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How being bi-vocational engages better disciple-making

| by Matthew Fretwell

For the record, every follower of Christ is a disciple-maker and in “ministry.” None are exempt (Matthew 28:18–20; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

I’m not a big fan of the term, “pastoral” ministry, as if there are hierarchal castes within the ministry of the gospel, but I even find myself using the term on occasion. While I adhere to a plurality of elders in relation to bi-vocational leadership, I realize that some view ministry as something only a pastor performs. However, to be biblically correct—pastors train and equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:12).

I mention the aspect of pastoral ministry because I believe, like many others, that the Church needs to get back to its first-century roots. We (the Church) need to be more focused on disciple-making than church growth (disciple-making done right encompasses evangelism). However, we can’t do that if the focus is solely on pastoral ministry.

Disciple-making occurs the best when normal, everyday, relational life becomes the Christ-life. As my good friend Peyton Jones admits, “I’d sat too long holed up in my office, locked away from the world that desperately needed Jesus, but you can’t change the world from behind a desk.”[1]

Inspired by his words, I’d like to offer two ways being bi-vocational better engages disciple-making.

1. Corporate cognition

Some pastors are forced to become bi-vocational—it is what it is. As someone who’s been bi-vocational and still is, I know the upside is better than the downside. A bi-vocational (bi-vo) pastor/elder/leader will naturally become missional because of immersion in the environment.

No longer behind a desk or chained to the duties of traditionalism—you’re free to engage the rest of the image-bearers on the planet. One thing I always celebrate with the church I serve is when they ask me to pray for their co-workers. I immediately thank them for loving like Christ and being on mission within the work place.

Corporate cognition is not about businesses, but about the reality that we’re all created for relationships. For a bi-vo leader, an awareness should exist that you are not a time-clock puncher, you’re a servant of the gospel—doing all things for the glory of God—surrounded by those who are lost.

Bi-vocational leaders have a “leg up” in the disciple-making field because of their corporate cognition (i.e., work environment). A higher tendency to speak to unreached people already exists.

Just as the Apostle Paul served as a tent-maker, along with Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy and Silas (Acts 18), working within the community presents us with more unreached-engaging opportunity. With more opportunity comes more ability.

2. Cultivating gospel trades

Certain jobs within an organization could be called anchor trades. Anchor trades are professions that meet a community need with the possibility of having the greatest amount of exposure to the unreached. While most people don’t think about their jobs in this way—plumbers, barbers, store clerks, chimney sweeps, builders and even IT gurus are utilized in this manner.

Not only can a bi-vocational leader make disciples of Christ within their profession by meeting new converts, but he/she also has an opportunity to disciple within the trade.

Cultivating gospel trades is a term that I use to identify a profession in which a person can teach a trade, while also making gospel-centered disciples. I perceive that Paul did this (although I have no solid proof).

For instance, if I’m hired as a wood worker and have a few helpers to build a table—while we fasten the sides of a table together, I may begin to explain how the Holy Spirit works within my life or how the wood reminds me of the cross of Christ, bringing humanity and God together. Perhaps, while sanding down the top, I may suggest that sometimes God places people in our lives that act as our “sandpaper”—somewhat abrasive—but developing our maturity in humility. Regardless, you get the picture.

Most professions can be rendered into a cultivated gospel trade. While we’re teaching the trade itself, we’re also making disciple-makers. These are merely two ways in which bi-vocational leaders better engage disciple-making.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)

Photo source: istock 

Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.

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