How To Be an Effective Bi-Vocational Pastor

Over half of all pastors are “tent makers.” I’ve been there, done that – and have the t-shirt and sweat shirt from several seasons of bi-vocational ministry. If a full-time pastors thinks life a challenge . . . consider the juggling act of the bi-vocational pastor. Balancing God, family, ministry and the “other job” necessary to keep bills paid is not easy. man digging with shovel

Bi-vocational challenges are real . . .. Things like:

 

  • Feeling less significant than someone who is a full-time pastor.
  • Feeling “less accomplished” because of limited hours for ministry.
  • Not being able to attend sectional, district or national meetings. “Seasons of refreshing” are not readily available.
  • Time-management is a challenge. The public presentation is part of it  but what about the unseen: particularly the time needed to marinate one’s brain in God’s word.

Let me give you several observations.

  1. No stigma is EVER to be attached to being bi-vocational. Amos and Paul were bi-vocational. Many faithful men of God drive a truck or handle a nail-gun forty hours a week.
  2. Never discount “real” world living. Much I know about leadership and dealing with people was learned from a corporate setting. All work is “as unto the Lord.” Christianity is lived in the market place of life!
  3. Any who “rank” pastors based on whether they are “full time” need to read Jesus’ teaching regarding “true greatness” (Luke 9:46-48). For 38 years my late Grandfather was a pastor . . . at the same time driving a school bus. He is a hero. I’ll never be the shepherd H.B. Frazier was. In spite of being a working pastor, he served people well.

Two decades ago, Focus on the Family’s, The Parsonage had “Tips From Bi-Vocational Pastors.” These still work.

Prioritize — “Decide what are  high priority tasks.” Pastoring with limited time and energy means you must identify the greatest needs of the congregation and minister to them. Bi-vocational pastors should beware of trying to have a “full-service” ministry. You cannot do everything, so you must have a clear focus on what you will do.

parent playing with kidCalendar family time — Don’t just schedule it – calendar it.  If something is on the calendar it is less likely to get written out. Intentionally set aside time for your spouse and kids. Families can suffer when a pastor has two jobs.

Fellowship with other preachers — Many times, bi-vocational pastors are “out of the loop.” Full-time pastors, please be mindful of this. Pass on cds, dvds, book and other materials . . . and invite a bi-vocational pastor to lunch. 

 

Additional insight about bi-vocational ministry is from Pastor Donald Bryant (Slidell, Louisiana):

1. Guard your attitude. It can be hard for those “called into ministry” to accept the fact that they must work a “secular” job. It  can lead to bitterness; crippling one’s ministry.

2. Don’t neglect your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health. Those who burn the candle at both ends are likely to run out of wick!

3. Develop a realistic plan. Unless you prefer (and some do) to be bi-vocational, you need a realistic plan for how you transition to full-time ministry. This includes minimize your debt and standard of living. If you spend all your cash flow you will never be able to leave the secular job.

 

Some thoughts from my own experience:

 

Use series for preaching and teaching. Any service where you know your direction is one less decision to mull over. Going through a book of the Bible expositionally served me well.

Stay full. CD, mp3, audio-books,  and archived online preaching are readily available. We all need to be preached too and to add additional resources. Don’t “spend” time – “use” time in the car or elsewhere to keep yourself fresh. Unfocused time is not productive.

If you are full-time working for Jesus – don’t just increase your “play” time.  Establish office hours, punch the clock literally or figuratively.  Plan to give Jesus’ 50 – 60 hours of each week. 

 

Final note from research funded by a Nazarene group: Churches pastored by bi-vocational pastors are neither more nor less likely to grow than those pastored by full time pastors.

Those who work to fulfill God’s call and at the same time work to provide for a family (and often a significant part of the church’s expense) deserve double honor. I commend you . . . keep fighting the good . . . and wise fight.  You are making a difference.

 

Many of you serve as bi-vocational pastors – what has been your greatest challenge?  What has been your solution?  Your sharing your challenge and solution will help others.

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6 Thoughts on How To Be an Effective Bi-Vocational Pastor

  1. Beautiful Brother Coon! It is a challenge, I would live to have our doors open more than 2 days a week, but at this point that’s not practical. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Reply
    • Bro. Andersen, Thank you. I’m sure you get to do a lot of “juggling” with the things you are involved in. Blessings.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. I have been preaching for over 13 years, but pastoring for less than 5 years. I’ve have found the ability to balance not only time, ministry and family, but to balance your “emotional” perspective towards your bi-volcationalism extremely difficult. That is– for the bi-vocational pastor who desires to be full-time in ministry. Not merely for the sake of being able to “say” one is full-time, but with an understanding of the grace and liberties that come along with eliminating economic and vocational distractions that would otherwise hinder ministry potential. It is great to “finally” find an article that speaks to this, to hear someone else struggled with the same issue, and to read such wonderful recommendations. Starting with the end in mind is not always best, sometimes you have to meet your vision (where you are).

    Reply
  3. I just read your article on being a bi-vocational pastor. I too am bi-vocational and find all these challenges to be so. I follow a pastor who stayed for 27 years and I must say that has it’s own challenges but I know God in his foreknowledge put me & my family here for a reason. I APPRECIATE YOUR ARTICLE. God Bless.

    Reply

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