Full-time Pastor, Part-time Pay
Six Steps for Getting the Most From Your Bi-vocational Ministry
By Harold R. Newsome, Jr.
Paul was. Jesus wasn’t. Some choose to be while others have no choice. I am, of course, talking about being a bi-vocational minister. Tent making, as it is commonly called by reason of the apostle Paul’s example, is increasing in popularity. A growing number of ministers are choosing, for various reasons, to work in the marketplace while pastoring — usually small congregations. Bi-vocational pastorates are preferred by pastors who wish to fulfill their call without becoming trapped in the fishbowl of modern ministry. For many though, bi-vocational ministry is a burden from which they wish to escape. If you are a bi-vocational minister, or are seriously considering becoming one, here’s six ways to increase the overall effectiveness of your ministry and ensure your pastoral longevity.
Recognize Your Limitations
To begin with, there is no such thing as a part-time pastor. You’re either a pastor or you are not, and the demand on those who receive less than a living wage from the church is the same as it is for those who are fully compensated for their services. Anyone who has ever been there knows that leading, loving, preaching to and praying for a congregation of any size is an around-the-clock responsibility whether you work anywhere else or not.
With that said, you must learn to leave some things undone. For instance, as much as you may want to be, it is not wise to spend all night at the hospital with sick church members or at the funeral home with grieving families when you have to work the next day. Not only are you doing irreparable damage to your body, you are also cheating your employer who pays you to be rested and ready to work for him. It is true that God will give us strength when we need it, but He also expects us to take care of the bodies He gave us. Routinely overextending yourself is poor stewardship of your health, so determine to not overdo it.
Say No To Unrealistic Expectations
Some segments of the church balk at the idea of paying a pastor because they don’t understand the difference between a hired hand and a biblically supported minister. I recently talked with a member of a small rural church who is opposed to financially supporting ministers. He told me his pastor frequently misses Sunday morning service since he lost his job and began looking for another one. When I expressed how hard that must be on the entire church, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, he has to do what he has to do.” In many instances it’s like that old line about the church that prayed, “Lord, you keep our pastor humble and we’ll keep him poor!”
Unfortunately, many small churches expect or assume that their pastor will perform full-time without the compensation that makes that possible. For the sake of your family, your health and your ministry, you must find the courage to say the seven words most pastors fear, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be there.”
Keep in mind that some things are not as important as others. Overlook your need for spiritual intimacy with God and you’ll eventually leave the ministry altogether. Therefore, practicing basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study and worship must be your highest priority.
Also, regularly remind yourself that there are plenty of churches to pastor but you have only one family. God never intended for you to trade the family that He gave you for pastoral duties. Keep your priorities straight and you’ll never have to choose between the two.
In order of importance, your secular employment should follow God and family. Why? Because Christians should be the best employees there are. Showing up late, taking off early or using company time for Bible reading and sermon preparation may lead your employer to believe that hiring Christians is not a good idea.
Pastoring even a small church while holding a secular job and maintaining a family is more than one person can reasonably manage. Even Paul, the original tent maker, depended heavily on the support and assistance of those around him. Think about offering a young person just entering the ministry an associate’s position in your church. You’ll have much needed help and they’ll gain invaluable hands-on experience.
Most retired ministers would also be glad to join your church and lend a hand with visitation if they get the opportunity to preach now and then. Just be careful to find someone you can trust and with whom you can work. In case you feel your church is too small for an associate pastor consider that big churches don’t hire assistants because they’re big. They hire them because they have too much work for one minister.
Stop Criticizing Yourself
It’s impossible to shoulder the responsibilities of bi-vocationalism and still prepare two or three home-run sermons each week. Those guys on television couldn’t consistently preach the way they do either if they were working 8 hours a day at the Pump’n-Go, so quit comparing yourself to them. Do the best you can and trust God to make up the difference, which brings us to our final point.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Even if your church doesn’t grow numerically, it should still be growing in spiritual maturity and fruitfulness. Fortunately, today’s Christian preacher has access to more resources than at any other point in church history. By using other people’s material and ideas you can protect the quality and productiveness of your ministry no matter how limited your time.
One word of caution: much of the material available is written by people who haven’t actually done it. For that reason, you should only get resources from someone who’s been there. And, to prevent your ministry from becoming less than genuine, read through sermon outlines and transcripts early enough to add your own illustrations and anecdotes.
With God’s help and careful planning, you can overcome the unique obstacles of bi-vocational ministry and truly enjoy your Christian service.