Planting Churches Bivocationally: Priscilla & Aquila by Phil Claycomb (2 of 2)

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  phil@nexus.us

Who is doing this?

We’d like your story if you are bivocational and loving it. Please comment, below, including some details…

12 thoughts on “Planting Churches Bivocationally: Priscilla & Aquila by Phil Claycomb (2 of 2)

  • August 24, 2017 at 10:50 am
    Permalink

    Hi all,
    my name is Ben Sterciuc and I am a bi-vocational church planter, pastoring Elevation Church in Kirkland, WA. We are one church in 8 locations: 3 around Seattle and 5 in Kenya. We have started our first location a little over 5 years ago in Kirkland and have launched the other campus in the past 2 years.
    http://www.elevationc.com

    My wife is an interior designer and I am an geriatric RN, and we have run an elder care company for over 20 years. I also teach nursing at Northwest University and run a non-profit called Vital Solutions. (www.vitalsol.org)

    This approach to church planting and pastoring is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

    Too early to tell the long-term effects but it’s been quite difficult, thus it made us rely on God for everything.

    Ben & Lia Sterciuc
    ELEVATION Church
    http://www.elevationc.com

    Reply
    • August 27, 2017 at 3:52 pm
      Permalink

      Would like to hear more of your story. If you are interested in doing a guest slot on this site, please contact me using the “Connect” button at the top of the page.

      Reply
  • August 24, 2017 at 12:50 pm
    Permalink

    One of the greatest joys of bi-vocational church planting is the necessity to not do everything yourself, and to develop leaders and allow others to use their gifts. I come alongside a network of missional communities / micro-churches in the Marketplace – it is exciting to watch these leaders grow. I am now exploring how to grow an APEST leadership teams across these communities over the next few years.

    Another blessing of being bi-vocational, as a leader in Train Control Systems and Technology, working for large organizations, I share the same experiences and speak the same language as the people in these missional communities / micro-churches.

    However bi-vocational has its challenges. Some of these include
    – Forming a prayer team. If you are not interacting with people to support you financially, you also aren’t interacting with them for prayer support.
    – Many denominational leaders don’t know where bi-vocational individuals with theological training belong in their denominational hierarchy, because we are pushing their boundaries.

    Priscilla and Aquila epitomize the grace that a bi-vocational leader needs. They came before, and came alongside Paul, but Paul is the one who becomes prominent.

    Some questions I don’t have good answers for are:
    1. Is one of the goals of a bi-vocational leader to see a Paul or an Apollos rise up from within your ministry?

    2. When does a bi-vocational leader transition from being self-funding, to allowing others to share financially in the ministry?

    3. How does one know when to step out of bi-vocational ministry into full time ministry / or how does one balance the percentage of time in bi-vocational ministry versus other work?

    4. Does being bi-vocational mean that I am creating something that is sustainable beyond me because I am relying on others, or am I limiting what God could be doing because I am not more available?

    I would suggest that like all models – we can see glimpses of God in the bi-vocational model, and the taints of the fall on the bi-vocational model.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2017 at 3:50 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks James,
      The benefits of BiVo are many. Particularly the low threshold to planting this way. Perhaps the highest goal for a bivocational pastor is to reproduce himself in another person, or to multiply churches. I know of several movements, outside the US where pastors intend to remain bivocational unless God forces them to choose vocational pastorate through extremely rapid growth. Even then, their goal is to reproduce other bivocational church planters. This would suggest that Aquila should seek to produce both Pauls and more Aquilas…
      Thanks for the input, especially your questions.

      Reply
    • August 28, 2017 at 10:10 am
      Permalink

      I am fascinated by this article and the comments associated with it. In response to your list of questions, it would seem to me that they should largely be answered by the answer to another question. Do you see your calling/goal in ministry to plant as many churches and raise up as many leaders as you can, or is it your sense that God has called you to plant a church and give your full attention to that church and its “children?” If the former is true, then you may always be bi-vocational. If the latter is true, then your bi-vocational days should be limited.
      I’m sure it is a little more complicated than that, but maybe this can assist with clarity.

      Reply
  • August 25, 2017 at 6:06 am
    Permalink

    I don’t believe that it is an either/or discussion. That is what our western culture has deemed it. You either can hack it in a real church and get paid to do it and your pay is based on your performance (the grows or doesn’t). Or, you flake out and go plant a church in order to do things your way. (Again, pay is based on performance.) What happens is, we get caught up in this idea that ministry is a “job” or “carrear” and we have young men going to college for a carrear path in ministry and they get out expecting salary and benefits that will pay back student loans while supporting a brand new family.
    We have men leaving salaried jobs because they want to be preachers and they expect some sort of pay cut but still want a salary and benefits.
    I think that it is a both/and discussion. It depends on the call of the planter.
    For myself, my wife works and earns a good living, I choose a less than part time salary from the church, and I substitute teach and am a local fix it guy to make ends meet. For me this affords a greater deal of enjoyment out of my ministry and not only forces me but it allows me to be able engage in and be involved in parts of our community that I would not otherwise able to get in to.
    For me, ministry is a life not a job. I don’t punch a clock. I wake up at work and go to sleep at work. When I am out at a restaurant I am at work and when I am pumping gas I am at work. When I am teaching in a classroom or when I am fix the next door neighbors hot water heater, I am at work. When I am chatting with someone at the coffee shop or when I am meeting with the chamber of Commerce about future business and community growth, I am in my element as a pastor working. It’s not a carrear. I am not in it for the money. And, if the plant could not pay me anything, I would not leave but rather o would work harder and continue my life in ministry.
    All of that said, that is not a call for everyone and not all can do what we do. But, I don’t judge harshly or put down those can’t do what I do. Some are called to a life of professionalism and they just can’t do more than tend a flock. For them to become bi-count would mean that the church would suffer. Let them plant in their way. Let them find the financial backing to do it. There is nothing wrong with it. But for those who see it my way, let’s not look down on them or treat them as lesser because they aren’t professional enough for the mainstream. Let’s lift them up and encourage them.
    I see that as much of Paul’s exhortations to the churches when he sent messengers to them. He commanded them to love on and to cherish to care for the messengers he sent, because they came not for money but for work to serve not to be served as Christ did.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2017 at 3:45 pm
      Permalink

      You are right this, like so many things, is both/and. The problem is that current church (and even secular) culture presses toward the expecation of a full-time salary or percieved failure. What we need is an army of church planters, or churches with a vision to reproduce. After that let each person decide what works for them. To do this we need to adjust expecations regarding education, salary and what constitutes a church.
      Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  • August 30, 2017 at 2:33 am
    Permalink

    To all…I love the either/or – both/and comments. It is obvious that many of you have been bi-vocational in ministry. You are very honorable and very kingdom-minded. But I do believe the responses show us part of the challenge we face. Out of necessity, or once in a while out of passion, you are all pastors (as best I can tell from the comments).

    But I believe the untapped resource that we see in the story of Priscilla and Aquila was not “ministers who practiced a trade” but business owners who flung themselves into spreading the gospel.

    Speaking from experience, business owners/entrepreneurs are very marginalized people in the typical church and ministry environment. It is assumed that they are too busy, that they are only concerned with money, and that they really do not have shepherding hearts…truly not ministerial material. But let’s look at the other side of this. Business owners typically a) don’t care as much about what people think of them, b) are not constrained by traditional thinking, c) are great risk-takers and d) are passion directors…they can take a passion and focus that passion on results. They sound exactly like church planters to me.

    I think it might be easier to get business owners/entrepreneurs to think about diving into ministry than it would be to get pastors to dive into business.

    Reply
    • August 30, 2017 at 10:15 am
      Permalink

      I agree that Aquila and Priscilla were business owners who did ministry from their position of strength. Using them as a model would be quicker, less expensive and more closely tied to those we seek to evangelize than our current approach. The sad thing about the way we do things is that so many spend so much, only to fall into poverty or abandon a calling.
      We need to raise a cadre of Aquilas if we hope to plant enough churches just to keep up with population growth. What we do now isn’t working.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons