At least that’s the impression I get from this Atlantic piece by David Wheeler, which describes issues facing new clergy that would sound very familiar at the AHA: older pastors are retiring but not being replaced with full-time positions, the amount of time for contemplation is down, and high levels of personal debt are a way of life.
This in particular jumped out at me:
Working two jobs has become so common for clergy members, in fact, that churches and seminaries have a euphemistic term for it: bi-vocational ministry.
Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career….
Sometimes evangelical pastors, especially those planting a new church in an economically disadvantaged area, intentionally choose a bi-vocational life. Fredrickson says these pastors often “sense that they will be able to serve their neighborhood better if they are engaged on a regular basis in their community.” One example of a deliberately bi-vocational church is Love Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where five co-pastors share the workload of the church and work other jobs on the side.
“We are reaching an eclectic group of people,” says Mat LeRoy, one of the five co-pastors. “We have a growing core of young families and professionals, a large collection of college and grad students from [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] and a beautiful group of local homeless friends. With this type of socioeconomic diversity, bi-vocational ministry is currently a strategic necessity for a sustainable outreach.” He adds, “This is not an easy choice for us, but it is worth it to continue our mission in our community.”
As someone who’s done a lot of thinking about (and experiments around) the viability of being a scholar outside the traditional academic track, a lot of this sounds familiar. The sense that there are advantages to this kind of foot-in-two-worlds situation that can outweigh the disadvantages; the problem that if it’s not what you expect and train for, it can be a rude shock when you graduate; and the structural factors that make this not a crisis but something more like a state of exile.