Greg Ragland wasn't looking for a job when he and his wife started attending Community Baptist Church in Maylene, Ala., about five years ago. Ragland had recently stepped down as youth pastor at a nearby church. He wanted to find a place to worship while deciding what to do next.
Community Baptist already had a youth minister in place, and Ragland hoped to be just an ordinary church member. A middle school math teacher for a decade, Ragland also had been in ministry for eight years. He hoped his next church call would be as a full-time pastor.
"I was in limbo, waiting to be called somewhere," he says.
A few months after Ragland arrived at Community Baptist, the church's youth minister stepped down. Ragland became the new youth minister -- a 15-hour a week job he holds in addition to teaching.
In the beginning, things were rough. The church was small, only about 30 or 40 people when Ragland started. The youth group was small, as well.
"When I started, we had five kids," he says. "Now we run about 70."
Five years later, Ragland remains a youth pastor with a day job, also known as a bi-vocational minister. Ministers such as Ragland are common in the South, where most churches have fewer than 100 members and can't afford to pay a full-time youth minister -- or senior pastor.Benefits and Challenges
The apostle Paul, who served as an evangelist, church leader and tent maker, was Christianity's pioneering bi-vocational minister.
Today, being bi-vocational means youth workers can stay in ministry when a full-time post isn't available. Hiring a bi-vocational youth minister also helps small churches maintain a healthy youth ministry despite financial constraints.
Being bi-vocational is not part-time work, says Rev. Bo Brown, the senior pastor of Community Baptist. Instead, it means ministers have two jobs.
Although Community Baptist has grown to about 350, the church staff remains bi-vocational, including Brown, also known as "Brother Bo."
"It's not something you do until your church gets bigger and you don't have to do it anymore," says Brown. "It's not part-time, because you don't work half as hard as any other minister."
Brown sees several advantages to bi-vocational ministry: It allows a church to have a full range of ministries, no matter what its size; and it keeps the church's pastors out in the community, where they interact with people outside the church.
As a schoolteacher, Ragland says he doesn't mention faith in the classroom. Although, he can be an example for kids, he says. Word gets out about his other job.
"My kids at school, they know that I am a youth minister," he says.
Bi-vocational ministers say they often get more volunteer help than full-time youth workers do. They can't run the youth ministry on their own and have to recruit more volunteers to help. That's good for the church because more people are involved in hands-on ministry.