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Sunday's Second Job: Many Rural Clergy Are Bi-Vocational

Nearly half of Tennessee's 3,000 Baptist clergy are working a secular job during the week, according to Saul Gonzalez, correspondent for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of religion and society. Though many have secular jobs out of choice, others work another job out of need. "Working as a pastor in these [rural] communities may fill their souls," Gonzalez said, "but it doesn't necessarily fill their wallets."

A main problem with being a bi-vocational pastor, according to pastor Sam Livingston, who works during the week as the head of public utilities for his Tennessee county, is that he often can't be with his congregants in their time of need. In an 8-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Livingston says "when people are in the hospital or get sick or have lost a loved one, or get in a car accident ... I just can't be there."

On the other hand, clergy who work 9-to-5 jobs can better relate to the members of their flock who also do so, said Ray Gilder, the bivocational specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and having a bi-vocational pastor means the members of the congregation have to step in to do community work that the pastor does not have time to do, creating "more of a sense of shared church ownership." Gilder anticipates the number of bi-vocational clergy will increase in the years ahead, due to shrinking congregations and the continuation of American economic uncertainty.

For more on issues related to rural church leadership, read our feature article, "Caring for the Rural Church," which links to resources for people considering bi-vocational and rural ministry. For more on the state of church leadership today, read our feature article, "Reflection on the State of Pastoral Leadership," which notes, among other findings, that in congregations of fewer than 100 people, the average salary and housing package is $31,234, which often forces spouses to work, thwarting the traditional co-ministry plans of clergy spouses.

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