Recently, on a list meant for pastors of small churches, a pastor asked for encouragement concerning a situation they were facing. A person had come into the church and immediately started becoming involved in the church. So far, so good. Then the pastor received a phone call about a crisis in this person’s life and they wanted to meet one-on-one. The pastor gave counsel over the phone and agreed to meet. After that meeting the layperson asked that the pastor meet weekly in a one-on-one counseling and Bible study context. It was at this point that the pastor reached out to this group for confirmation of their feelings that they should not be doing this kind of counseling. The group indeed did encourage the pastor in the decision made. Such circumstance are not uncommon in ministry. It become especially hard to accommodate request like this when you also hold an outside job as time tends to be limited.

The very first course I took in my quest to enter ministry was called “Pastoral Care and Counseling”. It was conducted as a series of lectures by people with specialties or experience in various areas of ministry. We had a section on premarital counseling, marital counseling, hospital and chaplaincy ministries and various other subjects. The very last lecture was given by someone with legal expertise and his advice was this…”most of what you have heard is good, but don’t do any counseling outside of spiritual counseling”. There was quite of bit more to that lecture, but the essence of it was that unless you are educated in counseling, have a license, have legally separated yourself from the church entity and have adequate liability insurance, don’t do it. Refer these individuals to someone who meets these requirements.

The fact is that you do not have to be in ministry for long to encounter people who need mental health counseling. Some of these are more obvious than others. In my context I find that there is at least one person at any one time who might meet these criteria in my church. It may manifest itself in many ways. The key to freedom here is that you have to know that you are to spiritually counsel people, but are not called to mental health counseling (unless of course you meet those previous requirements). If someone came to you and told you that they are short of breath, had chest pains and are feeling faint, you would not then attempt to give them medical advice. You would call 9-1-1 and get them some qualified help.

This brings me to my second point. Do not wait until the need arise before you find qualified Christian mental health professionals. Find them BEFORE the need arise. And when it does, refer the needy person to them.

Is there a realistic method of assessing who needs spiritual counseling and who needs mental health counseling? The rule of thumb is generally to meet with someone no more than three times. By the third visit you should have a good sense of what kind of help this person needs. Oftentimes it will take even less than three visits. I had one couple several years ago who wanted to get married and I started premarital counseling with them. By the end of the first session I knew that these people needed more than I could give and really required some serious couples counseling. Praise the Lord, these two individuals never did marry as I am quite sure there would have been a divorce in their future!

So remember, a) three visits max, b) assessment is crucial, and c) if need be refer to a qualified professional (whom you have located prior to the need!).

“For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” Psalm 38:4-7

Over the last few months we have been dealing with a bivo pastors nightmare of circumstances (which is what has kept me from writing) including sickness and job transitions. In the middle of all of this mess my last paternal aunt was sick and dying in a hospital in a state quite far away. We had given our word to my father that we would take care of her no matter what, and so we did. As we journeyed to that distant place we learned several lessons.

First, don’t be afraid to lean on people. There is a very misguided sub-text to pastor’s lives that says, “I am here to minister, not to be ministered to.” This is a very self-destructive line of reasoning. I was ministered to by family members, friends and even my boss. Without the ministry of these people whom God had placed in my life neither my wife nor I would have survived.

Second, in the midst of tough times there is always opportunity to find ministry. God is incredibly creative n placing these ministry possibilities in front of us. My aunt had a roommate who was behind a curtain in her room. She was pretty quiet, but my aunts closet was on this lady’s side of the room. As I entered the room and went to the closet a few times I developed a cordial relationship with her. By the time we left she knew our names, knew that we were Christians and we had a short chat or two and we let her know that we were praying for her. Ministry.

Third, expect the unexpected. Roll with it and be confident that God is going to handle it all. We went to my aunt with the expectation of bringing her home with us, going so far as to buy a plane ticket and to furnish a room in our house for her. Two days before we were to return the doctor rescinded his ‘able to fly’ certification. We had to place her in hospice and return without her. On the trip back we realized that at least one of the legs of the trip my aunt would have never even been able to board the plane due to impediments on the flight. God had foreseen all of this, and prevented us from bringing her, only to be stranded at an airport.

Fourth, look for the blessings. We met a wonderful lady whom my aunt had become friends with. We had several opportunities to talk with her and though she is not a Christian (she is Buddhist) she blessed us in many ways. Our example to her of how Christians can (and should) interact with those of other faiths may yet see her drawn to Christ. In the meantime we take her friendship at face value, and count her as a big part of God’s plan. She visited with my aunt for literally hours every day until the day she died.

I believe compassion, both given ad received, is grossly underestimated in today’s Western culture. As a bivo pastor we should be looking for those opportunities and taking advantage of them.

One of the words we hear quite a bit in todays culture, and which I almost never heard growing up is the word ‘warrior’. A warrior is described as a person who excels in all aspects of combat. They are regarded as fierce and independent. This is kind of an old concept brought up to date and is used extensively in military recruiting. It appeals especially to our Americanized concepts of the self-sufficient and unbeatable individual. In contrast to this is the term ‘Soldier. Regarded as someone whose work is warfare, but at a lower level of individual ability than the warrior, the soldier is looked down upon by people today. But here is the rub…warriors are what is regarded as a sole contributor while the soldier is trained to work in teams with other soldiers. During the late middle ages the iconic western version of the warrior was the knight. Armored and trained, the knight could beat any soldier in individual combat. But with the advent of group tactics and new weapons the soldier supplanted the knight in importance. The fact is that, as good as the warrior was, a group of well trained soldiers working as a team could take on and beat them.

Churches today often like to allude to the image of the warrior, the self-sufficient individual. The truth is that New Testament scripture does not support this, but instead speaks of the ‘soldier of Christ’. We need more soldiers, people who can work together in teams. The body of Christ, of which Paul speaks, is composed of individual parts certainly, but all working in concert as a well-oiled machine.

To carry this concept into application for the bivocational pastor, any pastor who thinks they can carry it all on their shoulders (warrior) is going to burn out. A pastor must be as much a team player as any soldier would be. The warriors strength will eventually wane in the fight, where a group of soldiers will give each other rest and allow them to carry through to the objective successfully. The pastors teammates will include people in their own congregation, but will also likely include other pastors who can listen, encourage and support each other.

If you want to be in ministry over the long term, find people who can support and encourage you, pray for you, listen to you. Be a good soldier for Christ.

In the worldview of Christianity one of the primary themes of theology is the battle between good and evil. God’s sovereignty and goodness is challenged by a spiritual being of immense power opposed to Him who we know as Satan. Sometimes, though, that battle is made out to be more metaphorical than real. I have become convinced that this in itself is actually a tactic used by Satan. If he can get us to believe he doesn’t really exist then he has a foothold he can exploit. Based on my experiences over the last 7 months or so I can say with certainty that Satan does exist as an intelligent and powerful being.

Starting last June my wife and I have made some extraordinary strides in faith, and with each of those steps we have been challenged by our wiley enemy. In June we made a trip to Hawaii for some family business, during which my wife ended up in the hospital twice for pneumonia. Coming home, two weeks later she broke her ankle in three places. Surgery and a difficult recovery followed, while I had a more’than-full plate at my secular job. My 91 year old aunt, living in Hawaii and whom we had just visited, was admitted to the hospital and spent several weeks in Rehab. Shortly afterward I made the decision that I needed to leave my employment and sought another position. I accepted a position in November but before I was able to start things came to a head at my workplace and I was forced to leave before I was quite ready to do so.

I don’t want to sound like I am looking for sympathy here, the point is that during this time frame we were hit time and again by an Enemy who knew just how to strike.

The good news is this. Satan, though powerful, is a created being and is finite. Our God is infinite. He promises us in Romans 8:28 that He will bring good out of anything that happens to us. Anything. Satan stands defeated before he begins. So, although I had to suspend this blog, and we have a few more scars (literally in the case of my wife), our faith is stronger than it has ever been.

To God be the glory!

It has been a few weeks since I posted anything, and there is actually a very good reason for that.  You see, my wife and I had to go to Hawaii on some family business (don’t feel TOO sorry for us!).  However, while there my wife developed pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital.  So the trip to Hawaii was not as good as it should have been.  She was still feeling poorly when we were coming back, but we made it.  Two weeks after coming back, finally feeling a bit normal, she took the dogs out into the back yard, noticed her strawberry plants needed to be watered and stepped over the dog fence with hose in hand.  All she remembers was falling to the ground and hearing her leg bones crunch.  She had three breaks in the bones in her lower right leg and dislocated the ankle.  Well, truth to tell, the only thing holding her foot to her leg was soft tissue.   I know, gross.

So here we are, post surgery, and she is confined to the bed or a wheelchair.  She gets cabin fever, since I am at work most days, so I try and get her out as much as possible.  I have built a handicap ramp off the deck in the back yard, but it is still difficult.  I take her to the mall, doctors appointments, various restaurants and to church.  But you know what has been very positive?  Seeing the world through the eyes of a person confined to a wheelchair.  There are many barriers to getting my wife into all these places.  Some don’t have automatic doors.  Some have no ramp to get over the curb.  Some places have no elevator.  Other places, even though there is no barrier to get inside have very narrow aisles or sharp turns that are not easily negotiated.

What can we learn from this?  First, take a fresh look at your own church and see what the barriers might be.  We have had a wheelchair in the church for a long time so that if needed it is handy.  If you can get one, have someone sit in it and go around the church.  See what the barriers might be.  Can you get into the church?  Can you maneuver through the aisles?  How about the bathrooms?  How would you handle someone who came to a potluck function?  Can they see you, if they are sitting in the church in a wheelchair?  Is there handicapped parking near the door?

You can extend this to other disabilities.  Look at your bulletin (if you use one).  Could someone with failing eyesight see what it says or is it in size 4 font?  Hearing issues?

Jesus had a special place in his heart for those who had physical infirmities.  He healed the crippled on many occasions.  We don’t have that ability, perhaps, but should we not share his heart?


“At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” 

Luke 4:40 NIV

Source: any bivocational minister can tell you, time management is a top priority.  We work secular jobs, some of us more than one…as well as try to do all the work of the ministry that needs to be done.  Sermon preparation, home and hospital visitation, crisis management, administration…but where does our family fit in?

I want to make sure that this point is made…if you don’t get anything else out of this, please get this one point.  You have been called to the ministry, but if your family falls apart you will have lost most of the meaning of life.  Let’s not debate theological niceties here; a divorce or children who are neglected are NOT in God’s plan for your life no matter what else may be accomplished!  I have made that mistake, so I know firsthand.  At one point in my life I did what I thought was needed for my family and I was working THREE secular jobs.  I worked as the evening manager of a grocery store, I worked in a school as a Special Ed Aide and I was running a business as a computer consultant.  I worked six days a week (two half-days off, Thursday night and Saturday morning).  I also was planting a church.  My family life suffered, but I never realized the extent until years later.  My wife and I remained strong, but it harmed my children.  If I had it to do over again I would not have done things as I did.

Assuming you are not being quite as crazy as I was, you may still have to deal with some issues.  Here are a few pointers:

1) Use a dedicated cell phone for the church phone number.  Designate ‘office hours’  and outside of those hours let the calls go to voice mail.  You can check it when you want, but do NOT return calls that are not true emergency calls until your office hours are open again.  ‘Trac Phones’ or other prepaid cell phones are perfect for this purpose.  Many times it is advantageous to replace your land line with one of these and cheaper, too.

2) SCHEDULE family time into your calendar.  When talking with people who want to make appointments with you, you don’t have to make excuses about your family time.  All you have to say is, “I’m sorry, I am booked up on that day and time, but I can schedule you in at this day and time.”

3) Make time to get away with your spouse on a regular basis.  It may be only a dinner date at McDonald’s or going to a movie, but do it at least once a month.  Make this a priority!

4) Let your church board know you will be taking vacation time every so often and make sure you have budgeted for pulpit supply.  Also, let them know that while you are on vacation there is someone to call for typical ministry issues (board secretary, supervising pastor, etc.).  I have been known to tell my people that they are not to call me unless the church is burning down…but first call the Fire Department, Board Secretary and Insurance Company in that order!

5) When you are with your family, be WITH your family.  No talk about ministry.  Focus your attention on them.  ‘Nough said?

6) Bonus point:  Make sure you schedule time with your spouse to do devotions each and every day.  It might have to be on the phone or some other way, but make sure you watch over one another spiritually.  You are the most important accountability partner your spouse has.

Family is important.  Watch over them.  Protect them.  Be there for them.  You will not regret it.


boy_and_cat_fishingSummertime brings visions of the beach, the mountains and the theme park.  But a bivocational pastor faces one large challenge that few fully-funded pastors face in this scenario…not only does the bivo have to account for vacation time in the church, but also in a secular job.  A fully-funded pastor may opt for a vacation starting on a Monday afternoon and coming back on the next Saturday, but this option is not usually available for a bivo pastor.  Also, we will often find there are events during a weekend time slot for denominational events.  For instance, on our District we have a Pastors and Spouse Retreat that is scheduled from Sunday afternoon through Tuesday noon.

Here are some things to keep in mind to be prepared for such times:

  • Think ahead and plan ahead.  Gather all the planning pieces you can for the year.  District/denominational calendar, local church calendar, work schedule, family schedules.  Put it all down on paper and plan each area to dovetail with the others.   Request time off from secular work, plan around holidays, family events and other important dates.  Putting it on paper makes it all concrete and easy to see at a glance.
  • Talk with your local leadership.  Make sure they know what is happening and when.  If funding is needed for some denominational activity, they should know ahead of time in order to budget for it.
  • Find Sunday pulpit supply well ahead of time.  Do you have any retired preachers locally, or ministers in training (we call them ‘Locally licensed’ and ‘District licensed’ ministers)?  Be up front with them about them filling in for your vacation time and that you will not be there.  If they are coming from a distance you may have to make some travel arrangements. Make sure they have directions, contact information, service times, know who is expected to lead worship as well as worship style.  And a key point…build up the expectations among your people for your pulpit supply!  You want people to come, so announce the special speaker, and build them up in your congregations mind.
  • What to do in the case that you cannot find pulpit supply?  First, do NOT cancel worship service and do NOT cancel your vacation!  You can make other arrangements, such as having your worship team do an ‘All Music’ worship time, or find a leader within your church who can bring a devotional.  Think creatively!
  • Prioritize your time.  This is probably the most controversial thing I am going to say, today.  (If my DS is reading this…I apologize ahead of time!)  Certain denominational events are best skipped in favor of family time.  Pray about each activity and seek God’s will about it.  At the end of your life I can guarantee you will not be saying, “I wish I spent more time at District Committee meetings”!  Some are not optional (District Assembly),  and some such as Pastor and Spouse Retreat can serve a dual purpose, but not many are like this.

Vacation time and time away needs to be made a priority.  Not only for your sake, but for your family and even for your church.  At the very least it would be nice to hear people say, “Boy, Pastor, am I glad you are back!”  Blessings, and have a  great vacation!

Nope, this has nothing to do with Acts 2 and the gifts of the Spirit!  But it is a serious question nevertheless. As a bivocational pastor or the pastor of a small church, how necessary is it to be able to communicate in another language?

One of the great loves of my life has been languages and I have spoken several over the course of my life.  I took Spanish as my first ‘other’ language, which was highly appropriate since I was living in an area with a significant Puerto Rican population.  Our city of 125,000 people had about 30%, and speaking Spanish was very handy.  At one point a friend from Puerto Rico told me that I spoke Spanish as well as most of his second generation Hispanic relatives.  Second, I took up the study of Russian.  I intended on a career in the sciences and there was quite a bit of technical literature coming out of the USSR.  God had other plans, but Russian later enabled me to easily read Greek in my pastoral studies.  Lastly, I took a year of Italian since my mother’s side of the family was from Italy.  We grew up using Italian words without even knowing it.  The porch was the ‘piazza’, etc..  Out of those languages the only one I have really maintained is Spanish.  Even though I now live in, literally, the whitest state in the USA, I have a prayer partner who keeps me sharp in Spanish.

Why should you consider studying another language?  Here are a couple reasons:

  1. Building connections with ethnic communities can prove fruitful.  If you have an ethnic community around you, knowing the language can help bridge gaps and help your outreach.  Every small church pastor can use that kind of help.  Learning another language is a relatively cheap investment with potentially big payoffs for the church.
  2. It’s not just the language, it is the culture.  When you learn a language you necessarily learn about another culture.  Even in the context of learning about culture you begin to understand some of the issues on the mission field.  This can lead to increased prayer and concern for the situations of missionaries around the world.  You might even be able to adapt some of those insights into your own circumstances.
  3. New doors of opportunities begin to open.  For instance, many denominations and affiliations offer short term missions trips.  The Church of the Nazarene terms these ‘Work and Witness’ trips.  Knowing another language can make those trips not only possible in your own mind, but can make you more useful if and when you do go.  The prayer partner I mentioned above went on a trip with his church to the Dominican Republic and found that speaking Spanish opened doors for him that would have been closed to a non-speaker.

What language should you learn?  There are two factors that come into play in this decision.  First, what languages would aid you?  look around and see what populations are in your area.  Not only might these be a clue as to how you can minister to your community, but they also are a source of potential help in your learning.  In my own area of Vermont my secondary language of Spanish is not very prevalent.  Making a choice of language in this area I would probably set my sights on French.  We are only about 45 minutes from the border of Canada, and the Province of Quebec speaks primarily French.  The second factor is much more personal;  what language do you WANT to speak?  As an experiment in this language learning my wife and I are starting with Hawaiian.  We happen to have family in Hawaii and love the culture and the people, and want to know more.  It is possible (although unlikely) that at some point we might actually move there.

I should note that it is also possible for you to use the ability to speak another language to enhance your bivocational employment.  You can use it in your current employment as an enhancement (who doesn’t love a waiter/retail worker/driver who can speak another language?).  You might also be able to use it as your PRIMARY employment.  One of my predecessors at my current church spoke French and was employed in Montreal to review an advertising firms work for correct English language applications.  He tells the story of reviewing an ad for hair salon chairs and telling the ad company that advertising “The Best Electric Chairs Made” was NOT going to work in the English-speaking market!

Most of us are pressed for time as it is.  How can you squeeze learning another language into your schedule?  I recently read a book that opened my own eyes into a way of doing just this.  It is ‘Fluent Forever’, by Gabriel Wyner.  With the help of some free and very accessible tools on the web it is possible to learn a new language, even if you have very little time to do so.  (Click here to see the book).

I hope you take the time to consider this as a potentially valuable ‘professional development’ area for your ministry.  It will be well worth the time and effort.


“…we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11 (NIV)



The job of a pastor is extensive and includes everything from researching and planning sermons, writing, teaching, encouraging people by prayer and visitation, spiritual counseling and being with people in the best and worst places of their lives.  We have the privilege of performing both baby dedications and funerals, performing weddings and picking up the pieces after a divorce.  We pray at hospital bedsides with people as they go into surgery and when they are passing from this life to the next.  We are trained to do all of this and more.  One thing we are NOT trained to do is assess and implement security in a church.  I have yet to see an educational program in pastoral theology or similar subject include a course in this. If we are lucky we have had a small part of a church administration course that covers some safety and security.  Most of us could do the basics…make sure we have fire extinguishers, lock doors, make sure that there are fire alarms and the batteries have been changed.  Active shooters?  Site hardening?  No.  So what do we do?

The answer to that question is quite simple, actually.  Find an expert.  If we need help with our bookkeeping, we find an accountant.  If we need someone for serious counseling we refer to a competent Christian counselor.  If we need electrical work done we find an electrician.  So, where do we find someone who knows about security?

The first suggestion would be to call the business line of your local police department.  Ask for the Community Relations Officer (your titles may vary!) and explain what your are looking for). In the last month the pastors on our area of the District have met with a local county Sheriff and then with the Police Chief of my municipality.  They were both happy to meet with us and offer their experience and opinions, and did so without any cost to us.  Their suggestions were very simple, many of them easy to implement and would increase our security greatly.  To make matters even more appealing, our Police Chief is the head of Public Safety, and so is also head of the Fire Department and EMT service, so the advice he gave covered multiple aspects of our situations.

Second, contact your insurance company.  Most commercial insurance companies offer materials dealing with safety and security, some even often webinars and print materials they can send to you.  You are already paying for these resources, why not use them?

Third, contact other churches who may be further ahead in the process than you are.  Most churches and pastors are willing to share their process with you.  Check with your denominational Headquarters, District or Association. Check with other local pastors or your ministerium.

If you are in a church that has not started this kind of process as yet, and you don’t know where to look for help, start with these three basic contacts.  At least you will have started, and the conversation can continue.  Like many things once you start asking the right people the right questions, you will be on the path to forming a coherent plan.  And that can make all the difference.


“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 11:14 (KJV)


Of all the issues regarding safety and security at a church the most contentious is likely to be the issue of whether or not to have armed guards.  Many churches call this a ‘Sheep Dog Ministry’, evoking the image of a dog protecting a flock of sheep from a ravening wolf.  The ethical and practical concerns of establishing this kind of ministry are potentially very divisive.  I am not going to tell you I have the answer for this set of questions, but give you some things to work through your own process of making a decision.

As Sheriff Marcoux stated during our meeting a few weeks ago the entire question is a ‘no-win’ scenario.  In the best of circumstances a trained person with a firearm will still be heavily influenced by adrenaline and may miss hitting an assailant.  Even worse, in the confusion of an active shooter scenario there is a high likelihood of collateral damage.  In other words, the person protecting others may end up shooting an innocent person either as a missed shot or through the body of the perpetrator (a so-called through-and-through shot).  In a recent incident in Vermont two trained officers fatally shot a man, but out of the 12 shots fired only 3 hit their target.  This was from a fairly close distance, a relatively static target and in a situation with no one else close.  This is no reflection on the officers, just a fact that is well-known.  Under stress, and especially when being fired upon, accuracy is diminished.  Now, imagine the reaction an untrained person might have if they are carrying a firearm in your church.  This is why most Sheep Dog Ministry advocates recommend utilizing off duty police officers and active duty or retired military members in their congregation to form the core team.  Careful vetting of the core team members is vital.

On the other hand, making the decision to avoid this ministry and not having a method of fighting back against an active shooter means the assailant is coming into a ‘target-rich’ environment.  This is similar to a shooter coming into any other area where firearms are not permitted, such as a school, a courthouse or a sporting event.  Remember, the typical active shooter scenario lasts 6 minutes, and it takes about as long as that for the police to get on site. The shooter knows they can walk in and have 5 to 10 minutes of time before the police arrive, so they can shoot as many people as they can in that length of time.  If they are in full-on ‘suicide by cop’ mode, they will not be thinking of their safety, just killing anyone they can before they themselves are taken out.

Key to this question is what the leadership of the church and the congregation are willing to live with.  This can only be decided on the level of the individual church.  Regardless of the internal discussion, strict confidentiality on this should be held.  Either way any public advertisement of your stance should be avoided.  You don’t want to attract shooters (“We would NEVER allow firearms in our church!”) or turn away people who might be afraid of or opposed to firearms (“We are a PROUD concealed carry church!”).

All of these concerns need to be taken into account, and you should know right up front that settling these issues is not a panacea.  Even if your church decides to form a Sheep Dog ministry, there are many other pieces to consider.  For instance,  what do you do if the Sheep Dog(s) is among the first people neutralized by the assailant?  Weighty questions, indeed.

There are other possibilities in our scenario and other responses, and we will touch on a couple of those in Part 4 of this series.  We will also consider motivation of the assailant.  Why did they choose your building to hit?  What could you have done beforehand?  What is the number one security threat to the typical church?

Please join us as we work this through.


34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.”

1 Sam 17:34-35