Kathy King is a pastor. She’s also a social worker. Working as both brings added richness to her vocation, but it also has its challenges.

Two callings unite for stronger ministry

After 15 years working as an obstetrician, followed by school and a stint in counseling, Kathy King could not shake the feeling that, as she says, “God was calling me to become a pastor.”

King was ordained in 2004, but she couldn’t leave the casework behind. Today, she’s the lead pastor of Harvest Christian Community (RCA) in Wheat Ridge, Colorado—an urban church ministering to homeless congregants and recovering drug users—and she also works as a family advocate at the Jefferson County Department of Human Services.

The model isn’t new—the apostle Paul himself was bi-vocational, serving the church and also making tents—but people often see bi-vocational ministry as a financial necessity rather than a calling. For many pastors, though, that’s not the case; the dual vocations allow them to serve God more faithfully by connecting with people outside the church.

The same was true for King. She knew she was called. But after her ordination, the question kept coming up: what did she plan to do with her social work career now that she pastored a church?

“I don’t know for sure,” she would answer, “but I know that God is calling me to do this and that my role will be combining social work and church work.”

The way those two callings would mesh soon became apparent.

“Just over a month after being ordained, I was contacted by someone at Jefferson County asking if I was ordained and if I would help the county connect with churches because they wanted to form partnerships.”

Building those partnerships has been King’s ministry ever since. She serves on the leadership committee of Power of Partnership, an organization that helps churches and counties work together to support projects that neither the government nor the church can do alone.

Power of Partnership’s projects include a respite program for kids in foster care and a severe weather shelter program in which local churches open their doors during rough weather to people without homes. King also supports a program that provides backpacks loaded with supplies and goodies for 15 to 20 children each month who have been removed from their homes.

“I feel really privileged just to have that connection,” King says. “The case workers will tell me stories of children like a seven-year-old boy—they let him pick from the different backpacks—and about how careful and excited he was. It means so much to these kids and that’s something that really has been one of the things I really enjoy.”

To be sure, bi-vocational work presents some challenges. For one, translating her work between church and state can be tricky. King calls herself bilingual because she’s fluent in the vernacular of both.

Churches sometimes raise barriers too, like a reluctance to work with other churches or faiths.

“What do evangelical churches do when the Mormons want to help?” asks King. “What happens when the Universal Unitarian churches want to help? We’ve had some pretty heated discussions.”

But such roadblocks haven’t thwarted King, who has become close friends with other religious leaders through the process.

Another obstacle arises simply because King works with families on behalf of the state and at the same time builds relationships with her congregants. Sometimes the two overlap, as they have when the county has conducted an investigation that involves a family in the church. In those situations, King serves only as pastor and not as social worker.

At other times, King does the opposite, functioning as county official rather than pastor. For instance, Harvest partners with another church and with the county to host Haven’s Hope, a program that supplies diapers to low-income families. While King may offer to pray with the people she’s screening, she doesn’t mention her pastoral work because she’s administering the program as a county official.

King says the key to juggling her duties is openness with her church, the consistory, and the county: “Transparency—that’s crucial to maintain the health of me and everyone involved.”

King’s dual work is made possible because of Randy Cowling, who volunteers as her co-pastor at Harvest and is also bi-vocational. King also emphasizes the need for boundaries and good self-care—as well as a sense of humor, because the Lord sometimes works in funny ways. More than once, King has worked with families through the state and then, years later, seen them walk through the doors at Harvest.

“God had a separate agenda I wasn’t aware of,” she says. “Seeing the input I had in a family’s life and seeing how I impacted a child in ways I couldn’t have known—those are always very affirming.”

King is excited about more partnerships and seeing other churches and counties replicating the Jefferson County model.

“It’s one of those things that I believe, when God was telling me that I was to be ordained, this was one of the reasons: the Power of Partnership. It’s having that big of an impact on families in Jefferson County.”

Pray that God would use the ministries of bi-vocational pastors to further God’s kingdom.

Thank God for Jefferson County’s willingness to join with Harvest Christian Community to serve people.

Explore ways to partner with your city or county. Email local@rca.org for ideas.