Monday, October 5, 2015

Bivocational ministry and a balanced life

Virtually all bivocational ministers will struggle occasionally with time issues. For some, it's a constant battle to meet all the demands on their time. How to better manage their time is the most frequently asked question I receive from bivocational ministers.

Time management is really life management. It begins by knowing who you are and your purpose in life. The reality is that none of us will ever meet all the expectations that people have of us, so we have to be able to identify the expectations God has for us and plan our lives accordingly. Once we have a clear God-given vision for our lives we are able to determine the priorities we need to establish that will help us achieve that vision.

For bivocational ministers there are five areas of life we need to balance.

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with our families
  • Our church ministry
  • Our other jobs
  • Our own self-care
These are not listed in order of importance because they are all equally important. Unfortunately, what many bivocational ministers have admitted to me is that they struggle most with their relationship with God and self-care. Others tell me their families often receive less attention than is healthy for that relationship.

There needs to be a healthy balance in these five areas of life, and such a balance will not happen unless we plan for it. We must be intentional about each of these areas, setting priorities for each of them, and living into those priorities.

Let's take just a brief look at family. As a bivocational pastor it was important to me to keep my family a high priority in my life. I planned my schedule to coach our son's baseball team when he played Little League. My wife and I had a regular date night each week. The telephone was not answered during meals. We scheduled vacations and took them. We attended school events and other activities our children were involved in. We did many other things as a family, but in order to do them I had to schedule them in my calendar or other things would crowd them out. I had no problem telling someone I had another appointment at a time they wanted to meet when that other appointment was a date with my wife.

The brutal fact is that if a person's life is out of balance, it's their fault. You control your calendar, or at least you should. There will be times when life gets out of control such as during illnesses or other catastrophes that sometimes occur in life, but these will be limited. For most of our lives, we can control our schedules and give priorities to those things that are most important to us.

For more help in this or other ministry challenges you may want to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The wisdom of elderly Christians

He had grown up during the depression and served in World War II. After returning home and becoming a Christian he and his wife began attending the church I would later pastor. He had been a deacon in that church for decades. When we began taking communion to our shut-ins he would go with me since he had known these folks for years.

We didn't always agree, especially when I would introduce a new idea that would cost the church money. The church had been on the verge of closing and struggled keeping their bills paid when I came there as pastor. This farmer remembered those days very well, so he was reluctant to spend money on things he didn't think was necessary.

Eventually, we grew enough so we could rotate our deacons as our constitution required. Any time he would rotate off he would be re-elected as an active deacon a year later when he became eligible. It was about a year after his second re-election that he came to me saying he thought he would resign as deacon. Our church was experiencing some good growth and doing new things. His concern was that due to his life experiences he would be a hindrance to all the things the church was doing. He enjoyed the new life in the church and didn't want to do anything that might hinder that.

I urged him to not resign from his leadership position. I told him the church needs to hear from those with his experiences, and we needed to hear his concerns when he felt we were going too fast or in directions that might not be wise. Fortunately, I was able to convince him and he remained serving as a leader in our church until health issues forced him to step aside.

Too many pastors, especially younger ones, don't want to hear from the older members. I certainly didn't, especially when I felt they were hindering the forward movement of the church. I especially didn't want to hear from them when they were opposing my latest, greatest idea. Looking back, I realized that their concerns often prevented us from making unwise decisions. I learned to appreciate their wisdom.

Another thing I learned to do was to talk to them when they opposed some new thing. Several area pastors told me when I went to that church that I wouldn't last there six months due to the people who ran that church. Fortunately, I learned that these were not evil people. They were people who were concerned about the future of that church in which they had invested their lives. Sometimes when I explained to them why I wanted to do certain things they became my greatest supporters, and much of our success was due to their support.

Appreciate the wisdom that your older members have. Yes, some of them are church controllers who will do all within their power to protect their position in the church, but many of them are people who love both the Lord and the church. They have experiences you may not have so you need to listen to them. Many of them have given much to your church, and they still have a lot to offer if you'll allow it.

Training for bivocational ministers

As I talk with leaders from numerous denominations I find that there is a wide variation in the educational levels of their bivocational pastors. This is in line with my own survey of bivocational ministers in American Baptist Churches, USA which I conducted in 2004. I found that the educational levels ranged from those who had PhDs to others who had a high school education. Those who know my story know that I began my pastoral ministry with no education beyond high school.

Each of the leaders I spoke to agreed that training their growing numbers of bivocational ministers was often a challenge. Declining revenues common to most denominational bodies today also means less money available for training. Much of the training that is offered is not specific to bivocational and small church settings so many pastors from these churches do not attend the training that is offered. It also doesn't help that this training is often offered during the day time when bivocational ministers may be at their other jobs.

For 20 years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small church in rural Indiana. I left that ministry to become a regional minister in our denomination working with many bivocational and smaller church leaders. In the past 14 years I have published a number of books on small church and bivocational ministry and led seminars and workshops for numerous denominations.

At the end of this year I will retire from my denominational work and will be available to lead more training events for church leaders. I have several seminars that I have led in the US and Canada that are specifically designed to speak to the needs of small church and bivocational leaders. At every event someone will come to me during a break and ask, "When did you visit our church? You've described it perfectly." The material I present is applicable to to every small church.

If you are interested in providing a training event for your bivocational and small church leaders in 2016 I invite you to contact me to see if we might be able to partner together to make this event happen. I already have three such training events scheduled for 2016 and would love to work with you to help equip your small church leaders.

You can contact me at  I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bivocational ministers are entrepreneurs

The best bivocational ministers I have met have been entrepreneurs. The very nature of their calling forces them to approach ministry with a different mindset. This mindset is very similar in many ways to that of a person starting a new company. An effective entrepreneurial, bivocational pastor will share some common personality traits with the entrepreneurial business person.

There have been numerous articles written on these personality traits, and the list of these traits number anywhere from 5-25 depending on the article. I think these five personality traits will be found on most of these lists. These five traits are explained in more detail in a Forbes article you can read here. These traits are

  1. Passion - Most bivocational ministers I know serve because they are passionate about their calling. Few people would willingly serve as a bivocational pastor if they were not passionate about doing ministry in that context.
  2. Resilience - Not everything we attempt to do works out the way we planned. Most bivocational ministers do not view failure as the last word. When something doesn't work out as we planned we try to learn from the failure so we can improve. It's hard to keep a good bivocational minister down.
  3. Strong sense of self - Entrepreneurs are normally very self-confident, and the same is true for many bivocational ministers. It's not so much a confidence in ourselves because most of us know our weaknesses and limitations, but it is a confidence in our calling. A weak leader who lacks self-confidence, bivocational or fully-funded, cannot effectively lead a church, and it's painful to watch them try.
  4. Flexibility - A bivocational minister better be flexible. Every day is an adventure. I always use a pencil when I schedule something in my calendar because the one thing I know that's constant is change.
  5. Visionary - The only thing more painful to watch than a minister who lacks self-confidence is to watch one without vision. If the pastor doesn't know where God is leading it will be impossible to lead the congregation in that way. Entrepreneurs in business and ministry have a sense of where they are going, and sometimes it is that vision that prevents them from getting stuck.
How many of these personality traits do you have? Chances are that if God has called you to bivocational ministry you have some of all five of these traits. You may be stronger in some of them than in others, but it is likely at least part of all five of these make up your personality. If you identify some that cause you to struggle, they may be something you want to address. As you become stronger in each of these traits you will see positive improvement in your ministry and in your overall life.
If you struggle to improve in some of these areas a good ministry coach might be able to help you. If you think that is the case, it would be a good investment of your time and finances to work with a coach to help grow in those areas. If you do not know a ministry coach in your area, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Think like a freak

Ever since I read Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything I have been a fan of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I listen to their Freakonomics podcast when I'm traveling, and I just finished their book Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. What I enjoy about what they do is that they challenge the way we often think about common occurrences and they encourage us to think about things we probably would not think about. After all, any book with a chapter title of "What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?" is probably asking you to think about something you've never considered!

In Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain they explain how Takeru Kobayashi was able to not only win the hot dog eating championship at Coney Island but to blast the previous record. The record at that time was 25 1/8 hot dogs and buns; Kobayashi ate 50! He merely changed the way he thought about how to eat the hot dogs. He asked different questions which gave him a different approach to the contest. You'll have to read the book to find out more.

Too many churches are still approaching today's challenges with yesterday's thinking. We think we know the answer because those answers worked once upon a time. We try harder. We cast blame. Finally, we give up and congratulate ourselves for being the faithful remnant.

Maybe we need to ask different questions. Instead of asking why fewer people attend church today perhaps we should be asking what barriers have we created that make it hard for people to attend worship services. Rather than complaining about the decline in giving we should ask how can we help people better manage their money so they would be in a position to give more. Maybe we need to stop trying to figure out a way to make an old program work better and admit that it may be time to discard that program for a new ministry.

By the way, there's a chapter in the book on that as well. It's called "The Upside of Quitting." One section of that chapter is "You cannot solve tomorrow's problem if you won't abandon today's dud." I think this chapter, and the whole book, should be required reading for church leaders.

As you prepare your church for 2016 what questions should you be asking? Make sure they are the right questions that will lead you to answers that will make a difference in the lives of those you serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The problem of small churches and too much money

In yesterday's post I discussed the problem of smaller churches and their often heard complaint about not having any money. Today, I want to address another financial problem sometimes found in smaller church; the problem of having too much money.

One small church that averages about 12 people each week told me they had over $100,000 in savings. An even smaller church has nearly double that amount. A third small church was struggling a few years ago to find a pastor. I told the search committee that they needed to increase the salary they were going to offer if they wanted a pastor. The committee chair finally admitted to me that they had a "rainy day" fund. Although he wouldn't tell me an amount, from the way he said it I felt it was fairly sizable figure. I responded, "Look outside. It's pouring. The church is going to have to use some of that money if it is going to attract someone to serve as their pastor."

I realize that fear drives a lot of this. People see their attendance figures and giving going down. They are afraid their little church may have to close so they reduce their expenses to a bare minimum and start stockpiling money. Maybe they had a building fund they've converted over into a savings account, and they hold onto those funds with clinched fists.

Unfortunately, those clinched fists do more than hold onto the money. They also strangle the ministry of the church until it's no longer even a church. It's reduced to a small wealthy club that provides services to its members.

This is poor stewardship of God's money. That money was given in the past by faithful members of your church to support the ministries of the church. There is nothing wrong with a church having money in savings. There is much wrong with a church having large sums of money it never intends to use for any purpose other than ensuring its own existence. Such an attitude dishonors the purpose for which it was given and dishonors God.

There is a second problem with small churches having inordinate amounts of money in savings. People stop giving. They see no reason to give their hard-earned money to a church that has lots of money it's not going to use anyway. Since the church has demonstrated it's OK to hoard money the members believe they should hold onto their own money or at least use it for their own pleasure.

We teach stewardship by our actions as well as through sermons and lessons. Because the church I pastored believed in and taught people to tithe we demonstrated that in our church budget. Ten percent of our offerings went to our denominational mission support program. After I served the church for a few years and we became a little more financially sound, I encouraged the church to increase that to fifteen percent. We did that by increasing our mission giving one percent a year for five years. As our mission giving increased so did our general church giving.

If you are in a small church with a large savings account you're not using, you need to do something with that money. If you're not going to use it for Kingdom work, then give it to a ministry that will. Pay your pastor a decent salary. Give part of it to your denominational mission program. Support local mission work even if it's being done by other churches or ministries in your area. This money was given for ministry, and it needs to be used in that way.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Small churches and money

As I work with smaller churches a frequent complaint I hear is their lack of money. When we begin talking about ministries they might consider or the low salaries they pay their pastor they often insist they don't have the finances to do new ministries or improve the salary and benefit package of their pastors. My response is always the same: Small churches don't have money problems. They may have a vision problem or a stewardship problem, but they don't have money problems. Money issues are just a symptom of the real problem.

If a church has no real vision for ministry they are merely doing maintenance work, and that is the level of financial support they are going to receive. When a church does nothing but pay utility bills and a small stipend to the pastor, there is no incentive for people to give any more than what's necessary to keep the lights on. People don't give to pay the light bill, but they will give towards a vision.

A few months before I resigned my pastorate our church voted to build a new fellowship facility. Our architect told us what we wanted would cost us about $250,000.00, a large sum of money for a church that averaged about 55 people each week. Still, we felt this would provide us more ministry opportunities so we voted to build the facility. We scheduled a Commitment Sunday to see how much we could raise in one service. We raised about $52,000 that Sunday.

When asked where we should borrow the remainder of the money I challenged the church to trust God to provide the funds. Some were skeptical, but we proceeded to build as the money came in. About 18 months later the building was dedicated and was debt free. People give to vision.

I've seen this happen when churches want to begin new ministries. People get excited and give more than usual to help fund these ministries. If God's people have bought into a shared vision they will financially support it.

However, this is only true if they've been taught stewardship. Some pastors are so scared to talk about money their people have never even heard of the tithe. They don't know how to give to the church. We are told to preach the whole counsel of God, and you cannot do that if you never talk about money.

I've had pastors tell me their church doesn't allow them to talk about money and giving. Those are the churches that need to hear it the most. I absolutely would not serve a church that spent all its time poor-mouthing and demanding that I not talk about money. Life is too short, and there are too many churches looking for a pastor to lead them to waste time in such a place. We must teach sound, biblical stewardship principles or we are cheating our congregations of the opportunity to grow in that area.

With very rare exceptions, your small church has plenty of money available. As church leaders our responsibility is to teach them about healthy giving and keeping a vision before them worthy of their support. If we do these two things, God's people are often very generous.