, age, sexual orientation, education, socioeconomic status, and other considerations have had an impact on their own understanding of their capabilities as a leader—how they have conditioned it, and perhaps caused either an over- or underestimating tendency to shape their self-understanding. And as though this weren’t enough, the individual pastor needs to be sensitive to how the unique personality of the congregation—an idea we turn to next—translates the cues of these categories of identity into an assessment of leadership ability.

As Christians, our identity is ultimately rooted in the risen Christ. Yet as Christians living in the early twenty-first century, and as pastors exercising a ministry of leadership, it is for us to prayerfully reflect on, and skillfully act on, how the very real interplay of identity and stereotype condition the ways we offer our gifts to the work of the church.

[1] Dacher Keltner, E. J. Horberg, and Christopher Oveis, “Emotions as Moral Intuitions,” in Joseph P. Forgas, ed., Affect in Social Thinking and Behavior (London: Psychology Press, 2006), 165.

[2] Michel Foucault, “Pastoral power and political reason,” in Religion and Culture: Michel Foucault, ed. and trans. Jeremy R. Carrette (New York: Routledge, 1999), 135-152.

[3] Ronald Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994), 252–24.