Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Family memories

This evening I was driving down the street towards our home when I saw a father and his son tossing a frisbee in the backyard.  I only glanced at them, but it was enough to remind me of so many afternoons and evenings spent with our children.  I remembered the times when I coached our son's little league teams and all the evenings he and I threw a baseball in the backyard.  I thought back to the times when our daughter would ride on a tractor with me and the pet duck she used to have.  Dozens of memories went through my mind, and I wished I could relive every one of them.  But, both of our children are grown now with children of their own.  The closest one lives two hours away so we don't see our children or grandchildren nearly as often as we would like.  As I continued to drive home I thought that I needed to include this on my blog just to remind the readers of how important it is to make memories with your families.

If you have young children at home just remember that they will grow up one day and leave home.  All the times you were too busy to spend even an hour with them will leave with them.  I know you're busy with a lot of responsibilities, and "one of these days you'll be able to spend more time with the family."  Just remember that you are making memories right now that will forever be etched on the minds of your family members.  Will those memories be about what a great pastor you were, or how many hours a week you put in at your job?  Or will they remember times in the back yard tossing a frisbee or a ball?  Will they remember the committee meetings you had to attend or will they remember the evenings you went to their school play and sat there smiling while they sang their songs?

Yes, God has called you into the ministry and given you important responsibilities, but if God has given you a family you have responsibilities towards them as well.  Probably, your church had pastors before you and will have other pastors after you leave.  But, what about your family?  I have always intended to be the only husband my wife will ever have and the only father my children ever know, and I have tried to create good, lasting memories for each of them.  I have to confess that I've failed at times, but overall I think I have succeeded for the most part. 

What kind of memories are you making for your loved ones?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making good use of your time

After my first book was released in 2000 an individual writing a review for told people to not waste their money or their time buying the book.  I believe he complained that I was anti-education and that almost anyone could write a better book if they had the time.  The first complaint was wrong, and I think the fact that I just completed my doctorate confirms that I am not anti-education.  I sometimes complain about what many people preparing for the ministry are being taught, but I am committed to life-long education.  The second complaint made me laugh at the time and still brings a chuckle when I think about it.  I assume my critic will not write a better book because he just doesn't have the time to do so.

Long time readers of this blog and of my books know that time management is a frequent theme for me.  It is the number one problem for most bivocational ministers.  We've all felt the squeeze when there is just too much to get done in the amount of time we have.  I struggle with it, most bivocational ministers struggle with it, and my critic seems to struggle with it as well.  I thought about all this when I came across a print out I did a few years ago of a web page I ran across on a business site.  The author of the article was Myers Barnes, and this was written in 2001 for the HousingZone website.  I will just copy a couple of paragraphs from the article.

Einstein understood time management is an oxymoron.  It cannot be managed.  You can't save time, lose time, turn back the hands of time or have more time tomorrow than today.  Time is unemotional, uncontrolled, unencumbered.  It moves forward regardless of circumstances and, in the game of life, creates a level playing field for everyone.  The paradox of time is that we rarely consider that we have enough of it when, in fact, all of it is available to everyone equally.  You and I - along with the rest of the world - start each and every day with the same 24-hours...1,440 minutes...86,400 seconds.

The only difference between being a productive person and a disorganized person is whether or not you grasp - either consciously or subconsciously - that you cannot manage time; you can only control the events within a given timeframe.  You can make use of in riding the train to the station...but even if you choose to stay in the depot, the seconds will continue to click by on timeless tracks.

These words remind me of a phrase one of my professors at Bible school kept telling us: You get done what you spend time doing.  That's true for each of us.  At the end of every day as we lay down to sleep we can look back on our day and realize that we got done the things we spent time working on.

No one, and certainly not bivocational ministers, will accomplish everything there is to do in a day's time.  There will always be another phone call that could have been made, another visit to someone's home that could have been made, some more time spent on Sunday's sermon, or more time spent with the family.  At the end of every day there will always be some unfinished work.  That's why it is so important to set priorities and make sure that we spend time doing the most important things first.

We have all the time God has seen fit to give us.  The challenge for each of us is how we will use that time for the greatest good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yoked churches

Several years ago while I was a bivocational pastor our Area Minister asked if I would consider serving as the pastor of a second, smaller church near our church.  I was willing to do it if the logistics could be worked out, and the leadership of our church gave their permission.  However, the second church did not want to share a pastor with another church so it never happened.  Although there are occasional examples of yoked churches in our denomination, it is not a common thing.

At our judicatory meeting today we were discussing the possibility of asking some of our smaller churches to consider sharing a pastor.  Like so many denominations, we are having difficulty finding pastors for some of our smaller churches.  A yoked parish could provide many benefits to both churches and to the pastor, but from experience I know it will be a hard sell to many of them.

How many of you currently serve more than one church?  I would like to hear a little about your experiences, what you see as some of the positives as well as some of the challenges, and if you feel particularly called to such ministry or are you doing it out of necessity.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New resources for bivocational ministers

For a long time there were few resources developed especially for bivocational ministers.  I'm glad to report that as the numbers of bivocational ministers are increasing more resources are being developed to help us succeed in our ministries.  Just this week I received information about two new resources.

One is a doctoral dissertation that addresses lay and bivocational strategies for the church in North America.  The doctoral candidate wrote asking for some information he needed before finishing his dissertation.  In the past few months I have discovered several doctoral papers that address different elements of bivocational ministry.  Many of them were written by denominational leaders, and that bodes well for bivocational ministers.  People are recognizing the value we bring to the churches we serve, and they are looking for ways to come alongside and provide the assistance we need to address some of our challenges.

Terry Dorsett sent me a copy of his new book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.  Ministry teams are important in every size church, but they are critical in bivocational churches.  Bivocational ministers simply do not have the time to do all the work that needs to be done in a church, and, besides, that isn't biblical anyway.  The biblical model is the Ephesians 4 model that has the pastor equipping the congregation to do ministry.  Terry offers a great resource to help the bivocational minister equip church members to minister to one another and to their community.  He provides six training sessions that will help church members feel confident in filling the pulpit and in making pastoral visits.  Included in the book are the lessons, exercises, and worksheets a bivocational pastor will need to train lay people.  I've only glanced through the book so far, but it looks like an extremely practical book that every bivocational minister will want.

I've been told another book is being released that also addresses bivocational ministry, but I haven't received a copy of it yet.  As soon as I do I'll let you know.

I hope you feel as excited about this as I do.  Your valuable work is being recognized!  Denominational leaders now see that bivocational ministry isn't second class ministry performed by people who couldn't cut it in real ministry.  Without bivocational ministers many of our churches would have to close their doors, and their ministries would come to a close.  God has been raising up bivocational ministers to serve His churches, and He is now leading people to develop the resources we've needed for a long time.  I truly believe that we will see even more material being developed in the near future, and for that each of us should be thankful.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Does anyone need the church?

I had a couple of interesting conversations this week with people who have been in church all their lives and are thinking of leaving it.  They both tell me they love God, but they are tired of the shallowness and mean-spiritedness of the people who make up their churches.  One is a Baby Boomer who serves on the leadership board of her church, and the other is a 30-something who appreciates the depth of his pastor's sermons but is very disappointed in many of the people who attend their church.  Right now, the only thing keeping this person from leaving is his concern for the spiritual well-being of his children.  Unfortunately, these two people are not alone in their feelings about the church.  Read They Like Jesus But Not the Church, Jim and Casper Go to Church,  Revolution, or Death of the Church and you'll find similar stories. 

People are not leaving the church because they are turning their backs on God.  In fact, they often claim they are leaving the church in order to protect their faith.  They would probably say that the Surgeon General should require a notice on the side of the church saying "Caution!  Attending church can be hazardous to your spiritual health."  After serving as an ordained minister for the past 28 years with the last 9 in judicatory work I would have to agree that some churches can be hazardous to one's spiritual health.  But, are these people right?  Is a believer better off not going to church?  The answer is no.

I do need to qualify that answer a little.  I know some churches that no person should attend if they are serious about wanting to grow as a Christian.  The best thing that could happen for the Kingdom of God is that these churches would close their doors.  They have been spiritually dead for decades and would attack anyone who tried to revive them.  The few people who still attend there are often mean-spirited people with very poor theology who run the church like their own little fiefdom.

But, if you are in one of these churches, the attitudes and actions of the people should not cause you to turn away from the church...just that one.  Shake the dust from your feet and run away as fast as possible.  The good news is that there are thousands of churches you can choose from, and some of them are quite healthy and are committed to seeing people grow in their relationship with God and to ministering to the communities in which God has placed them.  Such churches need people who are committed to growing and serving.

Even these churches won't be perfect.  You will find problems in these churches as well.  You see, churches are made up of people, none of whom are perfect people.  By the way, that includes you as well.  As the old saying goes, if you find a perfect church don't join it.  As soon as you do it won't be perfect any more.  Even people who love God and are committed to spiritual growth sometimes creates problems and hurts people.  Even if we try to live totally and completely sold out to God there will be times when we will fall short.  The godliest people will disappoint others at some point.  That is when we need to extend the same grace towards them that has been given to us so many times over the years.

If we focus our attention on other people we will always be disappointed.  If our focus is on God we will never be disappointed.  We need the church in spite of its flaws.  Remove a stick from a fire and it will soon cool down and lose its heat and its ability to warm others.  Replace that stick back into the fire and it will quickly reignite and begin to burn brightly.  When Christians remove themselves from the church they soon begin to lose their spiritual fire.  We need to be with other believers, including those who are flawed, to maintain our own spiritual fire.

It should be noted that this does not mean that everyone must attend a building with a high, tall steeple and pipe organ.  There are wonderful churches meeting in storefronts, office buildings, homes, and virtually any place where a group of people can gather.  There are also great churches meeting in traditional church buildings .  What is important is that you find a church where you can grow and serve and commit yourself to serving God with that group of people.

As Christian leaders we have to be studying our church to see if it is a safe place for Christians to attend.  Are there opportunities for spiritual growth in your church?  If so, are people actually growing spiritually in your church?  Can people experience true community with others in your church, or is your church very closed off to outsiders (and possibly some insiders)?  Are there opportunities for people to minister to others in your church?  If Jesus Christ was to return this Sunday would you be excited for Him to visit your church?  If you can answer yes to each of these questions, there are a lot of people looking for your church.  Find ways to help them find you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Living a balanced life

This evening I finished reading Richard Swenson's book In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life.  I thought it was good but not as good as his book Margin which I've read two or three times.  Any time I read his books, or one on the same topic, it leads to a time of self-examination.  I am a Type-A personality and probably a workaholic, and I know that.  I enjoy working.  My children tell me I'll never retire because I always have to be doing something, and they are right.  I look at sleep as giving in.  I doubt that I am different than most bivocational ministers.  We could not do all the things we do without some of these things at work within us.

After confessing all these things are true about me, I also have to admit that Swenson is right.  We were not created by God to live unbalanced lives.  Each of us have to find ways to build margin into our lives if we want to enjoy the life God has given us.  Is it possible to do that if one is a Type-A workaholic?  Perhaps a better question for the purposes of this blog is this: Can a bivocational minister build margin into his or her life and live a balanced life?  I believe the answer to both questions is yes, but we have to be intentional about it.  Over the past few years I have tried to very intentionally build margin into my life, and I believe it is paying dividends.

I've learned to say no to some good things.  There was a time in my life and ministry when I would not tell someone no.  I've since learned that I don't have time to do everything, and even if I did, I'm not qualified to do everything.  I am much more intentional about how I invest my time these days, and I say yes to things only if they help me accomplish the ministry God has given me and the goals I have set for myself.  If I can refer someone to another person better qualified than me for some task I will do that, but if not I can live with simply telling the person that I am unable to do what they've asked me to do.  Some of you need to learn to do that as well.

I have de-cluttered my life as much as possible.  I used to receive a lot of magazines that were often stacked up to be read later.  I ended up thowing those stacks away because later never came.  I also canceled those subscriptions.  One day it dawned on me that if my life wasn't impacted negatively by not reading these magazines it wouldn't be harmed by my not receiving them at all.  It was also a good way to cut expenses.  I've thrown away clothes that haven't been worn in years, and at a recent yard sale I sold some really nice clothes that I can no longer wear because of the weight I've lost.  People told me I should keep them in case I gained the weight back, but why prepare yourself for failure?  I bought new clothes, and I don't intend to need the larger sizes again.  I've thrown away files that haven't been needed in years, but I had been holding on to then just in case....

The families of too many bivocational ministers get the short end of the stick, and I decided early in my ministry that would not happen with me.  In one of my books I noted that I determined that my family would not be sacrificed on the altar of ministerial success, and I've taken steps to ensure that did not happen.  I still schedule a date with my wife each week.  Because her schedule often changes week to week I now wait until her schedule comes out, and I write her name in my Day Timer on her day off.  I arrange to do as much work as possible while she's at work so when she comes home we can spend those hours together.  It's nice to sit under a shade tree or on the back deck to talk or read a book together for an hour or so each day.  We enjoy sitting down to at least one meal together each day to talk about the day.

Fewer Americans each year get sufficient exercise, and for many years I was among that number.  I now maintain a gym membership and go 3-4 days a week for 60-90 minutes each day.  You don't have to do that.  Walking would give many people more exercise than the average American gets.  For me, I have found that if I try to exercise at home, I don't do it.  I guess I need the extra motivation of spending money on a gym membership to get me to exercise, but, hey, it works.

None of these things that I do will happen without intentionality on my part.  I have to schedule them into my days and schedule other things around them.  I also intentionally schedule down time on my calender.  I may block out a half day a week for reading.  If I have a free Saturday I look for a nearby auction to attend.  I enjoy going to auctions and find them relaxing.  You can build margin in your life.  You can live a balanced life, but you have to be intentional about it.  You also have to remember an important lesson I learned long ago:  You get done what you spend time doing.

Each of us have 168 hours a week.  You can spend them any way you want, but you can only spend each of them once, and you can't save any of them for the next week.  In that 168 hours you will accomplish what you spend that 168 hours doing.  If, like the average American, you spend 35 of those hours watching TV then that is what you will get done.  While others such as employers may control some of those hours, ultimately you are in charge of them.  If you spend 80 of those hours at your work you have chosen to do so.  You can claim that you have to do that if you want to keep your job, but still you have made the choice to do that with your time.  That is 80 hours a week you can't use anywhere else.  If you feel that your life is out of control and you are burning the candle at both ends, I encourage you to spend two weeks and track very hour of your day.  Write down everything you do as you go through your day for two weeks and see if there are some ways you could make better use of some of your time.  If you think you can't do that for two weeks, I did it for four years (I told you I was a Type-A), and it was a life-changing experience.  I found that I was spending a lot of time that I could have better invested somewhere else.

To me, that is what living a balanced life is about.  You can spend your time or you can invest your time.  You can't do both.  When you are intentionally investing your time in the things that matter most you will find that life is richer and much more fulfilling.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Financial peace

Many churches are feeling the pinch of our current economic recession.  Giving is down in many churches, and that trend is being carefully studied as these churches prepare their 2011 budget.  Several of the pastors in my area have already reported to me that they have been told they should not expect a salary increase for next year, and a few have been told their salary and/or benefit package will be reduced in 2011.  Some of these pastors have not had a salary increase in three or four years, and this is adding a lot of stress on them and their families.  In some cases these pastors are now looking for another place to serve.  Their current ministry simply cannot financially support their families.  In the cases of churches with fully-funded pastors, they will probably be looking to replace their departing pastor with a bivocational minister.

Pastors often know they should be teaching their congregation about stewardship principles, but many are reluctant to do so.  Some in the church will consider such teaching to be self-serving, especially if the pastor is facing a pay cut due to reduced giving in the church.  I think one way around that would be to teach stewardship in the context of helping people with their management of their own finances.  A number of churches in our area are using Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University to teach financial principles to their congregation and to the surrounding community.  I've not been through that series, but I am assuming that there would be at least a section that addresses tithing and giving to the local church.  Ramsey is a Christian and talks about the importance of giving to the church on his radio program.  This could serve as a great mid-week teaching series in a church and could be used to reach out to unchurched people as well who are wanting some help with their personal finances.

I just finished reading Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover and was very impressed.  It also made me sad in many ways as I realized how much I have squandered much of the income I've earned over the years.  I have to admit that I have not been a great financial manager, and as I read his book I finally realized that it doesn't take a genius to avoid debt and save money.  The principles he teaches in the book are very simple to implement.  The difficulty is in the discipline to live our those principles.

My wife and I will soon be married 44 years.  Most of the pain we've experienced in our relationship has been due to finances, and much of that pain has been caused by my poor stewardship of the finances we've had.  Virtually all of that could have been avoided if we had lived within our means, stayed out of debt, and systematically added to our savings.

Our story isn't much different than that of many other ministers and many sitting in our churches, and that story isn't going to change for a lot of people until someone begins to educate them in money management principles.  I see this as a great ministry for our churches.  Christ brings peace into people's lives when they commit their lives to Him, but for many Christians that does not include financial peace.  It's time we help change that.

My wife and I have committed to putting Ramsey's suggestions into practice, and every day we are making financial decisions based upon those principles.  It's going to be difficult some days because those principles are going to force us to make some painful decisions, but these are the decisions we must make if we want to take control of our finances.

Now, let me ask you some tough questions.  If you are struggling financially right now, is it really the fault of the recession or is it your fault for putting yourself in a difficult place financially?  I know it's easy to blame the recession, but sometimes downturns in the economy only reveal that things weren't healthy in the first place.  I recently spoke with a pastor who is having serious financial problems right now.  In addition to thousands of dollars of student debt he carries several thousand dollars more in credit card debt, plus a mortgage and a car payment.  Like many Americans, he was barely making it in good times; the recession just made it even worse.

What have you done to educate yourself financially?  Many of us go to school, earn advanced degrees, and can't balance a checkbook.  Do you know how long it will take to pay off your credit card and the total amount you will pay if you keep making the minimum payments?  If you don't, put down your Greek lexicon and look at your most recent statement.  Federal law now requires that the banks put that information on the statements.  If it's not on your statement, call your credit card company and ask them.  How does that piece of information make you feel?

How many in your congregation would benefit from having sound financial managment principles taught in your church?  Are there people in your community that needs help with their finances?  Could this be an effective outreach tool as well as a way to help people make better financial decisions?

Ministry is stressful enough without financial issues adding more stress on us.  When we struggle with any pressures in our lives it impacts our ministry.  The typical seminary graduate today leaves ministry within five years after graduating from seminary, and this is often due to financial issues.  Let's begin to educate ourselves and others and replace financial pressures with financial peace.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Painful times

I just left the memorial service for a 21 year old son of a bivocational minister.  The young man lost his life in an automobile accident.  Family and friends are struggling with grief, and I would imagine they have a lot more questions right now than answers.  I told the minister I could not even begin to claim to understand the pain they are going through right now.  I cannot imagine anything more painful than to lose a child who is so full of promise.  I've never known that pain.

But that doesn't mean that there has not been pain in my life.  There has been, lots of time, and each pain brings its own questions and even doubts.  None of us should ever believe that because we are God's children or that because we've committed our lives to serving Him that we will be free from pain in our lives.  Family and friends will disappoint us.  Churches will do things that cause us incredible pain at times.  Our motives will be challenged by critics, and at times they will even challenge our Christianity.  This world can be a difficult place sometimes, and each of us will go through our share of painful times.

If you are in such a time as that right now, let me remind you that God has not abandoned you.  Yes, there's been times when I've wondered if God had turned His back on me.  All I could see was the pain; I couldn't see God anywhere around.  It wasn't until I came through the pain that I could see that He had been with me the entire time.  He hasn't abandoned you either.

I also want to encourage you that God is not threatened by your anger.  As a pastor I used to tell people going through difficult times that it is OK to get mad at God.  Tell Him how you feel.  He is not threatened by your anger nor is He surprised by it.  After all, He created you to feel emotions when you are going through difficult times, and anger is one of those emotions.  God will not retaliate when you tell Him you are angry at Him.  From my experience, I would suggest what He will do is to hold you in His arms and love you until that anger subsides.

As I travelled to the memorial service this morning I prayed for this family.  My prayer for them is the same that I often pray for people I know are going through a difficult time.  "Lord, surround them with your presence, and fill them with your peace."  That is my prayer for you today as well.  If you are going through a painful time in your life right now I pray that the peace of God will bring you the same comfort felt by millions in the past.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I want to apologize for my lack of postings recently, but the past few weeks have been very busy and I've been fighting the worst case of allergies I've ever had.  I've had to sleep sitting in a chair most nights this past week to keep from coughing, and that doesn't lead to much sleep.  Still...the work goes on.

A report just came to me noting that 78 persons have downloaded my DMin thesis on "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministerial Effectiveness."  It shocked me that many people were interested in reading a doctoral thesis, but it gives me hope that these are people who work with bivocational ministers and are looking for the tools to better serve them.  It is my prayer that the thesis will give them one more tool.

My latest book, The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry, was released last week and seems to be finding an audience.  I have shipped out the pre-orders that came to me.  You can purchase this book or any of my books through my website or by sending a check to Dennis Bickers, PO Box 1113, Madison, IN  47250.  If you prefer, you can also order it through

The class I'm teaching on "Growing a Healthy Church" for Campbellsville University is in its second week and going well.  I am really impressed with the students in my class.  They come from various backgrounds and have different callings on their lives, but each of them are dedicated to honoring God with their lives.  If you are interested at all in on-line studies you really need to check out the excellent programs at Campbellsville University.

I also want to remind you of the upcoming Pastors and Church Leaders Conference that Campbellsville University is hosting September 23-24.  The theme of the conference is "Characteristics of Effective Church Leaders" and features Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. and Dr. Hershael York as the featured preachers.  There will also be several breakout sessions you can attend including "Making Family a Priority," "Three Pillars of Credibility," and "Leadership Across the Generation" among others.  Registration for all this is only $30.00!  You can still register by calling 270-789-5520 or by sending an e-mail to  I made my motel reservations last Monday for this event and would love to see you there.