Planning for a sabbatical can be an intimidating process.  Bivocationals have numerous challenges which a fully-funded pastor will not have.  Primarily this is because the church may see fit to give their pastor a well-deserved break, but their secular job may cast a dim eye on such an enterprise.  Consequently, the plan must encompass the necessity for the bivocational to continue working in their secular job while being absent from their home church.  Here are a few thoughts for you to consider.

Absence from your local church does not mean absence from worship.  Be sure to include plans for worship somewhere.  You may want to connect with the pastor and let him know you are there for a limited time and on sabbatical, or maybe you’d just like to remain in the background.  Each of these has advantages, but going to worship is not an optional activity.

Rest and relaxation are an essential part of a sabbatical.  That is what is meant by ‘renewal’ and ‘recreation’.  A study worth doing would be to look into what those words mean in this context.  I have one friend, a long-time minister who has taken two sabbaticals, and each was based mostly on this thought.  In his case it was hunting, fishing and riding his motorcycle on a long trip.

Plan on using some time for ministry projects you don’t have time for normally.  Some ‘starter’ thoughts might be attending various churches in the area to compare worship styles and ministry opportunities, finishing a manuscript or helping a friend with a project.  You could plan out the coming year in sermons. One of my avowed projects should I be able to have a sabbatical soon is to help write guidelines for my District for this very topic, Bivocational sabbaticals.

Plan at least one personal spiritual retreat.  Use the time to pray and seek the face of God.  You can do this solo, or take your spouse or a friend along, but make sure the purpose of the retreat is clear.

Combine your sabbatical time with your secular vacation time to plan something special.  For instance, my wife and I have long desired to make a trip to Europe.  By combining a sabbatical and my secular vacation time we could do this more easily.  We could also use the time as a way to explore the spiritual temperature and culture of wherever it is we go, coming back enriched and refreshed.

Write down the various ideas that you come up with and share them with a mentor, your church board or District/Denominational leadership.  Ask them for ideas.  And in the process, you might be able to give them a few ideas, too!


“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8)


Since starting my work as a Police Chaplain there has been a phrase that seems to recur frequently, and which sums up well what we do as chaplains. That phrase is, “A Ministry of Presence”.  Reflecting on this phrase, however, brings home the realization that a ‘ministry of presence’ applies to not only a police chaplain or any other chaplaincy, but the ministry of the bivopastor and to all believers, in general.  Every believer can have a ‘ministry of presence’, if they keep a few guidelines in mind.

  1. Make yourself available.  Unless you are actually available, people will not come to you.  Pure and simple.
  2. People need to know you are available.  Unless they know you are there and available they will not come to you. You don’t need to hang out a sign or a shingle, but simply be open.  Over time people will know that you care and are available.
  3. Be ready to listen, more than talk.  People often need someone to talk to, many times they don’t want anything more than this.  That is OK.
  4. Let God work in the background.  It is often said that God works in mysterious ways.  This is true, and He works effectively!  But we must let Him do His work and not try to change things by our own efforts. Your goal here is to bring God’s comfort to someone and perhaps be one of the persons in the chain to lead them to Christ.  But that is not your immediate goal.
  5. Don’t judge the person you are talking to.  Their life may be sinful, their habits dirty and their attitude terrible, but you need to let God do His work without judging the person based on appearances.  They are loved by God, and that is enough to know.
  6. Have resources ready.  Do I really need to say this? Have a Bible, a New Testament or at least a Gospel of John handy at all times. An index card in your wallet with names and phone numbers for resources you think might be needed may be enough beyond that.  Remember, it is alright to let people know where you are coming from theologically, and to know that no one is going to require you to practice outside your faith tradition.  It would be disingenuous to ask a Christian, for instance, to pray to the god of the Muslims or to Buddha. In my work as a Police Chaplain I am identified as not only a Chaplain by my uniform and name tag, but wear crosses as collar insignia, identifying me as a Christian, though I minister to everyone equally within those bounds.
  7. Cover it all in prayer.  This is the most important part.  Without prayer it will at the very least not be as effective as it could be.  At worst, your ministry will be dead in the water.  BE ready to pray with the person who comes to you, but ask their permission first.

These are all things any person can do.  They do not require extensive Bible knowledge or specialized evangelism training.  You don’t have to be a mental health counselor.  You just have to be there.


“For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.'”  
Psalms 122:8 (NIV)




The bivopastor has a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the small church.  Now, that might not seem to be a controversial statement, but it is both true and somewhat in dispute.  It all depends on what you call a ‘small’ church!  In my neck of the woods (New England) a small church is any congregation with 50 people or under, while a large church is anything over 150 people.  The largest church on our District has about 450 people in AM worship. Now, in other places in the country those numbers are ridiculously small.  My daughter once went with someone to their church in Illinois whose Junior High Sunday School room could have literally fit 2 of my entire church buildings inside it!  The average church attendance at that particular congregation was about 4,000 on a Sunday. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of that church was that in that region it is only regarded as a mid-size church!

The uncomfortable reality is that most bivopastors are ministering in a small church…usually anywhere from 10 to 125 people.  This is not a bad thing, but it needs to be recognized as one factor that colors the face of many smaller congregations.  Granted, there are exceptions, with some large church pastors actively and intentionally remaining bivocational, but it is a rarity.  This means that when we are talking about bivocational pastors we are probably talking about pastors serving in a church of under 100 people, many in a rural context.  Loneliness, isolation and frustration may be major factors in the shaping of the pastor’s personal life.

I recently asked a question of some fellow pastors on a Facebook group, “What is the most practical and useful book/resource on growing a small church that you have read?” and received some good feedback.  For me, at least, the best response was concerning a podcast that is run by and for pastors of small churches.  This is the ‘200Churches’ podcast by John Finkelde, Karl Vaters and Dave Jacobs. It can be found at ““.  This podcast is only partially about growth, but tackles many of the problems and issues facing the pastor of a small church.  I highly recommend it.

The  majority of us are not called to a megachurch.  The average size of a church in the USA is 75.  Our egos are unfortunately tied up in this…we SAY we do not measure our pastors by AM attendance, or growth percentages, but we do.  And we, quite unscripturally, hold those ‘successful’ pastors up on a pedestal.  In doing so we look at ourselves and somehow think that we are not  ‘real’ pastors.  Perhaps we need to confess this as our own failing and realize that being bivocational, or a small church pastor, is not a sin or a failing. We are shepherds who have been called.  Period.


“We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Numbers 13:33 (NIV)

prayerThere are similarities and differences between bivocational pastors whether they minister in the city, the country, a small town or on a foreign missions field.  No matter the language, the culture or what your faith tradition happens to be, these still apply.  Over the course of my time writing for bivocational pastors there have been several themes that have emerged which show these needs clearly.

First, far above and beyond every other concern, bivocational pastors feel a need to better manage their time.  Time is a crucial commodity for the minister who works a secular job in addition to the day-to-day ministry of a church.  There is a saying that, “there is no such thing as a ‘part-time’ minister, only those who are not fully funded”.  There is a great deal of truth to this statement.  Most bivocational pastors will put in a 40 hour week at a secular job, and then spend another 20 or so in ministry during ‘slow’ periods.  Given extraordinarily busy times they may put in 40 or 50 hours in ministry alone…that makes a 90 hour week!  So the need to be as efficient as possible and manage time well becomes a passionate pursuit.

Second, bivocational pastors wrestle with what it really means to be a bivo.  Their relationship to other members of the ministry and the misunderstandings that can occur is important to them.  They wish to be taken seriously, and in some areas or traditions this is more possible than in others.  For instance, the Southern Baptist Church has been historically heavily invested in it’s bivopastors.  Likewise the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church make use of bivos and recognize their unique placement and value.  Other bivos may not be as blessed, but all bivos struggle with these issues.

Third, all bivo pastors need encouragement and support.  This can be from several sources, but denominational support, family support and support from the local church are all needed.  October is ‘Pastor Appreciation Month” in the USA, but many pastors will go through the month with no hope or expectation of a show of appreciation.  All it takes is a single sour encounter with a member of their church to color the month badly for a bivo.  Some of the statistics around pastoral burnout are quite shocking.  80% of pastors feel they have too little time with their spouse, as well as believing that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.  (click here to see burnout stats) That alone should give any church a cause to reflect on the emotional health of their pastor.

Fourth, following closely on these concerns are matters of Church Administration.  Despite all the time pastors spend in education there is little to no time spent learning the day to day running of the church.  When I was in the process of preparing for ministry I spoke to the Senior Pastor at the church I was attending and asked him for ways to learn about this.  We settled on several courses of action.  One was taking a certificate course in Church Administration offered by Nazarene Continuing Lay Training (CLT).  The other was rotation through several church positions and shadowing others.  The learning was invaluable.  As much as I needed to know how to exegete the Old Testament Prophets, I needed to know how to understand the accounting and bookkeeping of the local church.

The last one I am going to mention is the need for connections.  Bivocationals are very concerned with making connections with people.  Not simply connections in regards to church growth, but personal connections.  Everyone needs friends and confidants.  Everyone needs people around them who don’t think of them as ‘Pastor’, but as ‘Jim’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Bubba’.  Ok, maybe not Bubba, but they need to be known, trusted and liked by people outside the context of the church.  Loneliness is a career killer for pastors, and many pastors who manage to last beyond the average career length live a very lonely existence.  Stats say that 50% of pastors will leave the ministry after their first five years. (Click here for reference).  Some of these stats are a little bit up for grabs, but they are not far off.  Imagine a context where an engineer goes to school for a BS, then an MS.  They graduate from school and after 5, 6 or 7 years are so discouraged they leave the field, never to work in it again.

Bivocational ministers share many of the same concerns the world over.  But there are solutions.  Our hope here is to not only point out the problems, but to point the way to some of those solutions.  Ultimately it is the call to ministry that sustains us in the dry times.  Look to Jesus for strength, healing and restoration.


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?

(Cource:’s admonition for us to be ready to give a reason for our faith in 1 Peter 3:15 also shows us an inherent limitation of the use of apologetics. In a previous post it was mentioned that ‘apologetics’ is basically a courtroom style defense of the faith, giving logical and consistent arguments from solid premises.  In a criminal or civil courtroom trial the judge and sometimes a jury would then take those arguments, compare them to the standards of the law and make a decision.  As one of those presenting arguments before the court sometimes the decision is in our favor, sometimes not.  That decision is not in our hands, it is in the hands of the judge and jury.

Often we go into a debate with a person about some theological matter, present our premises and arguments, answering every objection in what seems to us to be a winning way.  We assume at the end of the day the person we are talking with will see those arguments the same way we see them and will be persuaded to our point of view.  Sometimes we are sorely disappointed.  It is even possible that our debate partner will concede the arguments, but then will still not change their mind.  This is the limitation implicit in 1 Peter 3:15.

Peter wants us to give a reason for our faith, but those reasons are the BASIS for our faith, they are not the substance of our faith.  Simply put, we can give cohesive and logical arguments for why we believe, but our faith is a leap beyond those arguments.  No matter how good our points are, no matter how logical, God always leaves room between what we can prove and what we believe…and going from one to the other means we have to make a leap of faith, and our hearts must change.  God is the only person who can change someone’s heart.

Why am I bringing this up at the beginning of our discussion about apologetics?  Is the study of apologetics useless in the end?  No; apologetics can provide the base from which a person starts.  It gives credence and credibility to Christianity.  From that point it is possible to make the leap from intellectual assent to a changed heart through faith in Christ.  Without a logical platform, we could believe in anything and still be on equal footing.  Believing in tree spirits saving our souls for reincarnation into woodland fauna would make just as much sense (or as little sense) as believing in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is very necessary to the life of faith.

With this knowledge of the limitations of apologetics comes consequential actions.  First, we live a life of prayer…every apologetic debate must be bathed in prayer.  We ask that not only is our debate partner persuaded by our arguments in an intellectual manner, but that the arguments might lead through the Holy Spirit’s action to a change of heart and a leap of faith.

Second, we live a life of surrender.  The outcome of our apologetics is not up to us.  We need feel no pressure or guilt in the outcome of the debate.  The outcome is in the hands of God.  It is even possible the person with whom we are speaking is not the person whose heart and life is changed, but perhaps a bystander who is listening in on the conversation.  God knows, and it is in His hands.

Third, we live a life of reflection and study.  We need to be prepared for an apologetic discussion at any time and any place.  read your Bible.  Study the Word.  Speak to God in prayer.  Live a life worthy of your calling.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  

1 Cor 1:22-25 (NIV)

(Source:"A few days ago I was talking with a friend about a well known apologist, Dr. Ravi Zacharias.  His comment to me was, “I’d love to be one tenth as smart as him”.  We talked for a bit on the fact that Dr. Zacharias has 30 or so years of full-time experience in apologetics, as well as an extensive education in that field.  What is ‘apologetics’?  It stems from ‘the Greek word apologia, which was originally used of a speech of defense or an answer given in reply. In ancient Athens it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure’.1  So an ‘apology’ is making a logical, courtroom-style defense of the Christian faith.

The biblical admonition from 1 Peter 3:15 is, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have“.  That seems to indicate that the need to be an apologist impacts us all, but how many of us can earn a doctorate and spend 30 years getting to the point we feel comfortable in witnessing to people?  Moreover, what use is there for this type of ministry for the typical bivocational pastor?  What do we really need to know?

I intend to cover some of these questions in the next few posts, but let’s start with the low hanging fruit.  Who has the time and energy to get a doctorate and 30 years of experience?  Very few people, and probably even fewer bivocational pastors.  When is the last time you heard a guidance counselor advise a young person to get an education in apologetics because they are in demand and pay well?  And yet, we need to follow the call of God faithfully.

God tells us  there are various kinds of ministry and we listen to Paul’s analogy of the Church to a body…interconnected and interdependent.  “Ephesians 5:11 ff says, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”  Those of us who are not specifically called to this ministry still have the need to give a reason for our faith.  Using the analogy of a body, even though we may not be that particular body member called ‘apologist’, it is still in each cell’s DNA.

The second question is similar, but different.  How much should we as bivocational ministers be concerned with apologetics?  What do we really need it for?  The answer is perhaps even simpler for us than for fully-funded pastors.  We work outside the church and are in constant touch with people who have questions and no grounding in the Christian faith.  We truly need to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks”.  If someone comes to us and asks genuinely seeking  questions we need to be able to address those queries in an intellectually honest way.  We need to be able to meet the world on it’s own ground and show that our faith really does make sense.  This sounds scary, but it is not as bad as it sounds.  Over the next few posts I will explain this radical statement.


“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord”  Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)



W(Source:")hen someone asks me what I ‘do’, most often I will reply that I am a ‘Bivocational Minister’.  I have generated quite a few questions by this simple response;  Answering this way tends to open the door to fruitful discussions with people. They want to know what a bivocational minister is.  It is not like answering that you are a plumber, and electrician or an office secretary (sorry, ‘administrative assistant’!).  Everyone pretty much knows what those people do, or at least thinks they know.   But one thing which has always intrigued me is that even ministers don’t necessarily have a good definition to fit the job title.

A number of years ago I was asked by the chairman of the District Pastoral Support Committee to help develop a statement regarding bivocational ministry.  The statement they finally settled upon was as follows, “A bi-vocational pastor supplements income by means other than church compensation. Churches should view the circumstances that cause the pastor to supplement income as a temporary situation to be resolved as soon as possible. The goal is to remove as many worldly concerns from the pastor as possible, so that the pastor may attend more intently on his or her life’s calling. Recognizing that small and young churches may have difficulty in providing adequately for their pastor and family, ensure that you use what you can provide to the best advantage of your pastor and strive towards the goal of full support.” 1

There are some pieces of the puzzle that are hidden in here, but the statement is also due for an update.  First, the income of a bivocational minister is supplemented…but this may not be by the minister having a job outside ministry.  A less-than-adequate income may be supplemented by the pastors spouse.  Second, a piece that is not well addressed here is that the pastor or spouse may hold a job outside ministry for a specific purpose other than income, such as a means of acquiring health insurance.  Third, the goal of bivocational ministry is to be able to eventually allow the church to grow enough to provide fully-funded ministry.  It needs to be recognized that although this is a worthy goal there are more and more ministers working outside of ministry as a strategic move to allow more effective outreach.

What defines a ‘fully-funded’ ministry?  A minister is truly full-funded when all of their needs are being supplied by the church.  This includes not only an adequate salary to live on, but enough to supply their  housing needs, health care, life insurance, liability insurance, vacation and sick time.  All of these must be supplied without the need for the minister or their spouse to enter the secular work force.  Needless to say, the number  of available fully-funded positions are declining, while bivocational positions are on the increase.

One final thing must be mentioned.  I was asked a month or so ago by a minister at a large church on my District if I was in full time ministry, or part time.  My reply was that I am a bivocational minister working outside the church for income, but I am a full-time minister.  Our District’s expressed opinion (and in line with my own perspective) is that there is no such thing as a ‘part-time’ bivocational minister…my secular work is also a part of my ministry.  Just ask the couple from work at whose wedding I officiated, or the many people whom I have either provided spiritual counseling for or prayed with from my office.

Scripturally, we have a great example for bivocational ministry…the most prolific writer of the New Testament, Paul.  It is from him that we get the other term for ‘bivocational minister’, ‘tent maker’.  We are in good company!

“If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”  1 Cor 9:10 NIV


1  New England District Journal, 2013, 106th Annual Assembly. p91

(Source: new and useful resources for the bi-vocational pastor is right up at the top of our priority list.  Pastors need to be connected to resources which go beyond the purview of this website..we can’t do EVERYTHING, right?  So, in line with that philosophy, here is a link to a website called “Pastoral Care, Inc.” which specializes in providing encouragement and care for the pastor. Click here for the site homepage for Pastoral Care, Inc.

Of particular interest is an article on Bi-vocational Pastors, where there is a list of eight suggestions for the bivocational (or prospective bivo) to maintain sanity!  Click Here for Bivocational Pastors article

Happy reading!

Cell_PhoneOne of the recent trends in communication has been the adoption of cell phones by the general public.  Many of those people who have been the most adamant adopters have been in the younger generation.  Most young adults up to the age of 30 have never known a world without cell phones and cannot imagine being disconnected.  Even when these you people move out of their parents homes or leave college to get their own place they do not opt to have a land line.  The thought seems to be, “I already have a phone, why would I want a land line phone?”  In an economic sense this seems to be very logical…for us older people (older than 30…)  the thought of totally doing away with a land line seems equally unthinkable.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]“Non-attenders end up calling the church phone and leaving a message.  This is not an ideal situation.” [/cryout-pullquote]  As for me, right now the Church has a land line with an answering machine which gets checked twice a week.  Members of the church know that if  they want to get in touch with me they should do so by calling my home phone, or in an emergency my cell phone.  Unfortunately this can also lead to abuse of your phone numbers.  On one recent day I received three non-emergency calls on my personal cell phone while at work.  On the other hand, non-attenders end up calling the church phone and leaving a message.  This is not an ideal situation.

Despite the feeling of jumping off a cliff by getting rid of their land line,  bivocational pastors may want to follow the lead of their young adults.

  • Cell phones have built-in capabilities bivos need.  Voice-mail and texting are two very desirable capabilities that a land line may or may not offer.  Answering machines are a poor alternative.
  • Long distance service is included at no additional charge on many plans.
  • Cell phones increase your availability.  Because you can carry a cell phone with you, if a call comes in you really need to answer…it is right there in your hand, not on an answering machine two days from now.
  • Cell phones can be had fairly cheaply and reduce your monthly phone bill.  Pre-paid phones can be as low as $10 with a $20 card for minutes.  Our phone bill for one month is in the $30 to $40 range per month, with no long distance included.  A full smartphone is not needed.  A simple flip phone is sufficient for most uses.
  • By being available via the church cell phone you can STOP giving out your home phone and personal cell phone numbers to people who might abuse them.
  • Cell phones allow you to filter your calls and set appropriate office hours.  If you make it known  you will allow the phone to go to voicemail after a set time, for instance, phone number abuse can be kept to a minimum.  Caller ID can help you avoid sales calls.

The main disadvantage I can think of when getting rid of a land line is that your listing in the yellow pages will disappear.  However, this may not be the problem we think it is.  Yellow page usage is going down all the time, and people are searching on the web for phone numbers of churches.  A solution to this might be to try it for a month or two with a prepaid cell phone while keeping your land line.  See how it works before you make the leap!

In short, for the bivocational pastor a cell phone may allow you to be not only more efficient in your ministry but may cut costs for your church as well.