Last week I posted my reflections on bivocational ministry. It is a joy to serve our church. It is a necessity to find a way to serve effectively. After my previous post, many of you weighed in with additional thoughts at the blog, on Twitter, and in person. It is a happy tribe that I find myself in these days. But it is also – sometimes – a tired one.
Recently, a coworker and I were riding into downtown together for our full-time jobs. He is also serving as a bivocational pastor. His comment on the previous week was, “It’s about time for them to get a full-time pastor. Working seven days a week is about to wear me out.” He loves the church and will likely continue to attend once the church grows to a size where they will require a full-time pastor. Until then, he is happy to serve them as their pastor.
Bivocational ministry is both a necessity for many churches and a difficult way to live for many pastors. Here are my thoughts about navigating the life of bivocational pastoring.
Understand your limitations. All ministers must admit that they are not superhuman. Eventually, you need to rest. So, I suggest that you do three things. First, schedule down time and keep to the schedule. Secondly, invite someone that you trust to let you know when you are unwittingly reaching your physical limit. It is fine to press your limits some, but a mentally and/or physically broken person is of little use in leadership. Thirdly, ask some friends for help. I have invited two friends to join me in sermon preparation. They have my long-range plan and help me stay on track, offer suggested application points, and illustrations.
Discipline your schedule. The only real way that I’ve found to effectively serve bivocationally is to know my schedule well. For me, this looks like blocking time in my week for service for my church, including sermon preparation. Most of my study time is done late in the evening or early in the morning. I use digital tools to help me do this; Google calendar, Evernote, and Dropbox. Our church uses Planning Center Online to organize our Sunday services.
About sermon preparation. For many in this work, they serve as the bivocational preaching pastor. I really don’t know how much time I spend on preparing a sermon because I feel as if I’m always working on it. Here is a quick list of how I prepare for sermons. Next week, I will post a more detailed view of what it looks like.
- Plan far in advance. I suggest a minimum of three months.
- Set aside specific times early in the week that are reserved for sermon preparation. If you do not, then it will keep getting pushed farther into the week.
- Find a time to preach it in total, or at least partially, out loud.
- Ask for help from friends who can give suggestions during the preparation phase and feedback after Sundays.
Know what does not require your presence. You simply cannot be present at every church event. A healthy church family will recognize this but I know that not everyone serves a healthy church family. Help your key leaders to see this fact clearly. Doing the work of ministry is not attending every casserole dinner and children’s ministry party. Go as you are needed and helpful. But know when it is good to stay home and let others lead.
Keep a close watch on your ego. The reason that we often want to be at every event is that we need to be needed. Remember point number one, “Know your limitations.” The greatest limitation you will likely reach is when your ego pushes you off the cliff of what is physically possible.
Developing leaders is a priority. Our church needs more than a single leader. Bivocational ministers must seize the opportunity to develop other leaders for the church. You will be pulled in plenty of directions. Make sure that you intentionally develop other leaders to guide the work that you all do together.
Love your work in the “real world.” Or, at the very least, learn from it. Many of your church members struggle to even like the job they have. In Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” for 2013, the research reveals:
These latest findings indicate that 70% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.
It is a good thing for us to admit that we sometimes struggle like everyone else. It is a better thing to show how our faith intersects with our work and guides us through the struggles. In your full-time work, learn how God is shaping your character and leading you to ministry opportunities that would not happen otherwise.
Do not leave your family behind. Having served in full-time and part-time positions for churches, this is a true statement for all in vocational ministry. For those of us in bivocational work, an extra warning serves us well. Make sure you guard the heart of your spouse and children. Don’t let them be ministerial widows and orphans. Love them well and you will lead better. Try to only lead better and you will not love them as well.
Again, let me reiterate, I love the work that I get to do. Both my full-time employment and my bivocational church service are a blessing. They can both be stressful, but that’s life as we have it. For now, I am embracing the adventure. Sometimes I move fast and break things. Other times, I go slow to ensure we are bringing everyone along for the mission. But in it all, I am constantly relearning just how faithful God is to us and how beautiful it is to serve Him.
photo credit: irkengirdib