With a love for God’s church and God’s people, Rev. Dr. Simmons lives out her calling through multiple jobs. Some are directly related to ministry, while others provide financial support, but she considers them all part of her calling. This personal calling story is part of a series on purposeful living.
T he apostle Paul set an example of a bi-vocational worker, using his skills to make tents to support himself while ministering. He would find work during the week building tents, then minister in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Scripture also points to Priscilla and Aquila as colleagues working together—also as tentmakers and with Paul—to support their ministry (Acts 18:3 and 1 Corinthians 9:1-15).
Today, many pastors follow Paul’s example as a model to support themselves and their ministries by finding employment and work through corporate America or entrepreneurship ventures. I am among these pastors, and I can say that I feel called to this bi-vocational work—in the work of my primary calling but also in the jobs that help pay the bills. In short, it is a calling to ministry.
Bi-vocational ministry began for me when I started hosting Bible study support groups while I was working for Good Samaritan Ministries and pursuing my master of divinity at Cornerstone University. My goal at that time was to work full-time for Jordan River Ministries, which provides recovery supportive services to those overcoming addictions. I wanted to pastor the women, lead Bible study support groups, and oversee the women’s graduate home. However, God and the Jordan River Ministries’ board of directors had different plans for me: to also work part-time in a church. So I began pastoring full-time at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, New York. With that added income, I continued to be relentless in living out my call with Jordan River Ministries, a ministry I started to help people who are overcoming addictions.
Through my “supporting” role as pastor, I learned that my passion and call also includes ministering within the church. I love God’s church and God’s people, especially aiding and advocating for people to overcome addictions, prevent relapse, and come to know God; I realize that the call is vast. It is necessary that God’s church be educated in providing ministry and assistance to people in need of this type of assistance. My dual roles brought together a singular vision and calling. With this realization, I pursued my doctorate of ministry with the thesis entitled “Jordan River Ministries: Equipping Churches with a Recovery Ministry Model to Change Hearts and Transform Lives.”
The call to assist churches in this recovery work requires consistency, perseverance, and faithfulness. One must rethink ministry goals, revisit the calling, seek clarity and assurance from God, stay encouraged, and not give up on mission and ministry! The call demands a must-have, stick-with-it, “you can do this” attitude—all with the help of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit!
As I discerned my call and pursued further education, a few favorite Scriptures helped me to hear God’s call to me in ministry:
- 1 Chronicles 17:2: “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you” (RSV).
- 1 Samuel 14:7: “His armor-bearer said to him, ‘Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you; as your mind is, so is mine’” (NRSV).
- Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (NIV).
- John 21:15-17: “‘Do you love me?’ … ‘Take care of my sheep’” (NRSV).
- Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV).
- Jude 1:22-23: “And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (RSV).
These Scriptures were sealed in my heart as God healed and positioned me for ministry. In further preparation for ministry—specifically establishing a church plant alongside my specialized ministry—God provided opportunities for pastoral education and ordination in the Reformed Church in America in 2010. I earned my degrees from Cornerstone University and Western Theological Seminary, and in May 2021 I earned my doctorate of ministry. I am in awe—grateful and ecstatic—and give God all the praise.
Adding pastoral ministry (and thus becoming bi-vocational for the first time) gave me the opportunity to know church attendees and members and also to meet many who may not personally know God or have faith. Being bi-vocational promotes building relationships and living out my calling, faith, and journey in all areas of my life, which helps others to worship, formulate their faith, grow to love God, and find their own calling to serve God and God’s church. It is a delight and a blessing to see someone new in faith speak of God, ask for prayer, or give their testimony for the first time, unexpectedly and with passion and sincerity. I believe all of heaven rejoices. Therefore, worshiping God and ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ, in my opinion, is both a gift and calling. This gift and calling implores me to bring encouragement, to advocate for healing and freedom from addictions, and to promote transformation.
I am no longer serving as a full-time pastor where I first became bi-vocational, but I do continue to be bi-vocational, working additional jobs to support my call to ministry as well as fundraising. Being bi-vocational helps to support my finances for personal, family, and ministry budget. This was especially true as I worked to finish my studies and worked toward full-time ministry through Jordan River Ministries. There were many times where I had to prioritize, reorganize, balance, and rebalance my ministry and work schedule, fighting to keep ministry at the forefront of my life and work. It is also important to have health insurance and other benefits, which being bi-vocational afforded me. For example, staying fresh and abreast to evolving needs in leadership and ministry propelled me to obtain a coach and participate in a pastoral group. It is important to have colleagues who pray with and for you, provide support, and help you stay accountable, especially if you are involved in ministry and church planting.
God blessed my education, developing ministry, and bi-vocational work. Since receiving the call to minister to people overcoming addiction, the ministry has been evolving into a “fresh expression” of a church plant. Part of the mission is to provide a place of worship so that people might know and love God. It is an ongoing endeavor that requires God’s help, leading, and guidance as I continue to live out the call God has placed on my life.
Bi-vocational ministry has its challenges, especially in these pandemic times, yet it also has many wonderful opportunities. I find joy in fellowship and community, like the early Christians did in Acts 2:46: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” And it is a joy to lead God’s church. However, during these pandemic days, you can find me following the apostle Paul’s formula, being passionate about God and God’s work, using my gift and skills and connecting with God’s people, and also being creative in raising funds to support the ministry. That is all encompassed in my call.
Are you living your purpose?
Rev. Dr. Patricia Simmons
Rev. Dr. Patricia Simmons is a native of Rochester, New York, and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. She is ordained as a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America and has served in multiple churches in New York and Michigan for the past two decades. Dr. Simmons currently serves as CEO and pastor of Jordan River Ministries, a specialized ministry she established to serve people who are overcoming alcohol and drug addiction, as well as River of God Worship Center, a missional church plant. She holds a bachelor of science degree in pastoral studies and Bible religion from Cornerstone University, as well as a doctor of ministry, a master of divinity, and a graduate certificate in urban pastoral ministries from Western Theological Seminary.
God has tremendously blessed her with three beautiful children and nine grandchildren. Dr. Simmons enjoys cooking, books, movies, and traveling. Passionate about reaching out and embracing the community, Dr. Simmons believes that God calls the church to play a significant role in instilling the hope of Christ in the lives of God’s people, especially people overcoming unique challenges and brokenness.