Friday, February 12, 2016

The joy of bivocational ministry

My first book The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry was written with the subtitle as the working title. That's when I learned that publishers have the right to change the title of a book. I argued my case and fortunately the publisher agreed to at least use my title as the subtitle.

The reason I wrote the book was because I wanted people to know that there is joy in serving a small church as a bivocational pastor. A fully-funded pastor friend of mine told me after the book came out that he could not understand how anyone could find joy in working a full-time job and serving as the pastor of a church. I doubt he ever understood.

When I was called as pastor of Hebron Baptist Church it was a church that was struggling in every sense of the word. Giving was down. There was little self-esteem evident in the church. Little had been done to the property in years. Sunday school was poorly attended with only a senior adult class and a children's class. The Sunday school and morning worship were the only services being held. Worship attendance averaged about 30 people. The previous pastor resigned just before being asked to do so. This was not a healthy church that would appeal to many people.

I didn't exactly bring a lot with me when I accepted the call to be their pastor. I had no education beyond high school and no pastoral experience. Evidently, the church didn't feel like it had anything to lose by asking me to serve as their pastor. What I did have was the absolute sense that God had called me to pastoral ministry, a quick appreciation and love for the people of this church, and a lot of bull-headedness that would not allow me to leave every time things got a little tough.

There were time when things were tough, and these were not times of great joy! But, those rough spots usually came just before we had major breakthroughs as a church. Twenty years later when I left the church it was a much different place, a place that was a joy to serve. The book talks about some of the victories we enjoyed and the lessons we learned along the way.

There is tremendous joy when you see a church begin to come together for ministry. As new people became a part of the church I felt great joy for the new gifts they would bring. We had many joyous times as we accepted challenges that changed us as a congregation. We began to believe that God was not done with this little church so we were willing to stretch ourselves to attempt new things. We saw people come to faith in Jesus Christ and have their lives changed forever. I felt great joy as I watched new people begin to grow into leadership roles. Our mission support increased dramatically, and at the same time we were doing more ministry to people in our community. There was tremendous joy in the congregation when I read to them that our region had selected us as small church "Church of the Year" in the Region. I had tears as I read the letter to them and showed them the certificate we had received for the honor. A few years later we received the same recognition again, and the tears flowed once more.

There's not room in a blog post to list everything that brought me joy as the pastor of that church. I do write about several of them in the book, but I couldn't describe all of them in the book either. Perhaps one of the things that brings me the greatest joy is that my role in all that was very small. My main contribution was to hang around for twenty years. The accomplishments of that church was due to the faith and passion of the congregation to make a difference. They were willing to step out in faith and do things others told us we could not do.

Believe me, there is tremendous joy in bivocational ministry.

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