Increasingly, pastors work more than one job to make ends meet. This rise in bivocational ministry is changing the way some pastors think about calling—in a good way. Sometimes that second (and possibly third, fourth, etc.) job is a calling from God, too, not just a way to pay the bills. When multiple callings line up for a bivocational pastor, it’s a beautiful thing. Just ask Rudy Rubio.
The daily grind of a bivocational pastor
Spend a few minutes talking to Rudy Rubio, and it becomes clear that he’ll do anything to share the gospel. He and his co-pastor, Chris Márquez, are part of a church-planting team in Lynwood, California, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Resources are slim, but their energy, passion, and grit haven’t stalled.
“We have to hustle and grind for everything we can get,” says Rubio. “We’ve got people supporting us, don’t get me wrong, but nowhere near to the lengths where we can just focus on ministry. It would be amazing if all we could do was focus on ministry, but fundraising takes up a huge part of that, working takes up a huge part of that, and we’re also in the process of planting three more churches. So, yeah, we’re really working our butts off over here.”
That’s putting it mildly. For Rubio, working means taking on a full-time job as a hospital chaplain at nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, as well as taking on per-diem hours as a hospice chaplain.
Both Rubio and Márquez have had to find ways of supporting themselves outside of a paycheck from the church while they work to get Reformed Church of Los Angeles established. But for Rubio, his other jobs are about more than just a paycheck. He’s come to see his chaplaincy work as a part of his calling to the community in service of the gospel. In the church world, this is known as covocational work: having multiple jobs and being called to them all, not just being called to your job as a pastor. Pastors and church planters are also called as teachers, realtors, small business owners, community activists, Uber drivers, and more. Dual calls to marketplace and ministry can enhance each other; for instance, they help pastors build relationships and credibility in the community, and they open doors in the neighborhood.
“It’s serving the same community I’m trying to minister to, so it’s been a really cool bridge between my vocation—my full-time job as a pastor and church planter—as well as being a chaplain in Watts right next door,” he says.
How bivocational ministry can connect you to your community
And that’s not all. Rubio and Márquez have also worked with the city to open up a tea house in a neighborhood park. Márquez’s family owns the well-known chain, and now the church will have a for-profit entity helping to build revenue, create jobs, and build relationships with the community. The copastors will soon work out of the space.
As Rubio feels called to serve this community, it seems the community is calling back.
“For church planters nowadays, it’s becoming more common for them to start side hustles or businesses to help create streams of revenue to fund the ministry,” says Rubio. “I was able to work things out with the city. We have a great relationship with the city. They let us rent a location inside one of the parks at a very, very, very reduced rate to help us out. I says, ‘Why are you guys being so nice to us? And they says, ‘Look, in order to clean up our parks, we don’t need more sheriffs. We need more good people. You guys are really good people and we believe in you, and we want to help.’”
COVID-19 precautions in Los Angeles delayed the process for launching the tea house, but the church isn’t deterred. They’re working on opening as they also work to launch their church plant—and as Rubio ministers to doctors and nurses caring for COVID patients at the hospital. And because the church plant can no longer gather indoors due to the pandemic, they are now worshiping from a nearby school parking lot.
“We’re not shutting down, we’re not stopping,” he says. “We just have to be more creative.”
The roots of a calling
Rubio’s creativity comes from a place of deep passion. He’s always been a passionate person, but for a time his passion was focused, as he puts it, “on the wrong things.” Rubio grew up in Los Angeles and became involved with gangs at the age of 13. Since then he’s been shot seven times, stabbed 18 times, and has spent over a dozen years of his life in jails and prisons.
“I was about to either kill somebody or be killed in prison,” he says. “I remember calling out to God that if he existed the way I believed he did, I needed him to get me out of that situation because I didn’t want to kill anybody and I didn’t want to be killed. … I pulled a Gideon on him, like if you really exist the way I think you do, I need you to get me out of this.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
“[God] physically removed me from that situation, and that day I picked up my Bible at the beginning of my prison sentence and I did nothing other than study for the next two and a half years,” says Rubio. “That’s all I did, just studied my Bible.”
When he was released from prison, Rubio began attending a church that happened to be Reformed. He didn’t know what Reformed meant, but his curiosity was piqued; he began researching Reformed theology and found himself aligned with its teaching. Meanwhile the pastor of the church—Eddy Alemán, who is now general secretary of the RCA—took Rubio under his wing and challenged him to plant a church. Rubio was in disbelief. He had been involved in efforts to support church planters, but he never thought he would plant a church himself.
That changed when Rubio later began his master of divinity degree at Western Theological Seminary. He sat in a class with an experienced church planter who described what it was like to plant a church in New York City, and the spark lit by Alemán suddenly caught flame.
“It seemed like everything he was saying about the qualities [and] qualifications for a church planter, all those things were just hitting me dead square between the eyes,” says Rubio. “And I really felt that God was impressing upon me through the Holy Spirit to plant a church. So I remember calling my wife during my lunch break, telling her, ‘I think the Lord is calling us to plant a church. Do you see it?’”
Edna Rubio’s answer to that question? Definitely. Affirmed, Rubio began asking his friends whether they also saw him as a church planter. Yet even as he did, several other questions began to arise: Who is going to do this with us? Where are we going to move? Where are we going to plant the church? Where will we get the funds to make this happen? Almost as quickly as the questions arose, God seemed to provide answers.
“The Lord just opened up the doors and provided the people, the means, the house for us to move into, the money to do that, and just all the different job opportunities and all the different relationships and resources and networks that we’ve tapped into,” he says.
Rubio has followed God’s call to plant churches and to serve the community of Lynwood. It’s a calling that has emerged from his own story as a young man growing up nearby.
“I think that my passion for preaching the gospel is because nobody preached it to me,” he says.
Natalia Connelly is a student at Western Theological Seminary and a chaplain resident at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan.