Sunday, August 22, 2010

Personal Development

Almost every profession requires its participants to continue to develop personally and professionally.  When my daughter was working as an RN in a hospital she had to have a certain number of hours of training each year to maintain her credentials.  The same is true of doctors, lawyers, and even air conditioning repairmen in some states.  It has always seemed odd to me that there doesn't seem to be that same requirement for those of us in ministry.

Some might argue that ministry isn't a profession, it's a calling.  I can agree with that, but I would also reply that it is a calling with serious responsibilities.  The air conditioning repairmen who worked for my company had to have a certain number of hours of training each year to maintain their license, but the only thing they had to worry about was keeping people cool in the summer.  We in ministry are responsible for much more than that.  We have been called to lead churches or ministries in the fulfillment of the vision that God has for them.  At the same time, we have a  responsibility to minister to the needs of the people who are involved in the lives of our churches and ministries.  Those needs often include such things as spiritual needs, physical needs, emotional needs, relational needs, social needs, psychological needs, and financial needs.  There are experts who specialize in each of these areas, but we in ministry are expected to at least be able to address these needs when they exist in the lives of our congregations.

New information comes available in each of these fields each year, and we have an obligation to stay current with as much of that information as possible.  That requires regular reading in these areas and attending at least one or two conferences a year that will help you stay current with the new material that exists in these areas.  I think this also includes joining organizations that are committed to providing you with the latest information available.

That's why I'm glad to report I recently joined two organizations that are related to each other but offer exciting information in their fields.  I renewed my membership with the American Assocation of Christian Counselors (AACC) and also joined the Christian Coaching Alliance (CCA).  My membership in the AACC allows me to receive the organization's magazine, newsletter, and counseling CDs.  I have found these resources provide me with excellent resources and the information I need to be a better Christian leader.  My membership in the CCA will provide me with another newsletter and MP3 downloads that will assist me in my coaching ministry.

I do not consider myself to be a counselor, but no one can be a minister and not counsel people occasionally.  I am not a trained counselor and would not engage in long-term counseling with anyone, but I do want to be aware of things to look for so I can make appropriate referrals and provide short-term assistance to hurting people.  I am involved in Christian coaching and believe that my membership in the CCA will give me new resources and tools to improve my coaching and allow me to better serve those who use my services. 

I have often challenged the readers of this blog to be involved in intentional personal development.  I want you to know that I practice what I preach, and this is just one more way I am being intentional about my personal and professional growth.

As we approach the end of summer, what have you done this year for your own personal development?  It's not too late to take a class, attend a workshop, read some books, or hire a coach.  Let me encourage you once again, be intentional about your personal growth.  It will pay you great dividends.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Setting priorities

Several recent posts have focused on finding and equipping persons to serve in bivocational ministry.  Much of this discussion has addressed the skills a person needs to serve in such ministry.  We've looked at the importance of relationships, and we've looked at what seminaries teach, what they don't teach, and what they should teach.  This post will look at time management.

As I talk to people who are considering to go into bivocational ministry this is the area of greatest concern.  How will they find the time to meet all their obligations to their families, their church, and their work, and to the other activities to which they may be committed?  It is a question that must be answered, and I commend those who address it.  There is no question that bivocational ministers have to juggle a lot of responsibilities.  There were times when I felt like the entertainers on the old variety shows who had several plates spinning on thin rods.  They had to keep running from plate to plate to keep them all spinning.  If they stopped even for a minute the plates would start hitting the floor.  How does the bivocational minister keep all the plates spinning?  More importantly, how does he or she create a life that allows a healthy balance that makes life and ministry more enjoyable?

It begins with having a clear sense of vision for your ministry and for that of the church.  No small church or small church leader can be all things to all people.  You cannot compete with the mega-church down the road, and you shouldn't even try.  You must know what God wants your church to be and do and then focus your resources on that one thing.

One of the things a clear vision will give you is the ability to determine priorities for your life and ministry.  These priorities will reflect the things that are required to accomplish the vision.  Those are the things you must do.  Everything else is optional, and I do mean everything.  If you don't do the optional things it will have zero impact on fulfilling the vision God has given you.

Early in my pastoral ministry I was working in a factory full-time, pastoring the church, and going to a Bible school about 50 miles from my home.  We had two children who were active in the sports programs in their schools.  I had a very full schedule.  I was occasionally criticized by people in our association for not attending the monthly association men's meeting.  The fact is, the only such meeting I did attend was the month it was held at our church.  One year I was invited by a member of our church to attend the men's meeting, and because I had a free evening I agreed to go.  The program that night consisted of criticism towards all the men in the association who did not attend the monthly meeting!  The next month it was held at our church.  At the appointed time I went to the pulpit and announced my topic for the program that night: "Why I Don't Attend Your Men's Meetings!"  You could have heard a pin drop.  I wasn't mean about it; I just explained my schedule and how I felt it was more important for me to spend that evening at home with my family than to attend their meeting.

I had set my priorities for that stage of my life, and that meeting wasn't on that list.  If you want to enjoy a healthy ministry and have a life as well you will have to set your own priorities.  And if you don't, others will set your priorities for you, and they may not have your best interests at heart.  As I often say in my workshops, someone has changed the first of the four spiritual laws to say, "God loves you, and everybody has a wonderful plan for your life."  You must own your calendar, and you begin by setting priorities for your life.  Everyone else has to schedule around your priorities.

If you want a weekly date with your spouse, put it on your calendar in advance.  If someone calls wanting your presence at that time you can legitimately tell them you already have an appointment for that time.  If you want to attend your children's activities put those on your calendar as soon as you get a schedule.  If you want to take a continuing education course to help your personal development, put it on your calendar.  Schedule the things that are most important to you, and then everything else can be scheduled around that.  This ensures the priorities you have established for your life remain priorities.

Will something ever interfere with that?  Sure.  There will be genuine emergencies sometimes that will force you to shift your focus, but these should not be a regular occurance.  A real emergency may change your priorities for a few days while you respond to the emergency, but if this happens every week something is wrong.

There are few things that will lead to a more productive and enjoyable ministry than finding God's vision, setting priorities for your life and ministry that will enable that vision to come to pass, and then living out those priorities.  Are there other things that will need to be done?  Sure, but that doesn't mean they have to be done by you.  These are the things you delegate to others who have the gifts and passion to accomplish them while you focus on the specific tasks God has given you to do.

Why don't you start today?  Take a pad of paper and begin listing the things that you believe are the most important way you can invest your time and energy.  Be sure to include your job, your church work, your family, God, and your own personal well-being.  Begin making your list and start transferring that onto your planning calendar.  Do it in pencil because you'll probably have to make adjustments when you get started.  The important thing is to get started.  If you'll set priorities for your life and ministry you won't have to be afraid of bivocational ministry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The benefits of coaching

As regular readers of this blog know, my DMin thesis was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness."  That thesis can be found at  Although the thesis was only published online in June it has already been downloaded 27 times.  People have found that the information discovered in my project is helpful to them, and I am thankful that is the case.

I believe that coaching is a powerful tool to help any bivocational minister who is ready to move forward in his or her life and ministry, and I am pleased to announce that I have a few openings for bivocational ministers who would like to be coached.  You need to know that coaching is not for everyone.  People who are satisfied with how things are in their lives are normally not good candidates for coaching.  Neither are people who are not willing to do the hard work that personal transformation requires.  But, if you feel stuck in any aspect of your life or ministry, and you're ready to do something positive about it, coaching can be a great tool to get you moving forward.  I have coached a number of bivocational and fully-funded ministers, and everyone of them reported that the experience benefitted them in numerous ways.  In my thesis you can read the responses of the five persons I coached for the project and learn how aspects of their lives were changed for the positive.

If you think you might be interested in beginning a coaching relationship with me, please respond to this posting and send me your e-mail address.  We'll discuss it privately through e-mail at first, and if both of us agree that coaching would benefit you we can proceed.  The coaching relationship is always kept confidential, and one thing I believe is a huge benefit of coaching is that the coaching sessions always address the specific issues the person being coached wants to address.  You will set the agenda for every session to ensure you receive the maximum benefit from the coaching relationship.  If you think you might be interested be sure to contact me soon as I can only take a very few persons at one time.  I hope to hear from you.

Friday, August 6, 2010


A couple of posts ago I promised to share some of my thoughts regarding seminary for those who might be considering a seminary education.  I also mentioned that some of those thoughts might be controversial to some people.  Let me say at the outset that I am not opposed to a seminary education as some in the past have accused me of being.  I recently earned my Doctor of Ministry degree from Liberty Theological Seminary which made my second degree from that institution.  What I am opposed to is the way seminary education is often presented, especially for bivocational ministers.

For many years the Master of Divinity degree has been considered the standard degree for pastors.  In a sense it has become like the MBA for business professionals.  Anyone in the ministry without the MDiv has been looked at by some as a second-class minister.  This 90 or more hour degree covers a wide variety of courses that are supposed to prepare a person for pastoral ministry, but in my opinion the way this degree is offered may not do that.  Again, in my opinion, the MDiv would be a great degree for someone whose goal is to continue his or her education and earn the PhD in order to teach in a university or seminary setting.  It is not a great degree for one preparing to be a pastor, especially a pastor of a smaller, bivocational church.  Lest you think I am too radical let's look at what some other Christian leaders have said.

Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church near Minneapolis, holds two degrees from respected seminaries and has taught in seminary.  In his book A Church for the 21st Century he writes, "Traditional seminary education is designed to train research theologians, who are to become parish practitioners.  Probably they are adequately equipped for neither. (46)"  N. Graham Standish, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania, writes about his experience in seminary, "I learned very little about how to lead a church.  The assumption, so well articulated by a Hebrew professor, was that 'you can learn how to do all that church stuff when you get out of seminary...Seminaries are academic institutions.  You have to figure out the other stuff on your own. (Becoming a Blessed Church, 11)'"  In his book Small Congregation Big Potential Lyle Schaller writes, It is also unrealistic to expect residential seminaries that identify themselves as graduate schools of theology, rather than as professional schools, to be able to prepare students to be effective parish pastors in the 21st century. (189)"  Author and seminary professor Aubrey Malphers writes, "My view is that the problem is not what evangelical seminaries teach but what they do not teach.  Many evangelical seminaries teach the Bible and theology, and it is imperative they do so.  However, they often do not provide strong training in leadership, people skills, and strategic-thinking skills and this is poor preparation for ministry in today's shrinking world, which is undergoing intense, convoluted change. (Advanced Strategic Planning, 44)"  I could cite other examples, but this should be enough for this posting.

Persons spend thousands of dollars on a seminary education only to find out in their first church they have not been equipped to provide what the church needs.  In my 20 year pastorate no one ever asked me to parse a Greek verb, but I had a number of people who needed help with a troubled marriage or a child who was having difficulties.  I was never asked to explain the dialectical structure of Luke-Acts, but I was asked by many how they could cope with the loss of a loved one.  Is it wrong to know how to parse a Greek verb or to understand the dialectical structure of Luke-Acts?  No, not if you are a research theologian or one teaching research theologians.  But, such information is not especially helpful for a pastor who is expected to provide pastoral ministry and leadership to his or her church and community.

Most MDiv programs require a minimum of two semesters of Greek and one of Hebrew or two semesters of Hebrew and one of Greek.  Is that enough to make anyone proficient in either language?  My guess is that it is just enough to make a person somewhat dangerous.  For me, I would much prefer to study something that I'm going to use everyday in ministry.  I can buy excellent sermon study aids written by people who have spent their lifetimes studying the biblical languages, customs, and histories.  They will have much more knowledge than someone who took three semesters of biblical languages.  As I write this I am looking at eight bookshelves in my study filled with such commentaries and other Bible study aids plus I have a computer program with dozens of other such helps that I can refer to anytime I am studying a passage of Scripture.

My encouragement to those who are thinking about seminary is to look at the various Master of Arts programs that focus on specific ministry areas that are now being offered by a number of seminaries and Schools of Theology.  I earned a Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in leadership which I found to be extremely practical.  Such MA degrees can be earned in less time for less money and will often be much more practical for the typical church pastor.  Campbellsville University offers a Master of Theology (MTh) that would also fall in that category.  These programs still offer a good overview of theology and Bible study, but they also offer practical ministry classes.  Many of them can be taken on-line which is even more convenient for the bivocational minister.

I know some will disagree with me.  They will believe that the MDiv is still the way to go for anyone preparing for the pastorate.  That's OK, but I believe there are now other options that might be better, especially for the person serving in a bivocational ministry position.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New book on September 1

My newest book will be released on September 1 by Beacon Hill Press.  The title of the book is The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry.  Between now and August 30 I want to make my readers a special offer.  The book will retail for $14.99.  If you want to pre-order the book before August 30 for $14.99 I will send it to you with a complimentary CD of a message I recently presented entitled "Clergy Self-Care."  The CD normally sells for $9.99, but you'll get it free for pre-ordering the book.  Plus, I'll pay the postage!

This is the first book I've written that does not specifically address bivocational ministers and smaller churches.  It is written to address the challenges that are common to everyone in ministry positions, and I believe it will be a real help to ministers and those who love them.  This book will address challenges related to families, finances, the sense of being alone, conflict, rapid changes, time management, and a number of other topics that confront the minister and his or her family.  I wrote the book because I have faced many of these challenges in my own life and had to find ways to overcome them.  I truly believe what I've learned in the process can help you.

To pre-order your copy and receive your free CD, send a check for $14.99 to Dennis Bickers, PO Box 1113, Madison, IN  47250.  Indiana residents do need to add 7% sales tax.  To qualify to receive the free CD the orders must be postmarked by August 30.  Thank you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Training opportunities for bivocational ministers

For many years the accepted training for ministers has been seminary.  Individuals wanting to enter the ministry would prepare by going to seminary for two or three years to earn their master's degree, and then they would enter the ministry by going to their first church.  I remember when I felt my call to ministry.  My church licensed me to the ministry, and I contacted our judicatory leader letting him know of my call to ministry and my interest in having opportunities to preach.  I still remember his response.  He told me to let him know when I completed seminary and he would be glad to assist me in finding a church.  Since I had only a high school education at the time that meant I would have to quit my job and spend the next seven years in college and seminary before he would offer any assistance.  A few months later I left that church and denomination and began pastoring a small, bivocational church in our community and served that church for twenty years.

Today, there are many ways a bivocational minister can receive the training he or she needs that does not require one to spend three years in seminary.  Some denominations and judicatories offer leadership development programs that offer classes to prepare bivocational ministers for ministry.  Our judicatory offers the Church Leadership Institute that is doing a great job of training bivocational ministers and lay leaders to serve in our churches.  Some Christian colleges and seminaries now offer on-line certificate programs to provide excellent training for persons who feel called to bivocational ministry but may not be able to attend a traditional seminary.  Campbellsville University has an excellent 27 hour program specifically developed by their School of Theology for bivocational ministers that is very affordable and entirely on-line.  While there are not yet a lot of these types of programs, there are a number of schools that provide similar training.  Obviously, one advantage of such on-line programs is that you don't have to leave your home, your church, or your other employment to receive the training you need to be a more effective minister.

For those who want a more traditional seminary education, there are a number of good options available on-line as well.  Campbellsville University also offers a fully-accredited Master of Theology on-line that provides a wonderful education for any bivocational minister.  I earned my master's and doctorate through Liberty Theological Seminary's online program.  There are a number of seminaries and Bible colleges now offering such degrees, and they are certainly worth checking out.

In my next posting I'll discuss my views on what to consider when thinking about a seminary education.  I'll tell you upfront that some of my views may be a little controversial, but that's the nice thing about having a blog.  You can share anything you believe to be true!  Readers can always decide if they agree or disagree and then act on what they believe.  But, I want to conclude this blog by mentioning the one thing that I think is essential for every bivocational minister who wants to succeed in the calling God has given him or her.

No matter what you decide to do regarding your initial training for ministry, commit to being a life-long learner.  You may decide you do not want any formal training beyond high school or you may decide you want a PhD.  Regardless of where you finish your formal education, never stop learning.  Find at least one workshop or conference each year to attend that will help you develop some ministry or personal skill.  Every pastor receives information on dozens of such training events near their community, and you should determine that you will attend at least one of them each year.  Once in awhile you'll attend one that wasn't what you thought it would be, but even in those you can still learn one or two things that will benefit your ministry.  Don't let the occasional disappointment stop you from attending other events in the future.  Our world is changing at a rapid pace, and the way we go about ministry must change as well if we want to reach out to our communities in meaningful ways.  Find the workshops that will sharpen the tools God has given you for ministry and see if they don't make a difference in your life and in the life of your church.