I am a “both/and” not an “either/or” kind of person. It is rarely useful to reduce a topic or issue down to an either/or argument. Reductionism is almost never helpful. Instead, we need to see the benefits of opposing positions or perspectives.
I think this is true when it comes to church planting strategies, specifically when considering planting churches with bivocational/covocational versus fully-funded leaders. There is certainly a place for both bivo/covo and fully-funded church planting approaches. We need to plant all kinds of churches for all kinds of people.
We need to plant all kinds of churches for all kinds of people.
However, I think it is important to pause and reflect on the benefits of bivo/covo planting in the current “social distancing” climate we find ourselves in. This past Sunday I watched three different churches stream their morning gatherings via the internet. In each case, there was a very bold and purposeful effort to encourage members to continue to give financially. I couldn’t help but wonder about the financial stress most churches will experience as they are forced to forgo their corporate meetings. Further, we would be wise to acknowledge that this will not be the last time the church in North America finds itself in a precarious situation regarding gatherings, finances, and meeting space.
What benefits could bivo/covo provide in turbulent times? While there are numerous advantages to planting as a bivo/covo leader, let’s consider two that are particularly applicable today.
The first major benefit of bivo/covo church planting relates to financial stability. This is especially important when the majority of giving happens for most churches during the corporate gathering. When giving drops, and it will certainly decrease in this time of social distancing, bivo/covo leadership provides a more stable financial foundation in at least three different areas.
1. The church planter
When the primary financial support comes from a marketplace source rather than the church plant, there is usually less financial strain on a family. This is especially true when the planter is employed full-time in a vocation that provides benefits like insurance, vacation and retirement.
2. The new church
A church led by covocational leaders usually finds its financial base is much stronger. Without the need to provide full-time salaries and benefits, the church can put more of its financial resources into mission and ministry.
3. The church planting entity
Many denominations have made the commitment to plant hundreds, if not thousands of churches over the next several years. However, there simply aren’t enough finances to plant the needed churches with the current funding model. Bivo/Covo planting provides the opportunity for funding entities to embrace more sustainable church planting practices. This is especially necessary for planters who are engaging socioeconomic diverse contexts that are made up of the very poor or immigrant populations.
Many traditional church plants start with a large annual budget supported by multiple funding streams, including partnering churches and denominational entities. Because most funding models are structured over a three to five-year period, it puts pressure on a church planter to grow the church quickly so it can become self-sustaining before funding runs out. The unfortunate reality is that a planter is often forced to attract financial givers rather than engaging the brokenness in their community. Bivo/Covo church planting, on the other hand, provides a more viable financial model that allows the planter to focus primarily on mission.
A second significant benefit of planting as a bivo/covo leader is that it gives the planter greater opportunities to connect relationally with people in the community. Their jobs give them access into a mission field that is not readily available to a pastor who is employed full-time by a local church. Many traditional pastors find themselves working inside a church bubble, spending the majority of their time talking with church people about things of the church.
Even when a fully-funded pastor makes the effort to engage people in their community they often find it challenging to fully relate. It is not until a person actually incarnates into the local context that they begin to understand the values and interests of the people. It is difficult to really love and serve the people God has sent us to from a distance. Some people have referred to this as “marketplace mission” because the majority of relationships that are developed are the result of the planter’s vocational connections. Their marketplace job isn’t a hindrance to what God is doing; it’s actually an advantage to engaging God’s mission.
It is not until a person actually incarnates into the local context that they begin to understand the values and interests of the people.
Bivocational planting also helps to diminish the “sacred-secular” divide in respect to vocation. The congregation has the opportunity to see the church planter model the fact that all vocations are sacred. Regardless of what God has called a person to do, it is a sacred calling. As a result, the benefits of being in the marketplace are multiplied exponentially as every member recognizes how their vocation fits into God’s mission of redemption. I know this is a generalization, but when a church’s primary “outreach” is getting members to invite others to the corporate gathering, we miss the opportunity to help everyone see how their work in the marketplace is their primary place of witness.
Another missional benefit of bivo/covo ministry is that working an occupation in the community builds credibility with those inside and outside the church. In a post-Christian context, where people are skeptical of the church, it is important for non-Christians to see that church leaders have jobs like everyone else. In a time when Christianity doesn’t have the best reputation, it can provide significant “street-cred” with those outside the church. It is important to understand this new breed of “covo” planting is missiologically driven. Planting the church begins by engaging in missionary behaviors in the local context, rather than focusing on the creation of a Sunday morning worship service. The planter allows their missiology to inform their ecclesiology. By thinking and living like a missionary in a local context, new communities of faith are birthed out of missional engagement.
Planting the church begins by engaging in missionary behaviors in the local context.
It is important to understand covocational church planting is not simply about having two or more jobs; it is really about aligning one life. It’s about blending our calling to support our families and ourselves, with our calling to live a life engaged in God’s mission. We are called to be a missionary people sent into the world to participate in God’s redemptive purposes. One vital and urgent means to accomplish that task is to plant new communities as bivocational, or covocational, kingdom leaders.
This blog original appeared on Missional Church Network. Used with permission.
To dive deeper into the conversation on covocational church planting, join Brad Brisco, Hugh Halter, Jeff Cristopherson, and Jessie Cruickshank for a FREE webinar on February 10 at 2pm Eastern.