Bivocational ministry has been around for 2000 years. The Apostle Paul was known to have made tents in order to fund gospel ministry to the Gentiles. Many church planters pursue alternate forms of income in order to make ends meet. These new churches often have limited resources and they simply can’t pay a pastor full-time. Often times this other job is seen as competing with the planter’s time, energy, family, and ministry.
But there is a new conversation brewing in church planting. What if planters didn’t have to get another job to make ends meet? What if they chose to leverage their career for church planting? What if instead of dividing their time between the church and their jobs they could align the work of their vocation with their ministry?
Covocational planting, the name for this new way of thinking, utilizes the planter’s marketplace connection to catalyze ministry instead of hindering it. Where Bivo planting is seen as dividing the planter’s time and energy, Covo planting actually enables the planter to fulfill the mission of the plant.
In episode 62 of the Grind Podcast, Brad Brisco, Director of Bivocational Church Planting for the North American Mission Board, gives 3 benefits of Covocational Church Planting.
1. Missional Engagement
When a church planter has roots in the marketplace, the possibilities for mission are endless. Planters have a tendency to only spend time with Christians. They are gathering a core team of Christians, training Christians for evangelism and disciple-making, as well as planning worship services with Christians (and often for Christians). All good things!
But the Covo planter spends his time and energy appropriating his job to reach those who don’t know Jesus. As co-workers, clients, etc., come to Christ, the plant is formed out of the harvest. Our typical understanding of church leadership is that the only people qualified to lead are full-time Christian ministers. But we need everyday people to see themselves as sent by Jesus to make disciples and start new works. Brisco points out that “Without this mobilization of marketplace missionaries, we won’t see a movement in North America.”
2. Financial Stability
Another massive advantage for the Covo approach is financial stability. While this can also be true of the Bivo planter, the supplemental and short term nature of Bivo work can leave the planter and his family without certain benefits like insurance, retirement, and long term stability. The Covo planter doesn’t face the pressure to grow the church to critical mass that some planters feel from partners and themselves. This keeps their focus on not just filling the building with tithing Christians but keeps their focus on the lost. Also, they don’t have to worry if the church will meet budget because the largest line item isn’t there, the planter’s salary. This frees up both the planter and the plant to put the resources of the new work into mission and ministry. In addition to these factors, the Covo planter also frees up church planting funds from partners for others. Church planting organizations don’t have an excess of funding resources and the Covo churches help to prioritize the planters with urgent needs.
3. Shared Leadership
Finally, Brisco says that a Covo approach forces (in a good way) planters to share leadership. Because they don’t have the time and energy to do everything the church requires alone, they must lean on others to share the weight of ministry. It sets the expectations that the pastor is working just as much as everyone else and has obligations outside of the church family. It’s all hands on deck. The pastor cannot work full-time in the marketplace and be expected to preach every week, evangelize the lost, shepherd everyone individually, and head up every ministry the church does. The church that is led by a Covo pastor must embrace a team approach where responsibility is shared. Brisco concludes, “This helps to eliminate the clergy/laity divide. Everyone gets to play and because of it, the churches has greater impact and reach.”
Bivo and Covo approaches to church planting are not the way to plant. But they are a way. A very strategic way. And a church planting movement is impossible without multiple, innovative ways to plant.