BY RODNEY SHAW
The Texas District of the United Pentecostal Church has approximately fifty home mission churches. Recently I asked A. B.
Keating, Texas District Home Missions director, how many of the Texas home missionary pastors worked on a secular job in addition to their pastoral responsibilities. His answer: “All of them.” Put differently, the men who are responsible for starting most of our new church plants spend a majority of their time doing things other than ministry. This does not include all of the bivocational pastors whose churches are not considered home missions churches.
The bivocational minister is an ever-growing vocation across denominational lines. These ministers range from young ministers just getting started, to rural pastors, to home missionary pastors, to evangelists, and others. Just as the pastor faces different challenges than does the evangelist and the missionary, so bivocational ministry has its own unique challenges. Although their circumstances are different from those of the full-time minister, bivocational ministers can have a very rewarding and fulfilling ministry.
Some of the Hurdles
The time factor. Most ministers will quickly admit that much of their time is spent on the mundane and secular aspects of operating their ministry. The pastor, for example, spends much of his time in administrative work that seemingly has no direct spiritual significance. It is simply that the earthly infrastructure facilitates the existence of the church. It is possible at times that a minority of his time is spent in spiritual activities.
The bivocational minister has these same responsibilities. The obvious difference is that most of his productive hours and his best
energy are often spent on a secular job. After factoring in his family, his ministry is often an after-hours addendum, including the administrative chores. The time factor is the greatest concern of most bivocational ministers.
Fatigue. It is often the case that, while juggling these various responsibilities, the minister may neglect himself, sometimes out of
necessity. The lack of proper rest and self-maintenance can easily lead to physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue and frustration. Prolonged periods of overexertion can lead to that dreaded pit at the end of the road-burnout. This is also a significant challenge for bivocational ministers.
Sense of unfulfilment. If the progress of a person’s ministry is seemingly hindered by his secular vocation, he can become frustrated at the slow pace. This can lead to discouragement if the minister does not stay focused. If the minister sees his secular job as merely a source of income, this can actually increase his sense of unfulfilment, for he may feel that he is not accomplishing anything on the job as well.
Juggling roles. Some bivocational ministers find it challenging to be a lay person on the job and a leader at church. This can be
especially difficult if there are people in the congregation who are at a higher career level than the pastor. As long as the pastor is a full-time pastor, the comparison is apples to oranges. However, when the pastor works a secular job, it can easily become apparent to both the pastor and the constituency where the pastor fits in on the corporate ladder. At the job he may be “Rodney,” but at church he is “Brother Shawl”
This does not have to be a problem. Usually it is merely a psychological hurdle for the minister. He must separate his two roles
and exercise his ministry with authority, prudence, and wisdom. When he is functioning as a minister he must remember that he has all of the rights, responsibilities, and authority that God has given him. The bivocational minister should in no way feel self-pity or second class. His ministry is a vital part of the kingdom. He should recognize his circumstances and pace himself accordingly.
Some Helpful Hints
The bivocational minister can easily find himself in a juggling act. He must carefully strike a balance between his ministry, family,
and leisure time. Attitude and perspective make a world of difference in how he handles his specific situation. A well-organized life philosophy can avoid many unnecessary struggles.
Understand your role. Let’s face it: without bivocational ministers, most church plants would never take place. Men who are
willing to make such sacrifices have a vital place in the kingdom of God. The bivocational minister must accurately understand his
situation. Some are bivocational only temporarily while their ministry becomes established. Others, however, will always be bivocational. I have spoken to men who desire to be bivocational. Some need the outlet of secular occupation. Others may be in a field of labor that will not support a full-time minister. Each minister should realistically evaluate his situation. This will help avoid much frustration.
Set realistic goals. It merely complicates matters when a person continually establishes unrealistic goals. Unaccomplished goals foster a sense of frustration and tend to minimize what has been achieved. Each minister must set realistic goals. He should set goals that can be measured and set goals for both the short term and the long term. He can keep a log of his progress that will allow him to adjust his goals as needed. Every success, no matter how small, should be accounted for. Often times the cumulative value of small victories is quite significant.
Establish disciplined habits. Faithfulness and consistency compensate for the lack of time and other resources. Even if it becomes mundane at times, the minister must exercise wholesome disciplines on a daily basis. It has been said that a person should touch four things every day: God, family, others, and a project. This is good advice. Ten minutes spent each day on a project is an hour each week. It does add up.
Work smart. The bivocational minister must work smart. Simple things like organizing transit can save a significant amount of time. It is also important that a person understand what are his most productive and least productive times of the day. Some people are more effective in the morning hours while some prefer the evening hours. Much of the bivocational minister’s work will be done before the routine day begins or after it ends. Depending on family demands and personality, the bivocational minister needs to carve out time during the day and devote it to ministry. For example, if a person has small children, it may be more productive to do his work after everyone has gone to bed at night.
Another way a minister can help his schedule is by teaching and preaching in series. This allows for continuity of thought and helps the minister meditate in advance on his lessons and sermons. Unless the Lord redirects, the minister is not burdened with trying to figure out what he is going to preach or teach. Another help is to use published material like the Sunday school quarterlies.
Sacrifice time wisely. Every minister must sacrifice. It is part of the calling. Although sacrifice is necessary and God will reward His servants, sacrifices must be made with wisdom. Ministers must know their physical limitations. There will always be work to do. Like pain, fatigue is in the body as an alert mechanism.
Some time must be set aside for the family and for personal rest. Conferences and other meetings can easily consume all the vacation time that a bivocational minister may have accrued, leaving no time for rest. He must be cautious not to overextend himself even in spiritual activities. Some have chosen to combine their personal vacations with various conferences. This is fine as long as the minister and his family actually take time out for themselves. (He should not feel guilty for this.)
Sacrifice money wisely. If a man’s ministry cannot support him, it is likely that he is supporting the ministry. At the risk of
sounding materialistic, a person must sacrifice his money wisely. It is necessary at times to sacrifice financially to see the kingdom of God move forward. However, if a person continually sacrifices toward an unprofitable endeavor, his sacrifice becomes unprofitable.
A minister has the same obligation as other men to provide for the needs of his family. God designed a system of tithing and offering to support the financial needs of the church. The minister should not continually sacrifice his finances to the point of neglecting his family.
Stay involved. This is one of the greatest keys to staying afloat. The man who feels isolated can easily despair. If he feels as
if he is the only one left in the battle (the Elijah syndrome), he can easily lose sight of the larger scope. All ministers should be involved and aware of events at the sectional, district, and national level. Ministers should communicate with other ministers, their presbyter, and the district superintendent as often as necessary. If he cannot attend an important conference or meeting, the minister should seek a reliable source to stay in touch.
Turn secular experience into an asset. The secular job does not have to be a complete liability. Many ministers have brought a wealth of experience and knowledge from their secular jobs into their ministries. The workplace can also be a source for meeting prospective converts. Other benefits such as health care, tuition reimbursement and retirement plans can serve as an asset to the minister and should be taken advantage of.
Don’t compare yourself with others. This can be devastating. It is also strictly prohibited by the Bible! In all three New Testaments
passages where spiritual gifts are mentioned (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4) the apostle Paul used the analogy of the body. His teaching is that the body of Christ is composed of multiple members, none being lesser or greater, all being equally significant. The comparison we are to make is not with our brethren, but with the will of God.
Be confident of God’s will. This is one of the most valuable tips for the bivocational minister. If a person feels that he is in the will
of God, he can endure much hardship. If he is uncertain about God’s will, it exacerbates his struggles. If he ever feels that he is not in the will of God, he needs to pray and perhaps seek godly counsel until he is sure.
Remember: it is God’s church. Ministers must work diligently, but
it is still God’s kingdom. We plant. We water. We weed. Nonetheless,
God gives the increase. It was His cross and His blood, and it is His
Bivocational ministry certainly has its challenges, but what
ministry does not? If a person is called of God and does his best with
what God has given him, God will help him.
Brother Shaw is the assistant pastor of New Life United
Pentecostal Church in Austin, Texas.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FORWARD, APRIL-JUNE 1999, PAGES 7-
9. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH