"For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God" (1 Thess. 2:9).
This morning (Monday) I embark on a new journey as your pastor. I will begin working a full-time job at North American Stamping Group while serving as your pastor. This is referred to as bi-vocational ministry. According to LifeWay research, "there are 35,000 out of 46,000 are either small church (less than 100 in attendance) or bi-vocational churches" There is a need for this type of ministry in our time and day with a growing number of small churches in need of pastors. These churches are unable to support a pastor with a full-time salary and benefits but desire to have a gospel presence in their community.
We see this type of ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul in Acts 18:1-3, where he stayed and worked with Aquilla and Priscilla in Corinth "making tents." In 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul reminded the church that he labored among them "night and day" so that he would not be a burden to the church, while he ministered the gospel. There is the responsibility where the church is to support the man who preaches and teaches God's Word (1 Tim.5:17). Scripture is clear that "those who preach the gospel are to get their living from the gospel" (1 Cor.9:14). However, there is also the reality when a church is smaller it is often more of a burden than a blessing to support a pastor with a full-time living wage.
With that said, I was faced with two options as your pastor; I could put out a resume and find a larger church that could provide for me a full-time salary or I could find a job to help offset the cut in pay I will incur and stay at PHBC. I decided the latter, namely because I love my flock and God has not told me to go anywhere. Thus, I decided to seek full-time employment after a time of prayer, seeking the counsel from other pastors, and my wife. This will be a huge adjustment for me, my family, and PHBC. There will be some burdens that will come with being bi-vocational, but there will also be a number of blessings as well. So, I want to outline "the burdens and blessings of bi-vocational ministry" as I perceive it.
The Burdens of Bi-Vocational Ministry
Time is the biggest struggle for bi-vocational pastors. I will have to be more disciplined now than ever with my time. I will have to be very deliberate with what I can and cannot do. I will have to determine what is urgent versus what is important.
1. Sermon Preparation
A large amount of my time outside of working will be giving myself to the next text I will preach on the Lord's Day. This is my urgent, along with prayer. I normally give 12-14 hours towards my Sunday sermon prep and normally 3-4 hours for Wednesday evening meetings. As your pastor, this is the most urgent thing I must do. Anyone can visit. Anyone can evangelize. Anyone can do a number of other things, but God has called me to shepherd PHBC by being prepared to preach on Sunday, as well as pray for the flock.
2. Counseling and Visitation
I love being a shepherd/pastor. I love being involved in the life of the sheep. I thrive on ministering and counseling with our people in some of their most desperate times. I do this by counseling and visitation ministry. I have at least 1 to 3 counseling sessions a week whether in person or phone (this will have to be cut back). Between sermon prep, prayer, and counseling sessions this will leave me with very little to no time for visitation. This is where you will come into play. More on this later.
3. Family Priorities
Someone once told me, "Your church can always get another pastor, but you can never get another wife or family." My family comes before the church. This is how God ordained it to be. Therefore, my first and foremost responsibility is caring, shepherding and pastoring my own soul and then my family. As many of you know, our family is in a season of transition. My two oldest boys don't need or rely on me as much as they use to (except to eat:). However, I still have Dylan who needs me more now than ever. I still have my helpmate, Samantha, who needs her husband to minister, love, and care for her soul. This will be a struggle considering the time restraints, but God will give grace.
4. Sabbath Rest
Bi-vocational pastors are notorious in "burning the candle at both ends." I have heard pastors say before, "Bless God, I'd rather burn out than rust out." This is one of the most foolish things I have ever heard. Pastors will pride themselves by never taking a day off or vacation. This is not smart. God has not created us to work 24/7. We need time off. I will need a day off a week. I will need a Sunday off a quarter. I will need a week or two off a year to rest. I have been trying to use my Sunday's as my Sabbath, even though its a work day for me. I try not to do anything but worship and rest on the Lord's Day. My goal is to live and serve the Lord as long as I can and it will take intentionality on my part to find Sabbath rest.
Someone has said, "Most preacher's bellies hit the pulpit before their Bibles do." In order to stay healthy both physically and mentally, I cannot quit exercising. This can be a burden in being bi-vocational. Again, I will have to be very diligent and disciplined with my time. I enjoy running, as I normally run every day and ride my bike 1-2 times a week. Exercise is cheaper than therapy:) So, I must keep exercising.
These are just a few burdens that I perceive as I begin this new season of ministry.
The Blessings of Bi-Vocational Ministry
1. Finances Stabilized
The main reason I am going bi-vocational is to help stabilize the church's finances. As I said two weeks ago, the church is not is financial ruins, but it cannot continue to support me as it has been doing. By me going to work, I can afford to take a pay cut to offset the cut and allow the church finances to become stable once again. This does not mean that the church is to relax in its giving, if anything else it should look for ways to increase its giving. We want to raise our support for our missionary work in the Philippines, church plants, and community outreaches for the sake of the gospel.
2. New Relationships Pursued
Samantha has always said, "I don't meet a stranger." I love people. I love engaging people and meeting them right where they are at. This is exactly what Jesus did. As I begin to work full-time, I will be able to meet new people and initiate new relationships for the sake of the gospel. I have already been praying for those I will meet and become involved in their lives. I am seeing this as gospel ministry opportunity, not just a job.
3. The Gospel Remains Central
By me working, I can be less concerned with whether or not we are making budget. I will be free to focus on what matters the most and that is preaching the gospel. For the last two years, I have struggled knowing our finances have not been up to par. It bothered me to lose half our congregation while knowing it would affect us financially. With me working full-time, I can now help support my family and not feel as though I am a burden upon the church. Most of all, I can keep the main thing, the main thing, and the main thing is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will happen on Sundays but also throughout the week at work.
4. Every Member Ministry
There is an unspoken expectation among churches that the pastor is to do all the ministry. Of course, not at PHBC:) With me working now, there is no way that I will be able to keep up with everything going on in the people's lives. This is where each member is expected to serve as a minister. This is what it means to be the priesthood of the believer. Every member at PHBC is a minister. What a privilege you have to pray, call, write cards, and visit with others. Each member will be responsible to minister and serve one another. This is your privilege to do the work of the ministry. The elders will have to be called upon when needed. The deacons will need to be actively serving and each member of PHBC will seek to minister as needed. This is a wonderful blessing for the church. The church will grow and mature when its members are doing the work of the ministry (Eph.4:11-13).
I want you, the members at PHBC to know this is not a bad thing, rather it is an excellent opportunity for God to grow His church spiritually. It is an opportunity for us to relysolelyy upon God, trusting Him to do only what He can do. Bi-vocational ministry is notsecond-classs ministry, but a minsitry that is much needed today. Bi-vocational pastors are not the JV team of ministry. Bi-vocational ministry is as much glorifying to God, as a full-time ministry. I pray you would pray for me, my family, and one another as we make this transition for the glory of God.
I love you all.