Bivocational Ministry, Part 8:
Challenges Bivocational Ministers Face
Dr. Dorsett is a bivocational pastor and church planting missionary in Vermont. He is the author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church and Bible Brain Teasers: Fun Adventures through the Bible. He also serves as a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has a passion for helping the next generation discover a meaningful faith and become leaders in sharing that faith with others.
This series looks at the importance of bivocational ministry and bivocational ministers in today’s church. The previous articles in this series are:
Part 1: Bivocational Ministry is a Growing Method for Ministry.
Part 2: Lay People Are Willing to Help Pastors – But Only If They Are Trained.
Part 3: Rethinking Our Perception of Bivocational Ministry.
Part 4: Bivocational Ministry is Normal.
Part 5: Bivocational Ministry Is More Common Than Most People Realize.
Part 6: Bivocational Pastors Must Learn to Delegate.
Part 7: Bivocational Pastors Sharing Leadership Results in Healthier Churches.
Pastors who work a job in addition to their church are often referred to as bivocational pastors because they have two vocations: the church and something else. Though few pastors would choose to be bivocational in a perfect world, the majority of pastors will spend at least a portion of their career in bivocational situations. Therefore, all pastors should learn how to handle the challenges of this type of ministry so they will be prepared for it.
Since writing the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, I have had ample opportunity to discuss both the advantages and the challenges of bivocational ministry with pastors, denominational leaders, and ministerial students. Based on those discussions, as well as my own experiences as a bivocational pastor, I have developed this list of challenges that bivocational ministers face and some ways in which those ministers dealt with those challenges.
Challenges bivocational pastors deal with regularly:
- Bivocational pastors frequently discuss not having enough time to do as much ministry as they would like. They often feel like they are not available to the congregation because of their second job. This causes them to feel frustrated with and/or guilty about their perceived lack of accomplishment in ministry. Though I have not yet met a bivocational pastor who has successfully overcome these feelings of unavailability, a number of pastors have expressed that when they trained some of the church members (usually the deacons) to do some of the visitation, it helped relieve some of the stress they felt regarding this issue.
- Bivocational pastors often find it difficult to spend as much time studying and preparing their sermons as they would like. This often makes them feel inadequate in the pulpit and robs them of the confidence they would like to have when they preach. Many bivocational pastors list this as their greatest challenge to ministry. The pastors who seem to have overcome this challenge the most effectively have told me that instead of trying to prepare the entire sermon at once, they work on it a little each day. Though they still need to find a large block of time near the end of the week to pull all the stray thoughts together, those that did a little study each day expressed that it was much easier than waiting until their day off and trying to do it all at once.
- Bivocational pastors are often so busy they do not have adequate time to do the administrative duties incumbent on pastors. This often leaves them feeling overwhelmed. Some pastors have said that they were blessed by lay people willing to pick up this part of their ministry. Pastors who were able to release these things to lay people often felt freer from administrative stress.
- Bivocational pastors seldom feel they have enough time for their own families. This results in them feeling an enormous sense of guilt, especially in regards to how much time they spent with their children. Though I have yet to meet a pastor who said they spent as much time as they wanted with his family, the ones who blocked out time on their calendars for children’s sporting events and birthdays felt better about this issue than those that did not.
- Bivocational pastors often feel they do not have time for their own personal growth. This is a particularly challenging issue. Only a small minority of bivocational pastors have developed systems for personal growth that they feel are adequate. That minority simply said they somehow learned to carve out time that they did not have, and that it was always worth it.
- Bivocational pastors often feel they do not have the time to be involved in servant evangelism or to take part in volunteer work within the community. This is also a challenging issue. Only a small minority of pastors felt they had the time to do this. Most of those that were able to find time for this were the owners of small businesses who were able to set their own schedules. Many of them were in fields in which their secular skills could be used in servant evangelism projects, such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, or mechanics.
- Bivocational pastors often feel the need for breaks from ministry because of the constant stress, but seldom have time to take such breaks. Though it might sound difficult to find the time for such breaks, the pastors who have addressed this issue have said that something as simple as an overnight getaway with their spouse was enough to recharge their energy levels for another few months.
- Bivocational pastors frequently are unable to attend seminars, conferences, and denominational meetings because those meetings conflict with their other jobs. This made pastors feel disconnected from their peers. The pastors who were best able to overcome this sense of disconnection picked one significant event a year which many of their fellow pastors attend and made it a priority to participate in that event every year.
- Bivocational pastors often express a sense of being out of balance when trying to reconcile work, family, and ministry. They frequently mention the need for quiet moments in which they can think clearly about what they need to do next. The pastors who found an afternoon to devote to quiet reflection were most likely to re-establish a sense of balance in their lives. However, most said that in a few months they would be out of balance again. Therefore, afternoons for quiet reflection had to be found 3-4 times a year in order to continually rebalance their lives.
- Bivocational pastors often find it difficult to keep up with simple chores around the house, such as making minor repairs or cutting the grass because of the time demands of their two jobs. Though there is no easy answer to this issue, some pastors shared that deacons from their churches had been willing to help with some of these chores and that this was a great blessing to them.
- Bivocational pastors sometimes feel that their social lives have to revolve around church members and church activities. The pastors who feel this way express that this gives them a smaller social network than they would like. These same pastors feel that they are not able to be as transparent as they would like in such relationships because of the danger of becoming too close to church members. I found it intriguing that not all bivocational pastors feel this way about their social lives. Some pastors actually felt this was an advantage instead of a disadvantage. It really comes down to the pastor’s personality and leadership style.
Bivocational ministry has many challenges, but it can be done effectively. Pastors in bivocational settings need to be aware of the challenges and intentionally develop thinking processes and patterns of behavior that will help them continually address these challenges. Lay leaders also need to look for ways to help bivocational pastors with these types of challenges so that their pastors can be healthier and so their churches can be more effective. Church leaders that express care and concern to their pastors tend to keep their pastors longer and see more fruitful ministry from them. Churches that can develop a team mentality in regards to church leadership were usually able to help their pastor be healthier. When the pastor was healthier, the churches tended to be healthier too.