Part XXI: Bivocational planting: two more voices, Fitch & Ryan

 

One recent advocate of bivocational planting has been planter, author, missional-church advocate, and blogger David Fitch. On his Reclaiming the Mission site in 2011, he published an article entitled “Stop funding church plants and start funding missionaries: a plea to denominations.” Referring to the three to four hundred thousand dollars required to plant under older traditional models, he writes: “Today, in the changing environments of N American post Christendom, this approach to church planting is insane. For it not only assumes an already Christianized population to draw on, it puts enormous pressure on the church planter to secure already well-heeled Christians as bodies for the seats on Sunday morning.”

He presents the alternative: “Instead of funding one entrepreneurial pastor, preacher and organizer to go in and organize a center for Christian goods and services, let us fund three or four leader/leader-couples to go in as a team to an under-churched context.” The goal, he says, should not be to establish a self-sustaining church organization, but rather to give them time and space to “…get to know and listen to the neighborhood and the neighbors; establish rhythms of life together which include worship, prayer, community, discipleship and presence among the neighbors; discern God working in and among the neighbors and neighborhood, bring the gospel to these places wherever God is working; and develop a way of bringing those coming into faith in Christ into a way of growth and discipleship.

Fitch also believes that the realities of a bivocational plant are such that more time is released to be actively involved in day-to-day mission. In line with the thinking of Chester and Timmis, and taking seriously the new models of church community that are being advocated as most suited to the post-modern generation, Fitch warns against “building big” and shows how bivocational planting can work if the planter is released from traditional expectations. Bivocationalism, says Fitch, breeds congregational participation and works against the passivity that can so easily set in when there is a professional in charge. It also guards against excessive programming because it “cultivates organic forms of life that arise from within the rhythms of the congregation and its surrounding neighborhoods.” It encourages other leaders and staff to be more integrated and less ghettoized:

He writes: “When we no longer see the Sunday morning gathering as attractional, we are not forced to spend 40 hours on music and programming, 40 hours on sermon prep etc. to make it “the Thing.” The gathering on Sunday instead must become an organic, living, liturgically driven encounter with the living God and His mission sending us outward. It must become something done out of the regular rhythms of our lives. This kind of gathering takes less work because the “slick” factor is off the table. All these gifts can now be used in the surrounding context. Think of how we can support a musician to play in local contexts and engage the community instead of perfecting a performance for the Sunday “event.”

Retired Irish bivocational planter Fergus Ryan emphasizes that the team dimension was part of his church’s DNA from the beginning, and that this should never depart in any future reshuffling or transition. He shared in an email correspondence: “In larger and more developed churches bivocationalism continues to be a necessary, even critical, element of building church leadership teams.” However, he does suggest that some type of transition to full-funding may be inevitable. He shares: “It is probably necessary in the larger contexts that the team leader is full-time with church.” For him, it was this team emphasis ­– as well as the financial savings –which was of clear benefit to the plant at the beginning: “For the early years of the church plant when the traditional notions of corporate stewardship were unfamiliar to most of the new members, and the numbers were relatively small, it meant that there was no financial burden associated with maintaining one or more families. In respect of those we were seeking to reach with the Gospel, our financial independence meant that we had the large home and monetary resources necessary to minister to others in some ways that would not have been possible if the group was supporting us.”

Although Ryan remained bivocational, the ministry ethos developed by his church did not preclude others being fully-funded. He explained: “I took [a pension package] as an opportunity to work full-time with church while at the same time continuing to be financially independent. I estimated that the church’s resources would be better used in releasing another team member into part- or full-time ministry.”

So, the question remains that, given that there will likely be various context-specific advantages and disadvantages to bivocational planting, is anything lost theologically, or are any biblical boundaries transgressed or scriptural principles ignored by pursuing the bivocational route?

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