FULL TIME, PART TIME, OR NO TIME?
BY SCOTT STEVENS
In July 1994 my wife Valerie and I were approved at the Wisconsin District Camp to become home missionaries to our hometown of Two Rivers. Abundant Life Church was born in the dining room of our home, complete with a cat and a cocker spaniel puppy named Max that whined throughout our first church service. In attendance that first service were my wife, my two sons, Rick and Travis, a single woman, and our neighbor along with her two young daughters. We have many happy, joyous, exciting, and even strange memories of those early days at Abundant Life.
But the purpose of this writing is not to reminisce about those days. What I really want to share with you is a lesson that I learned
along the way that required me to step into a realm of faith that many of us as secularly employed pastors are afraid to tread.
Ideally, when we become the pastor of a church, we should be able to devote all of our energies to the establishing and nurturing of that church. We long for hours devoted to prayer, personal study, outreach, and teaching Bible studies. That is in an ideal world. We do not live in an ideal world, and reality hits us like a boulder when the bills start rolling in. I too worked a secular job as a full-time auto body repair technician when we started the church in Two Rivers. I would come home dog-tired and then have to split my time and what was left of my energy between my two young boys, my sweet wife, repairs to an old home, and that little thing called the church, which seemed to be eating any spare time that I had.
We experienced nominal growth for the first two years of this young church. When I say nominal, we went from an average Sunday school attendance of 8 in July 1994 to an average attendance of 28 in July 1996. Considering that I had anticipated a church of close to a thousand by then, this was not good!
So I started seeking the Lord about this in prayer and fasting. The Lord dealt with me to go full time. My response was: “FULL TIME! Lord, don’t you see my bills?” Well, after a period of time I applied for part-time Christmas for Christ support and received it. During that first year of CFC support I worked four hours in the morning at my secular employer, and the rest of the day I was transformed into the pastor. Still, the Lord would not let me off the hook. “Go full time” reverberated through my head. During that year the average church attendance increased by a whopping 0.5 to 28.5. I said, “OK, Lord, if you want me to go full time, I will . . . IF I get approved for another year of part-time CFC support. I can then supplement my income with the tithes coming in.”
I got approved by the Home Missions Division for another year. The problem came in that they allocated less funding a month than they had the year before. I again told the Lord, “I can’t do it.” Eight months later and my CFC support only four months from ending, the church Sunday school attendance was up to an average of 30. I was still working a part-time job and it looked as if I was going to go back to full-time secular employment. I felt like a failure. My wife had been praying about this with me, and she said, “I’m willing to sacrifice anything we have to. I believe God wants you to go full time.” I knew she was right. I didn’t want to put a burden on my wife, but her willingness to sacrifice anything confirmed that I had to stop fighting against what I knew the Lord wanted.
I went to work the next day and gave a two-week termination notice. This was an act of faith for me that I had never taken before.
I had worked at this place for over eighteen years and had many benefits. Friends and family tried to talk me out of it. Even a pastor friend told me that I was out of the will of God and that I would put undue strain on my family. As for my wife and me, our decision was made.
No, we didn’t jump to a thousand in attendance the first year that I was full time. But within seven months we were averaging 47 in attendance, and seven months after that we were up to 54 in Sunday school. It has now been two years since I went full time. As of October of this year we have an average Sunday attendance of 68 with a total of over 74 members.
These numbers may not seem overly impressive on their own, but let me share just a little more with you. In the last two years I have been able to institute things that before I would not have had time to do. First, we started a jail ministry that has been very effective. Out of it we have a man who is now aspiring to the ministry. Had I continued my full-time secular job, would that man be here today?
I started a leadership training class for those who had potential and desire. This is something that I have been working on now for a year. The result is that we now have thirteen Bible studies being taught by the people of the church and we have two saints moving into leadership positions. Involvement in the work of the church is at an all–time high. If I were still working a secular job, I would never have had the time to prepare the leadership class, nor would I have had the time to spend one-on-one with some of these saints.
I have had more time to disciple those who were in attendance before I went full time, and that is just it–they were in attendance but with a very soft foundation. These folks are now very solid and have a firm foundation. Would they still be here if I had not had the time?
When I was working my secular job, every night was rush, rush, rush. Saturday was outreach and study, Sunday was church. It was hard to work my family into this schedule. I now take a full day off in the middle of the week as well as Friday nights to spend time with my family. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the extra time available for prayer, Bible reading, study, and continued education.
By now you may be saying to yourself, “Sure, it sounds great, but what do his finances look like?” I think David said it best in Psalm 37:25: “I have been young and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” The Lord has been very good to us! Don’t ask me how the bills get paid, the groceries get bought, clothes get purchased, the mortgage is always on time, and we just bought a newer car. We did make sacrifices, many of them. I think sometimes that this is where we draw a line in the sand before God: we don’t want to leave our comfort zone. We think we can only buy from Yonkers, Marshall Fields, or Sears. Dare I say it? There are some very nice dresses and suits at Goodwill and other thrift shops. I think we can also get by on something older and more economical than a 2000 Lincoln Town Car. Do I really need a home out of the pages of Better
Homes and Gardens?
The question is, If God called us, then what are we afraid of? We often like to cite that Paul was a tent maker and that many apostles were fisherman as reasons to work. Yet I have not found anywhere that they continued fishing after Pentecost. In Paul’s case he abode with tentmakers “of the same craft” (Acts 18:3). He “wrought,” apparently to help support his missionary endeavors. However, it seems to have been a temporary measure, for at other times he received offerings to support his ministry (Philippians 4:14-16). Is it possible that we use these examples to justify our continuing to work after God has told us it was time to quit? I know I did.
I did not set about to write this to oppose anyone who does pastor and is secularly employed. As a matter of fact, I have several
close ministerial friends who work secular jobs. My intention, however, it to reach those of you who have been dealing with this very same leading of the Spirit and are wondering if you are the only one who has ever felt this leading. It has been my experience in talking with many other pastors who are now full time that they too went through very similar feelings and concerns when the Lord moved on them to step out in faith.
One might ask if I have any regrets with going full time. To which I can give a one-word answer: NONE!
Brother Stevens is pastor of Abundant Life Church in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FORWARD, WINTER 2000, PAGES 6-7.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.