Biases, both positive and negative, are part of everyone’s life. So what’s behind my aversion to bivocational pastoring and self-funding strategies? I’m not certain I can answer that… but as I confront my bias I am finding that a close look at Paul and his friends, Priscilla and Aquila, helps me rethink this strange aversion.
They Were Complimentary
Wherever we land on the propriety of male/female roles it is clear that Priscilla played a prominent role of some sort. And they found a way to do this as a couple… they functioned as a team. I would suggest that their self-generated funding model provided them a platform that allowed them to live socially questionable lives. Even if they were alive today Priscilla would probably be pushing the boundary in many churches. She led… perhaps because their work platform enabled them to grow into the implications of the baptismal formula we find in Galatians 3:26-29… as a result of baptism there is no distinction between male and female.
They Were Nimble
They ministered and produced fruit wherever they found themselves. We hear they were first in Rome (and were expelled due to rioting related to Jewish disagreements about someone named Chrestos – Christ? Acts 18:2). We find them in Corinth as they collaborate with Paul and his crew – and they provide Paul with employment (Acts 18). Then Paul moves on to Ephesus, and takes them there to be the founders of his pre-launch team. And we finally hear of them having arrived back in Rome again… preparing the way for Paul to come use the Roman church as his launch pad for mission in the Western end of the Mediterranean. Their self-generating funding allowed them flexibility… the ability to nimbly make necessary moves in light of the ongoing and unfolding mission.
They Were Strategic
Having met Paul in Corinth they relocated their business to Ephesus, arriving there with Paul as he made first contact with the Ephesian synagogue. It is suggestive that Luke tells us Paul went to the synagogue (note: Luke does not mention Priscilla and Aquila joining him in that visit to the synagogue.) Paul then left town for a year, leaving our duo behind to perhaps establish relational ties and follow up on interested contacts. During Paul’s absence they taught Apollos, and perhaps encouraged him to return and spend time with their friends in the Corinthian congregation. When Paul eventually returned to Ephesus the entire region was impacted! Luke tells us the gospel reached “all” of Asia from the Ephesian platform. It would be awesome if every church planter had a Priscilla and Aquila working for a year to form a launch team before the church planter arrives! Later (again for the sake of ministry?) Priscilla and Aquila relocate back to Rome.
NT Wright suggests that a proper reading of Romans is that the letter is not a theological summary of Paul’s teaching… but instead a theological case statement, provided to a well-placed strategically important local church in Rome, to explain why that particular church needs to embrace both the Jewish and Gentile Christian communities. From that base, Paul calls on the Roman church to serve as the launch pad for his anticipated mission to the West. (Note… when Paul writes Romans Priscilla and Aquila have already relocated to Rome. They’re active in the Roman congregation. In the same way they preceded Paul to Ephesus, so they have now preceded him to Rome.) Once again we find Priscilla and Aquila in the thick of the action. With the flexibility allowed by their bivocational careers they were able to adjust their lives and make moves strategically.
They Were Entrepreneurial
They were initiators… instigators… risk-takers. They had the capacity to move from Rome and set up shop in Corinth… then Ephesus… then Rome again. They served as the “pre-launch team” for Paul’s mission to both Ephesus and Rome. They went and established the foundations in Ephesus for at least a year before Paul’s return. And in Paul’s own words, they risked their very lives for him (Romans 16.) It has been my observation that most entrepreneurs avoid full-time ministry because it is stifling to their personality… but not bivocational ministry! Entrepreneurial leaders do best when allowed a self-funding means of support.
They Were Sponsors
I wrestle with finding a good way to say this… but at least this is clear… they were Paul’s Sugar-Daddies. They not only ran a business that provided for their own needs, it had the capacity to also provide for Paul and his companions. They put their business acumen to work and funded their own livelihood, but they also funded their local ministry as well. How cool is that! Their success allowed Paul to find success in his ministry. They were more that just Paul’s companions and fellow workers; they were his patrons, or even his sponsors. Would that I had a business that overflowed with such rich blessings that I could provide church planters with incomes that supported their missional endeavors!
I’m still not sure why I’ve entertained such negative attitudes toward bivocational, self-funding strategies of ministry. But as I look more closely at Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, I’m finding it harder and harder to dismiss this deliberate and strategically valuable option.
Note: I have been greatly helped by Ruth Siemens article, “Tentmakers Needed for World Evangelization,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd Edition, pages 733-741.
Dr. Philip Claycomb, Nexus: church planting leadership, www.nexus.us firstname.lastname@example.org
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