The nature of the ministry of the church, the way in which it should be constituted and ordered, and the source and character of the authority dispensed by those who are ordained has a long history of examination and argument among Christian writers. Practically every major writer in the Christian tradition has addressed the question in some way, not least because it is a short distance from this question to the broader question of the authority the church claims for its teaching and doctrine.

It is impossible to provide here a comprehensive bibliography of writings on the question; among other things, such an undertaking would likely double the length of what is intended to be a small book. Instead I offer below a range of sources on the nature and purpose of ordained ministry in the church, covering a broad spectrum of views across the history of the church. There is no agreement to be found among these writings—merely a demonstration of the considerable breadth of ideas that have been offered on what the ministry is, and a sense of how those ideas have not infrequently been advanced in the interests of other, larger arguments about the nature and purpose of the church.

Perspectives on Ministry in the Early Church

Ignatius of Antioch, “Epistle to the Smyrnaeans,” esp. chapter 8 (“Let nothing be done without the bishop”) and chapter 9 (“Honor the bishop”), in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. New Advent,

Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” esp. Book 4, chapter 26 (“The treasure hid in the scriptures is Christ; the true exposition of the scriptures is to be found in the church alone”), in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, trans. Alexander Roberts and Rambaut; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds.

Tertullian, “On Exhortation to Chastity,” esp. chapter 7, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, trans. S. Thelwall; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds.

Cyprian, “Epistle 9 (on the limits of the authority of presbyters),” and “Epistle 65 (on the prohibition from involvement in secular matters of presbyters),” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. New Advent

John N. Collins, Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Michael J. Wilkins and Terence Paige, eds., Worship, Theology, and Ministry in the Early Church [Essays in honor of Ralph P. Martin]. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press / Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supplement Series 87, 1992.


Medieval and Early Modern Thinking on Ministry

Everett U. Crosby, Bishop and Chapter in Twelfth-Century England: A Study of the “Mensa Episcopalis.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, Book 5, at 76 (“Of the nature of that ministry which serveth for performance of divine duties in the Church of God, and how happiness not eternal only but also temporal doth depend upon it”), and 77 (“Of power given unto men to execute that heavenly office; of the gift of the Holy Ghost in ordination; and whether conveniently the power of order may be sought or sued for”), in The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker: with an Account of His Life and Death, ed. John Keble. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1876.

Martin Luther, “That a Christian Assembly or Congregation has the Right and Power to Judge all Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proved by Scripture” (1523), trans. Eric W. and Ruth C. Gritsch. Luther’s Works, vol. 39. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.

___________, “Concerning the Ministry” (1523), trans. Conrad Bergendoff. Luther’s Works, vol. 40. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958.

___________, “The Keys” (1530), trans. Earl Beyer and Conrad Bergendoff. Luther’s Works, vol. 40. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958.

Jeannine Olson, “Calvin and the Diaconate,” Liturgy 2 (1982): 78-83.

Thinking on the Nature of Ministry and Secular Work in the Modern Age

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Eberhard Bethge, April 30, 1944; in Dietrich Bonhoffer Works, vol. 8 (“Letters and Papers from Prison”), eds. Christian Gremmels, Eberhard Bethge, Renate Bethge, Ilse Tödt, and John W. de Gruchy; trans. Isabel Best, Lisa E. Dahill, Reinhard Krauss, and Nancy Lukens. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010.

A[ndrew]. A[lexander]. K[enneth]. Graham, “Shall the Ordained Ministry now Disappear?” Theology, vol. 71, issue 576 (1968), 242–250.

Kurt Marquart, “The Gospel Ministry: Distinctions Within and Without,” unpublished mss., March 13, 1995;

John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Publishing Group, 2013.

Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today. London: SPCK, 1972; Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1985 (reprint).

Dorothy L. Sayers, “Why Work?” (speech in Eastbourne, U.K., April 23, 1942), in Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2004.


Ministry in America

Brooks Holifield, God’s Ambassadors: The Christian Clergy in America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007.

Donald M. Scott, From Office to Profession: The New England Ministry, 1750-1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

Timothy F. Sedgwick, The Making of Ministry. Boston, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1993.

William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2002.


Recent writing on Bivocational Ministry

A number of volumes have appeared in recent years exploring the phenomenon of bivocational ministry. Typically approaching it as an anomaly in need of justification, these volumes have often related specific case studies or made a case for accepting the possibility of a bivocational approach to ministry within a specific denominational context. Rarely if ever, however, do they regard the phenomenon of bivocational ministry as a matter describing more than the employment status of the ordained pastor. It is perhaps indicative of the view held of bivocational ministry by the publishing outlets of denominational traditions that many of these works have been self-published, availing themselves of new digital publishing tools. They include:

Denis W. Bickers, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry. Kansas City, Mo.: Nazrene Publishing House, 2014.

___________, The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor’s Guide. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 2013.

___________, The Work of the Bivocational Minister. Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 2007.

Doug Black, Jr., Marathon: A Manual for Bivocational Ministry. Self-Published, 2014.

Steve Clapp, Ron Finney, and Angela Zimmerman, Preaching, Planning, and Plumbing: The Implications of Bivocational Ministry for the Church and for You—Discovering God’s Call to Service and Joy. London: Christian Community Press, 1999.

Luther M. Dorr, The Bivocational Pastor. Nashville, Tenn.: Sunday School Publishing Board [National Baptist Convention], 1988.

Hugh Halter, BiVo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints. Littleton, Colo.: Missio Publishing, 2013.

Lamar Herndon, Constructing Blue Collar Leaders in a White Collar World. Winter Park, Fl.: Legacy Book Publishing, 2015.

James W. Highland, Serving as a Bivocational Pastor. Newburgh, Ind.: Newburgh Press, 2013.

Rosario Picardo, Ministry Makeover: Recovering a Theology for Bi-Vocational Service in the Church. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015.

Warren Siebert, The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor: A Guidebook for Small-Church Leaders. Grand Rapids, Mich. and Nashville, Tenn.: WestBow Press, 2016.

Tim Westrom and Becca Westrom, Help for the Bivocational Pastor: Thriving in your Multifaceted Calling. Self-Published, 2017.


Commons-Based Organization

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006; full text available at

David Bollier, Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2014.