Bi-vocational pastors are my ministry heroes.
These men faithfully serve their local church, but also rely on at least one other source of income in order to support their family. Many are bi-vocational by financial necessity. Some choose to be for strategic reasons, whether to be an evangelistic witness in the workplace or simply to allow more of their church’s financial resources to be invested in missions or ministry rather than personnel expenses. Either way, these men put in countless hours each week, and they have my utmost respect and gratitude.
Perhaps you are one of these men, or your pastor (or other ministry leader) serves in a bi-vocational capacity. If so, you may be familiar with the unique challenges that come with bi-vocational ministry. The constant internal struggle of striking a proper balance between the church, the workplace, and the home. The challenge of never having enough time for sermon prep or other ministry responsibilities. The low-level guilt which is always in the back of your mind because you feel like your church deserves more than what you can give. It’s a seemingly never-ending struggle, and one that bi-vocational ministers know all too well.
Is there any hope of overcoming these challenges? As one who has served in a bi-vocational capacity for most of my ministry, I believe the answer is yes. Here are four ministry strategies that I believe will assist busy bi-vocational and full-time pastors alike to be effective stewards of the time spent on ministry efforts.
1. Define the essentials.
Churches (large & small) can be involved in a lot of good ministries. But, as Jim Collins has famously said, “Good is the enemy of great.” As a busy ministry leader with only limited time, energy, and resources, you need to focus on what matters most! In other words, what are the ministry activities that most help you and your congregation to fulfill the mission that God has specifically given to your church? If a task is not “mission critical”, then it’s not essential. And if it’s not essential, the pastor does not need to spend his limited time, energy, and resources in the accomplishment of that task.
2. Determine your limits.
Human beings have a finite amount of energy and strength, and pastors are not exempt from these limitations. (Even though we sometimes try to convince ourselves otherwise!) Once you define the ministry essentials, you need to ask yourself what you can realistically handle in a bi-vocational capacity. Invite family members and other church leaders to share their thoughts as well. Once you do so, consider revising your ministry job description accordingly. Clearly communicate to the congregation and church leadership what they can realistically expect from you. In doing so, you will be able to relieve some of the internal low-level guilt that you always seem to carry around.
3. Develop & deploy others.
God gave pastors and teachers to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry for them. This is especially true in a bi-vocational situation. Surround yourself with godly men and women who can share the burden of ministry. Don’t be a lone ranger; share the ministry with others!
4. Discard (or delegate) the rest.
If a task is deemed to be non-essential, seriously consider whether you (or anyone else in the church) will continue to carry it out. If some of your church members insist that a particular non-essential task or ministry should continue, delegate them to carry it out. However, most of the time, the best thing (although often difficult) is to simply stop doing the non-essential task.
These four ministry strategies won’t solve all the problems and challenges that busy pastors face. However, they can help to reduce the stress level of God’s servants, which will make it easier for them to effectively fulfill their ministry responsibilities and so build up the body of Christ for the glory of God.
So, to my bi-vocational ministry heroes, my prayer is that you are encouraged to keep up the great work for King Jesus!