Planting a church? Keep your day job

Mauricio Chenlo discusses the benefits of pastors of new church plants maintaining a second job

[versión en español]

By Wil LaVeist

Mauricio Chenlo speaking at North Goshen Church, Goshen, Ind.

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church USA)—If you feel called to plant a church in these tough economic times, it’s a good idea to maintain another job.

It’s likely that a small church of less than 100 members—Mennonite Church USA recommends having at least four to five households to begin a church plant—will not be able to support a full-time pastor.

However, holding a second job in addition to being the pastor of a church plant or an established small church has benefits beyond the income, says Mauricio Chenlo, denominational minister for church planting for both Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church USA.

Working outside of the church offers advantages for effective ministry to those sitting in the pews. Bivocational pastors’ experiences working in professions similar to those of their church members can inform their preaching in ways that often make their sermons more relevant, he said.

“One of the limitations [of being full-time] is the pastor spends a lot of time in his office, or spends 20 hours of his time writing the sermon,” Chenlo said. “I really don’t think that helps to develop the missional instinct and skills of the pastor. When pastors have the chance to be car dealers or sell houses, or do something with their feet on the real ground where most people are … it gives a sense of what types of struggles people are really going through.”

Bivocational pastoring would be much more difficult and not recommended in a larger congregation of perhaps 200 or more members whose needs the pastor must be available to address, Chenlo said. However, for the majority of Mennonite congregations and church plants—which typically have fewer than 100 members—bivocational ministry is a logical alternative.

“Bivocational ministry is the present and the future here in America, particularly in terms of church planting,” Chenlo said. “Most of the church planters I know are not coming out of the seminary; they are carpenters, or people working in corporate business, or nurses.” (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart and Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., offer various distance-learning options.)

In his role, Chenlo also helps churches recognize the importance of planting churches to increase overall church membership. One of the ways he does this is through church-planting seminars. His next one is a one-day seminar to be held July 14 in Cape Coral, Fla.

At retreats such as the one scheduled for Cape Coral, Chenlo takes leaders through the planting process and the Mennonite Church USA church-planting guidelines. He recommends that planters enter into a coaching relationship with him.

He also encourages area conferences to provide support for bivocational pastors by offering aid in finding a job and housing, and by helping them connect to The Corinthian Plan, Mennonite Church USA’s health plan.

Chenlo helps existing churches to plant strategically. He encourages local leaders to mobilize first because they best understand the needs and possibilities in their area or region. For example, in Florida, most of the Mennonite churches are in the Sarasota area. Those church leaders would know best whether to plant a church in Orlando or Jacksonville, and which potential resources and assets would be available to them. The more support there is from local leaders, the more likely the church plant will succeed, he said.

Chenlo has been a bivocational pastor for the past 20 years. He was an associate pastor in his native Argentina during the economic crisis of 2001. He became an expert at helping church members navigate the loss not only of income, but also of self-esteem and hope as a result of losing their factory jobs after decades of steady employment. He recalled church members telling him that his sermons became less ideological after he began working for a local bank. Being bivocational benefited his family financially, too, he said.

“The last six years, I’ve been full-time with Mission Network and Mennonite Church USA, but even before that, being bivocational gave me more freedom to bring more income to the needs of my family,” Chenlo said. “I didn’t need to depend on a limited salary, like sometimes you depend on when you are in ministry full-time.”

Seminar:             “Church Planting in Southeast Mennonite Conference with New Joy”
    $15, includes lunch, snack and materials
Date:                     July 14, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
            Cape Christian Fellowship, 2110 Chiquita Blvd. S., Cape Coral, Fla. Visit the Cape Christian Fellowship Web site
              Marisa Alemán-Cantú, Southeast Mennonite Conference coordinator: 309-721-7866


Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.

Image available:
Mauricio Chenlo speaking at North Goshen Church, Goshen, Ind.