Along the way here, we have often suggested that it is to your advantage to seek a mentor who can guide you as you encounter real-life ministry issues.  A mentor is someone who has a little more experience than you do, and who is willing to ‘build in’ to you.  This requires a commitment of time, effort and prayer.

The problem is  sometimes it can be difficult to find a person who fits all the needed criteria and is willing to do the work of mentoring.  Many years ago my wife asked an older woman, a ‘pillar of the church’, to mentor her.  This lady asked if she could pray about it and a week later came back to tell my wife that she simply ‘did not feel ready to mentor someone’. THis was a person who was a church board member, the choir leader, had numerous roles and responsibilities in the church…and had been a Christian for 40 years.  Exactly when would she feel ‘ready’?  And yet, this happens all the time.

What is the solution to this issue?  One method of dealing with it is what I call ‘Self-mentoring’.  This is the process of getting resources to address your situation and learning from them rather than having a real live person mentor you.  Here are some guidelines.

Set aside a certain day and time of the week to check up on yourself.  Make a list of the issues you have encountered during the previous week which you have questions about.  It may be helpful to keep a journal of these things whether physical (notebook, cards…)  or electronic.

Review the sources available to you that may speak into your own situation.  I don’t usually recommend books or magazine, but prefer podcasts and other recordings.  For instance, many resources speak to churches that may be larger or more urban. My own church is small and in a semi-rural area.  Listening to a podcast by a Saddleback or Willow Creek pastor or another large, urban church may not be ideal for me.  But listening to the ‘200Churches’ podcast is perfect. (

Make a commitment to your own improvement.  Your commitment to spend an hour a week is critical.  Mentoring, or self-mentoring, does not make a difference in your life and ministry unless you are consistent.


Admittedly, self-mentoring is not the best choice, but in some cases it may be the only choice you can make.  Make the most of it!


“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

Actually, the title of this post is a bit of misnomer.  Since I did not go to a Seminary, technically Seminary didn’t teach me anything!  But I did take classes at a Bible College and completed my educational requirements for ordination through a District Bible Institute. As you go through any formal education prep for ministry you feel empowered and can’t wait to go into an active assignment, whether as an Associate or as a Senior Pastor.  Then we graduate, find a first assignment and realize within a week that there was so much more that we didn’t learn that we needed.  We learn Greek, Hebrew, spiritual counseling best practices, evangelistic techniques and hermeneutics.   But there are few, if any, schools with classes in such things as church finance and administration, running a board meeting or dealing with people who are apathetic and on the fringes.

There is a word that is in vogue around the church concerning missions.  It is ‘intentionality’.  I think the same word can be applied to our own personal ministry development.  We need to think about our development in addition to and subsequent to our classroom education in an intentional manner.

How do you learn these things?  There is always the school of hard knocks.  Experience is a good teacher but it is hard to learn that way and time consuming.

You can seek out courses or certificates which touch on these items.  In the Church of the Nazarene we have the ‘CLT’ Program (Continuing Lay Training), which is a series of certificates earned generally by lay persons, but which are very handy for pastors in many cases.  This is the way I learned about church administration, taking a certificate in that particular subject.

Another thing you can do is find a good mentor who is willing to take you under their wing.  This is a great way to learn and I believe it is a wholly Biblical foundation for ministry.  Finding a mentor can be difficult, though, and might be impossible in some cases.

There are always external sources, maybe informal sources.  One of those is the website, blog and podcast.  This site has a mission statement that says, “stuff you wish they taught in seminary”.  It kind of says it all there.

Which of these is best?  The approach I took and which I recommend is a combination of these.  During my first years in ministry I earned a CLT certificate, had three mentors and actively sought out external sources to learn from.  Of course, I also have a PhD from the Ministry School of Hard Knocks, too!  Praise the Lord, the mistakes I made in ministry and learned from were rarely the same ones the other modalities taught me.

So, what are the methods you are going to use to learn intentionally?




ripples-in-pondThe last post I wrote concerned strategies for constructive failure. One of the most constructive things you can do for people is to give them permission to try new things without an extensive approval process (assuming funding is not expected) and to value the experience without expecting a success every time.  When you tell people to go and try new things they tend to be eager, but frightened of the possibility of failing.  They are afraid that they will be diminished in the eyes of the pastor if they fail, and even in the eyes of their peers in the church.  To overcome this you need to create an atmosphere of adventure and acceptance.  The truth is that success is, in many cases, in the eye of the beholder anyway.

Take the following scenario as an example.  John wants to start a new Bible Study group focusing on men and their issues.  His first study is on pornography and he has five men who attend.  Two of the men commit to an accountability relationship while the remaining three eventually drop out.  The study stops meeting.  Success?  Or failure?

Well, in some people’s eyes the fact that the study had three people drop out and the study itself did not continue indicates that the idea was a failure.  No ongoing ministry resulted.  But on the other hand, two men have committed to an ongoing accountability relationship which will not only impact them, but their family and friends as well.

The simple fact that John tried something new, and two men have been impacted (not to mention the outward ripple effect).  This is cause for celebration!

By giving people permission to fail, you are also giving them permission to succeed.  The number of perspectives and ideas generated from those perspectives multiplies the chances for long term success.  Even better is that such a philosophy will spill over into other areas of ministry, and the morale of the entire church is affected.  So, go for it!


squirrelA movie a few years ago added a new word to our lexicon, or at least a new meaning for that word. “SQUIRREL!”  When I hear that word, pronounced in a certain way, an image from the movie “Up” is immediately invoked.  It is shorthand for a person who is easily distracted from the task at hand.   It is easy to be easily distracted in today’s world.  We live in a visually driven culture and are surrounded by images and videos on our phones, tablets, pc’s, laptops and TV’s.  The old adage about, “Have you ever entered a room and forgot why you were there?” applies to the pastor entering the wilds of the internet.  I have had many times when I have gone on the internet to find a particular piece of information and noticed a half hour later that I had visited 20 different sites and forgot why I was on in the first place.  How do you avoid this?

First, when working on a project write down what you need to find.  Be as specific as possible. For example, “public domain picture of a squirrel”, “illustration about tithing” or “Greek meaning of word for ‘grace'”.

Second, accomplish everything you can possibly do without going online.  Doing this will give you a headstart in your work.  Even if you only manage to put down an outline you will find this helps progress enormously.

Third, set a time limit for yourself.  This will serve to keep you focused and goal driven.  If need be, set an alarm with a countdown timer.  there are many variations of these you can get for free at Google Play or the Apple Store for phones.

Fourth, find a quiet space where people can still see you.  This will keep you accountable, but still in a place where you can work.  You can also ask your spouse or a ministry partner to check on you occasionally.

Being in a high pressure position like bivocational ministry means that you have to use your time wisely.  Distractions can be a killer.  So keep your eye on the <SQUIRREL!!!!>


“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Phil 3:14 (NIV)

stressed girlThere is an interesting quote from a fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson.  He says, “Once one becomes a man, he can and must make his own decisions. But I do offer warning. Even a good thing can become destructive if taken to excess.”

As a minister we make many decisions as to policy, mission, purpose and methods in the church.  One assumes that these are all decisions that are supposed to in one way or another benefit the local church and ministry.  But when do you have too much ministry?  Does that sound strange to your ears?  It should…we ministers are in the ‘helping’ professions.  We want to help people; it is usually not in our nature to say ‘No!’ to anyone.  The reality is that too much ministry CAN be harmful to ourselves, our family and our church.  Here are a few ways you can determine if this is happening in your context.

  1.  You have no one else to run the program or ministry.  There is no one with a passion for that activity in your church, so you do it yourself.  If you have a ministry like this you seriously need to consider letting it go.
  2. You are so over-involved in various programs and meetings that you have no time for your family.  Your family is your FIRST ministry.  You cannot put yourself in a position where you harm your marriage or your children for the sake of the church.
  3. You are getting so stressed it is causing health issues.  Your health is important.  Your ministry will be shortened if you end up making yourself chronically sick and that will benefit no one.  Many don’t realize John Wesley was not only a theologian and preacher but that he wrote a booklet called “Primitive Physick” which emphasized the importance of care for physical health as part of holistic ministry.
  4. You have people who would like to be involved in a ministry, but you are running it instead.  Sometimes we get caught up in doing things our own way and decide we should lead the ministry instead of someone else.  In most cases we are robbing someone of a blessing, and perhaps even setting them up to leave the church.  They do not feel like they are able to contribute.
  5. You have people who are wearing more than one ‘hat’.  In fact, they are wearing four or five.  That is too much.  Typically you should not have anyone who is filling more than two major positions in the church.  My rule of thumb is that you should be leading a ministry, assisting in a ministry and being fed in a ministry.  For instance, a person might be teaching a Sunday School class (leading), in the choir (assisting) and attending a home Bible Study (being fed).  If that same person was teaching a Sunday School class, leading the choir and leading a Bible Study group they are probably on the road to burnout.  This applies to you as well!  Don’t overload.

People will tell me I don’t know what it is like to be in a small church where you have to be this involved to minister effectively.  My church averages 25 people in Sunday worship.  When we first came to this present assignment we had a fair number of pew warmers, while our Church Treasurer played the piano, led worship, was the Missions President and cleaned and decorated the church.  We saw she was drowning, so the first order of business was to relieve her of some of those responsibilities.  We found out what she felt called to do.  we found out what she was doing just because she felt someone had to do it.  We approached a couple ‘pew warmers’ and asked them if they would like to help..and they enthusiastically said yes.  At least one ministry was side-lined.  Not only did the church survive, it grew.  More importantly it grew spiritually as people took ownership.

Rick Aster in his book ‘Fear of Nothing” says, “Most of us try to do too much because we are secretly afraid we will not be able to do anything at all.”   John says in 1 John 4:18…“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”  Sometimes the punishment is implicit in the doing.  We do because we are afraid, but we harm ourselves in the doing.  On the other hand, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Perhaps we need to listen to and act on His words.


(Source: people are just not very good at journaling.  I have tried to keep one several times in my life, but have never succeeded over the long term.  Today I went out and bought a new journal; however, this one is for a specific purpose.  One of the ladies in my prayer meeting on Tuesday nights was keeping track of our prayer requests and answers to prayer.  Unfortunately she is taking a class now and is not able to come to the meeting.  The new journal is meant to fill that gap.  That begs the question, why keep a prayer journal at all?  Isn’t just praying good enough?

  • Keeping a journal forces you to be specific in your prayers. It also keeps you organized.
  • Keep a journal allows you to pray for people from week to week, easily tracking them.
  • Keeping a journal allows you to record the answers to prayers as you know them.
  • Keeping a journal lets  you look back and see the answers when you need encouragement or assurance.  Think of the times when the Israelites looked back to the Exodus during their various festivals, or as we do during the Lord’s Supper when we look back to the Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross .

Keeping a prayer journal does not require an Italian leather-bound, hand-made notebook.  It can be a college composition book, a loose-leaf notebook, spiral-bound notebook or something else.  A journal is as valuable for your private prayer time as it is for a group meeting.  Here is a good article  on creating your own journal.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)

coachingDo you have a mentor or a coach? We have discussed this in the past on this site and I truly believe you need to have someone who can ask the tough questions and who is willing to build into your life and ministry. As Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary would say, “You need a ‘Paul’ in your life!’

One of my favorite authors and authorities specifically on bivocational ministry is Dr. Dennis Bickers.  He has served as a bivocational pastor and church leader working primarily with smaller churches. Here is a great article by Dr. Bickers on his blog, and the subject of why coaching might be right for you…

Click HERE to go to the article.

Happy reading!

pastor-304345_640We’ve talked about the need for the bivocational pastor to have a mentor, or mentors, but who is the PASTOR for the pastor? This might seem like a redundancy, but it really is not. A mentor is generally someone who builds into your life in a targeted manner, usually in a relatively short term, focused and pragmatic way. For instance, a mentor may focus on your administrative skills, church planting efforts or the day-to-day workings of the church although an mentor may overlap and fulfill some of the need for spiritual guidance. But a pastor, in specific, should be focused on the spiritual growth and maturity of an individual.

Ideally we already will have a person in our life who takes on just such a role implicitly. In my own case this is my Superintendent of my District. In many cases the ecclesiastic or denominational superior of a local church pastor is more of an administrative position or even a ‘visionary’ leader, but in my particular case our Superintendent has made a distinct effort to fulfill that needed pastoral role. For some of you reading this you might have to actively seek out a person. If you are in a local church that is independent or has a more distributed structure than mine, you may actually have no denominational or ecclesiastic person you can look to.  Perhaps this person you are seeking will be found in another local pastor or a retired pastor. No matter your setting or situation, the key thought here is that the person is going to be seeking to guide and encourage you towards a goal of spiritual growth and maturity over the long term.

Prayer is the first step in finding someone to fill this role in your life.  Look around you at those who might be possible candidates.  Who might God have placed in your circumstances who would be willing and able?

It is not often I will put things in these terms, but finding a pastor for the pastor is mandatory. We know how essential it is to the life of the church that our laypeople have a pastor-shepherd…we are no exception. Our situation may be a little different, but that does not negate the simple fact that we as Christians must all have this kind of relationship in our lives.

So, who is YOUR pastor?

(Source: ago a friend and colleague of mine decided that we needed to have some regular and meaningful accountability in our lives.  Jeff and I were both church planters, both bivocational and both somewhat isolated from other ministerial contacts.  We began meeting weekly for prayer on Saturday mornings and added a series of questions that we would ask each other.  One of the first keys to a successful accountability relationship is to give each participant permission to ask the tough questions.  The second key is forgiveness.  And the third key is trust and confidentiality.   What is said between the participants stays between the two, unless it is something obviously illegal, in which case they need to resolve the situation in a likewise legal and ethical fashion.  So, all of that being said…here are the seven questions we asked each other every month and which we each carried printed and laminated in our wallets.

  1. How has God blessed you this week?
  2. What was your biggest disappointment this week?
  3. Have you read God’s Word consistently this week?  What has God been teaching you through reading and prayer?
  4. How have you been tempted this week?  How did you respond?
  5. How are your finances doing?
  6. Have you put yourself in (or been put in by someone else) a vulnerable position this week?
  7. How can I pray for you?

There you go…my hope and prayer is that these questions will be a starting point for your own accountability relationship.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

mentoringWe have all heard it.  You should be building into the lives of people around you.  Years ago at a Promise Keepers conference I heard a presentation by a Dallas Theological Seminary professor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, who stated that each person needed to have three types of people in their lives.  They needed to have a ‘Paul’, someone who was their mentor…they needed one or more ‘Barnabas’ persons, accountability partners…and they needed at least one ‘Timothy’, some whom they could mentor.  Most of us are better at the first two than the last.

First, how do you find a person to mentor?  What should you look for?

  • You need someone who is eager and willing to learn.
  • You should be far enough along in comparison to them that you can offer real and valuable experience to, although you do NOT necessarily have to be older than them.
  • You should be the same gender.
  • Your most fruitful ministry will probably be to someone in the same situation you find yourself.  A chaplain can best minister to a chaplain, a teacher can best minister to a teacher, a senior pastor can best minister to a senior pastor…you get the idea.  At the very least you should have walked the same pathway they are on at some point in your ministry.
  • Most importantly, you should confirm the relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is a key component of finding someone to mentor.  You may go for a stretch of time while you do not have a mentoree, but during this time you be praying that God is readying someone for this ministry.

Second,  you need to realize you don’t have to “know it all”.  As a matter of fact, if you think you know everything, you are probably not ready to mentor someone!  On the other hand, some people think they don;t know enough and refuse to even consider the possibility of mentoring.  My wife once asked a person who was 40 years in the faith to be her mentor…the woman prayed about it and then refused because she said she did not feel worthy.  How sad for her; she missed out on a wonderful chance to minister to someone and my wife missed the chance to learn from her.

Third, when you have found someone…most likely they will have indicated their need to you rather than the other way around…you need to formalize the relationship.  Each one should know exactly what to expect.  How often will you meet?  What kinds of items for growth are you targeting? How long will this relationship last by default?  It is easier for both to know that the mentor/mentoree relationship is for a set period of time and after that can be extended or ended.

One of the things that you need to know up front is the matter mentioned above…determining the purpose for the mentoring relationship.  Are you going to stick to spiritual growth items?  Are you going to be talking about practical ministry items?

In summary, being willing to be a mentor is the first step.  Prayer is key.  Setting expectations is key.  You CAN be a mentor, and you CAN make a huge difference in someone’s life.