Friday, February 1, 2013

Bivocational ministry and the challenge of time

Yesterday's blog looked at the problem bivocational ministers have keeping a Sabbath.  Working two jobs does not lend itself to having an entire day that can be spent as a Sabbath.  Some bivocational ministers have a more flexible schedule and can choose a day for Sabbath, but for many of us we are somewhat limited.  One suggestion I made was to block off sections of time throughout the week for mini-Sabbaths.  While not ideal, it's better than what a lot of us are used to.  Today, I want to spend more time looking at the overall time challenge bivocational ministers face.

Without fail, at every workshop I've done for bivocational leaders they have identified time constraints as their number one challenge.  The demands of ministry on top of what is required from a full time job outside the church can easily lure a bivocational minister into working non-stop and completely ignoring other aspects of his or her life.  Too many families have been sacrificed on the altar of ministerial success by both bivocational and fully-funded pastors.  Pastors have ignored their own personal spiritual growth and excused it by claiming to be so busy working for God they don't have time for God.  A significant number of ministers burn out each year because of a lack of self-care, and this burn-out leads many to abandon the ministry prematurely.  Most of us know the problem, but few seem to know how to address it.

First, the bivocational minister must own his or her calendar.  Even with a second job that may require a certain number of hours each week, we all have some discretionary time.  Some of those hours need to be blocked off for activities that are important to you personally.  For instance,  when I was pastoring and working in the factory I knew that I would work Monday through Friday from 7:00-3:30 and sometimes on Saturday.  I also knew there were certain things scheduled each week related to my pastoral ministry.  That still left me with some free time that I needed to use wisely.  One thing I did each week was to schedule a date night with my wife each Friday night.  Only genuine emergencies and the occasional wedding rehearsal interfered with that date.  Because I wrote that date in my planner I treated it like I would another appointment.  I woke up a little early each morning for some time alone with God before starting my day.  You must set the priorities for your life and then schedule your calendar to ensure that you address each of those priorities.

In the preceding paragraph I covered four of the priorities I've determined for my life:  God, family, ministry, and work.  There is a fifth priority I have, and that is self-care.  It is crucial that ministers set aside time for their own well-being.  I had to learn the hard way that self-care is not selfishness, it is stewardship of a valuable resource God has given you: you.  Getting away to rest and renew yourself is important if you are going to be in the ministry for the long haul.  This means taking your vacations, finding regular times of Sabbath, and separating yourself from the church at times.  For example, you don't have to answer the phone when you are having dinner with your family.  You do have voice mail or an answering machine, don't you.  Enjoy the meal and the time you are spending with your family, then you can check the message the caller left you and return the call.

Another important piece of self-care is taking a sabbatical.  I know, your church doesn't understand the importance of a sabbatical.  Almost none do until someone takes the time to explain it to them.  An older lady challenged me at a workshop I was leading once by asking why they should give their pastor a three month paid sabbatical when no one else in their church got paid for taking three months off.  I responded that their pastor was the only person in the congregation who was on call 24/7/365.  When I worked in the factory I was theirs for eight hours a day.  As a pastor, I was always the pastor regardless of where I was or what I was doing.  Few people live with the stress of always being on call as pastors do.  That is why we need that extended time away to renew ourselves.  One thing I like to explain to churches is that the cheapest thing they can give their pastors is time away.  Every pastor should receive four weeks vacation each year and a three month sabbatical every seven years.  If that helps keep him or her renewed and refreshed and prevents burn-out it will be much less expensive for a church to do this than to have to seek a new pastor.

For more information on this important topic be sure to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

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