Encouragement For New “Working Priests” | Part 1
No matter how, if you have found yourself in a new role as a Vineyard "Working Priest," own it! I’ve come to embrace being a Vineyard Working Priest and my passion is to care and support fellow pastors who receive an income outside of the churches they serve. By sharing three things I have learned so far, my hope is to encourage pastors who have recently needed to become Working Priests.
Pastor, The Hub Vineyard Church
Fifteen years ago, my life and ministry changed. We were two years into our plant, The Hub Vineyard Church in Sunland, CA, and we were growing enough for me to cut back at my high school to just part time. We were planning on me officially leaving the teaching profession in the next year or two when BAM, it happened. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
It was not exactly like the global pandemic we are facing today with Covid, but to me, and my family, and church, the results were very much the same. We had to make some serious adjustments in order to keep the health insurance that paid for my variety of very expensive medications (last year, Anthem let me know that my current treatments cost them over $110,000). Simply put, we decided for me to remain a full-time high school teacher and a full-time pastor.
Although devastating at first, I’ve come to embrace being a “Vineyard Working Priest” (which I define below), and my passion is to care and support fellow pastors who receive an income outside of the churches they serve. I’ve even have had the privilege to complete a considerable amount of research and reflection on this topic. By sharing three things I have learned so far, my hope is to encourage pastors who have recently needed to become Working Priests.
1. Working Priests Are Normal And In Good Company
Gone are the days of a one-income home. Surviving on a single income in the United States is a faded fantasy. Having a job outside your church while you lead your local church is simply the reality today. You are normal. I do not like the labels of the past, “bi-vocational,” “tentmaker,” or even “co-vocational.”
Those three names are married to negative connotations that reinforce a false narrative that people who earn an income outside of their church are somehow failures. You are not a second-class pastor because you have a job outside your church. I prefer the term “Working Priests.”
In France after World War 2, several priests received permission from their superiors to seek employment outside of their parish and they came to be known as Worker Priests. Words matter. It is best to call Vineyard pastors who have a job outside of their church Working Priests. This is the first step to normalizing what already is.
As a Vineyard Working Priest, you are in solid theological company. Everyone knows that Paul had a side business throughout his ministry. I love how for Paul, it was also important to remind the church in Thessalonica that he ministered to them as a nursing mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Even though he could have come to them like other leaders in the past demanding certain things, for Paul, the image of a multitasking mother, or wet nurse, is how he wanted the church to view him and his crew.
The Bible is full of leaders who both served God and earned a living elsewhere.
2. Working Priests Are Important And Necessary
Every city and rural area needs churches of every size. Small churches need large churches and large churches need small churches. Working Priest-led churches tend to have a higher percentage of conversions and baptisms per member. As the agreed upon definition of “large” is morphing into a lesser number than before COVID, Working Priests are becoming even more necessary to shepherd varying sized churches and ministries. Your church and your town need you.
Research shows that Working Priests have more exposure and stronger relationships with pre-Christians than non-Working Priests. Vineyard Working Priests hold a plethora of jobs. Some of us are baristas, bar tenders, businesswomen, and bus drivers. Others like me are teachers who encounter hundreds of people a week who are not following Jesus yet. Working Priests see the world as their church. I am a coordinator at my school in addition to teaching history. When my principle asked me for my job description, I simply wrote, “My job is to pastor the faculty.”
Working Priests have a generous missional perspective that includes leading both their church and those with whom they work at their other job.
3. Working Priests Are Seen And Growing
Working Priests weren’t always counted in the Vineyard, but we are now. You are part of a long Biblical and historical way of being a Pastor. My research shows that every Vineyard Pastor in Uganda and many other African, Asian, and Latin American Vineyards are Working Priests. Here in the U.S., almost all La Viña pastors are Working Priests.
Since we more recently started counting people like us in our annual Vineyard Census, we don’t have exact numbers, but we do know that roughly 50% or more of Vineyard USA pastors are Working Priests. Currently, the Vineyard in the U.S. is divided into Regions and then Areas within Regions.
Some entire Areas consist of churches led by Working Priests. You are in good company and part of a growing team.
If you are new to the Vineyard Working Priesthood, you might be struggling and find it difficult to accept. Be encouraged knowing that you normal, you are seen, and you are following Jesus.
In Part 2, I will share ways Vineyard Working Priests are supported in the Vineyard USA.
Aaron Peterson servers as the pastor of the Hub Vineyard Church and the mentor for the Bi-vocational Affinity Group of VUSA’s Well-being of Pastors Initiative, while also teaching Social Science at the local high school. He has researched and studied bi-vocational pastors in the Vineyard and other denominations. His dissertation written for the Portland Seminary explores ways the Vineyard can better care for her working priests.