Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Never enough hours in the day

A critic of my first book wrote that he could have written a much better book on bivocational ministry if he had the time. I had to laugh because I thought, "Who couldn't?" The time factor is a huge challenge for every bivocational minister, and the same could be said of many fully-funded pastors as well.

The bivocational pastor has to balance many different demands on his or her time. There is the ministry work that needs to be done, the second job that often consumes at least 40 hours a week, family responsibilities, one's own self-care, and our relationship with God. We also can't forget that Sunday comes every seven days so there is at least one message to prepare and sometimes a second. Of course, there are the unexpected emergencies that arise in both our ministries and our personal lives that must be attended to.

As a bivocational pastor I had to come to grips with the fact that at the end of the day there would always be one more phone call I could have made, one more visit I could have made, more time spent in sermon preparation. Not only could those things have happened, in some cases they probably should have happened. Nearly every day the minister leaves unfinished work when he or she lies down for the night.

Life became easier what I finally realized that was OK. I am not SuperPastor. Neither are you, and if you try to be it will bring a lot of stress and pain into your life. Pastors refuse to take vacations because they don't believe the church can function without them. They won't delegate some ministry tasks to others because they don't believe others can do them as well as they can. Or...they are afraid that people will find out they can do them better than the pastor.

Too often, we allow others to impose their beliefs about the role of the pastor onto us. This will cause us to try to meet unrealistic expectations they have for our ministries. We are then no longer serving God but serving those expectations. Even if you serve a small congregation of 50 people you could easily have 50 different expectations placed upon you. A hamster in a wheel enjoys a better life than a pastor trying to meet that many different expectations.

Bivocational pastors must know who they are, what their strengths are, understand their priorities and then live into that as much as possible. I want as much of my work to line up with my strengths and priorities as possible. At times I had to say no to expectations that I do things outside of my strengths and priorities. Sometimes I could delegate those tasks to others, and other times I had to simply ignore those expectations. Spending too much time in areas where you are not gifted and are not in line with your priorities is draining and seldom productive.

Over the years I have met many pastors trying to meet unrealistic expectations placed upon them and their families. Some struggled under the stress. Some left the ministry because of it. As I have worked with these pastors and their churches I became convinced that they needed help dealing with the stress they were feeling. That's why I wrote The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Ministers will never avoid feeling pressure at times, but there are ways they can ease that pressure. There are strategies we can incorporate to help make our ministries and lives less stressful, and that is a good thing for our families, our personal lives, and our ministries.

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