One of my favorite stores locally is closing.  Eastern Mountain Sports is a great place to buy the articles I need every so often for hiking and other outdoor activities.  More and more I find myself going to online sources, but not due to choice.  I would rather walk in to a place like EMS and talk to the experts, keeping my money local as a bonus.  One of the great things about a place like EMS are the courses they offer.  Outdoor medicine, cooking, planning for hikes, even how to survive an avalanche.

Thinking about it, I wish that the church offered courses like this.  Recently I could have used a course in how to survive a spiritual avalanche!  In one two month period our new format at the church failed miserably, my father-in-law underwent colon surgery, my wife started working overtime (meaning many 2:30am alarms), our foster daughter who was with us for a year transitioned to a new home and my step-mother passed away.  Needless to say our lives seemed to be in free-fall mode.  We were caught in an avalanche of events.  So, how do you survive those kinds of times?

The key word here is ‘survive’.  No one prospers during these times.  I think sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that if we are not energetic and growing that we are not successful.  Sometimes ‘success’ is defined by survival.  So the first thing is to get that expectation out of your sights.  How do you survive, then?

Lean on your friends, your congregation, your family.  They have all likely been there, too, and can empathize with you.  Moreover, 2 Cor 1:3-5 seems to say  not only are we being trained to help others through the trials we come through, but OTHERS in our lives have been there and are ready to minister to you!  Let them.  This is a hard lesson for those of us who have that John-Wayne-Western-Frontier-Self-Reliant-I-Don’t-Need-Help attitude.  Many pastors in particular have this sort of attitude.  It is ingrained in us, trained into us, by a tradition of ministry which says ‘I am the minister, I can’t show weakness to my flock’.  In reality this is self-defeating.  The example you are showing people is unlivable.  Instead, show your flock you are human, and you are going through the same things they are.

The other side of the coin is the scripture and admonition that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).  By refusing to allow someone to minister to you you will deprive them of a blessing.  As ministers are we not to bless our people?

Take time to retreat when possible.  Go off and pray, meditate on the Scriptures.   Seek God’s wisdom and perspective.  Jesus did this when He was under pressure.  If Jesus did it, what makes us think we should not?  Rest, recuperation and rejuvenation are important in these times.  One of the consequences of this may be, and probably should be, a paring of your own responsibilities down to the basics.  You should only be concerned with the important matters.  During times when we have nothing going on to stress us we tend to pick up an overload of ministry responsibilities.  We may function as head of Women’s/Men’s Ministries, teach Sunday School, preach on Sunday, head up the Nursing Home Ministry and do home and hospital visitation.  In times of stress it may prove necessary to remove some of those responsibilities from your schedule.  Letting someone else take over may prove to be an unexpected blessing for them!

Go do something fun.  Take your husband/wife and go bowling.  Go to the beach.  Go out to dinner or a movie.  Do something to be with the people you love and remind yourself that the world is not all caving in around your head.  You will be surprised how much energy this can bring back into your life.

And finally, keep a perspective on what is happening.  Realize that the rain falls on the good and the wicked.  It will all end in due course.  Where there is a valley there are  two mountains!  God will bring you through the valley and into the sun once again.  Trust in God and survive the avalanche.




NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

In 1943, during World War 2 an airborne unit was formed that still exists and whose mission is unique.  Today that mission encompasses several agencies in the US government including the US Air Force Reserve, NOAA and the US Navy.  The mission…to track and acquire data on tropical cyclones by flying into them.  They are known as Hurricane Hunters.

Watching the political rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential contest, and just having gone through both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is easy to imagine the whole scenario as a figurative hurricane.  Lots of wind, rain and collateral damage.  How do we as ministers, especially as bivo pastors out in the secular workplace, address the current situation?  Do we visibly back a candidate?  Do we support them from the pulpit?  Can we post to our church website links to a candidate?  Ask for donations?  Can we do any of these as private citizens? Even if we CAN do these things, SHOULD we do them?  Folks, we are about to fly into the eye of the storm!

The first question is CAN we do these things suggested?  The answer is two-fold.  On the public level, from a pulpit or from a church website or other official forum we reference the Johnson Amendment put forward by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, which refers to a change in the U.S. tax code prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)3 organizations are also specifically addressed in the US Tax Code and have strict limits or prohibitions imposed on them.  So very simply…the answer is no, unless you want to endanger your tax-exempt status.

On the private level, yes we can endorse or work for any candidate we wish as long as our official capacity is not used or referenced.  Be warned, this is sometimes a thin line.

Should we endorse a political candidate?  That is an ethical question which should be approached on a case by case basis.  In some contexts it may merely serve to push people away from the church on account of their knowledge your choice of candidate.  In other contexts it may be perfectly fine.

In practicality I have found that simply reminding people that the Bible has specific things to say, urging them to read the Bible and then getting out to vote is sufficient.  I specifically tell them I don’t care who they vote for as long as they have chosen a candidate that lines up with their view of what is best and what God is telling them.  I leave the rest in God’s hands.

One final note.  I remind our congregation that we are Christians first, and citizens of an earthly nation second.  The words of John Wesley in his journal still ring true today…

“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Go and do likewise. Amen.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:17-18 (NIV)

(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

Recently I asked a question of a Facebook group of Nazarene pastors; “What are the greatest frustrations or challenges facing the bivocational pastor”? One respondent said, “Fragmentation. Going in too many directions. Home, workplaces, church, kid’s school all in different communities…” This is the reality for many bivocational ministers. They are pulled in many directions, and formal ministry is only one of those directions. I would like to offer a couple comments here regarding focus and setting priorities.
First, determine your priorities, but realize that those priorities may have to be flexible. Many years ago I took a class called “Life and Work of the Minister”. The instructor asked us the question, “What are your priorities as a minister?” Most people answered back with some version of, “God first, family second, church third, work fourth, myself last”. The real answer, as we discovered during our subsequent discussions, was that God is always first, but that other priorities may shift. Just because there is a youth group meeting does not mean you should ignore your spouse on your anniversary! A funeral may take precedence over the normal Saturday family activities. And sometimes you have to leave room for your own personal spiritual development that may take priority over every other activity.

Second, discouragement and burnout are real hazards. Sometimes people get into ministry, especially bivocational ministry, and pace themselves for a sprint, whereas ministry is best approached as a marathon. An 18 year long study by the “Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development” showed that 35%-40% of pastors leave the ministry by their fifth year. Pastoral burnout is a real and present hazard. You MUST have a significant devotional and prayer life. Build this into your schedule. My wife (and co-pastor) and I are reading through the Bible together. We have done this read-through-the-Bible-in-one-year schedule for many years now. We also have a prayer life that is independent of our ministry. Not only is this needed for personal spiritual growth but you cannot lead where you have not gone. Your people will benefit tremendously when you, their pastor, are grounded solidly in Scripture and in relationship to God.

Third, set boundaries for not only yourself, but for your ministry. Setting boundaries does not come easily to us because pastors generally are ‘helper’ personalities. We feel that we need to be there for our people for any need at any time. This puts enormous pressure on us. Get used to setting “office hours” for non-emergency events, and we need to be able to say ‘no!’ to unreasonable demands on our time and attention. Use your voicemail and do not return a phone call out of those hours unless it is truly an emergency. At one time in my ministry I was taking phone calls for prayer requests up until 10 pm, typically getting at least one or two calls a night. The problem was that most of these calls could have waited, and 80% were from the same person. When I began using my voicemail and returning only those calls that were truly emergent situations, the frequency of calls went down drastically. So did my stress level!

Remember, ministry is more effective when done over the long haul. It takes at least 4 years in a church to really begin to know and gain the trust of a congregation. Keep your eyes on the Lord and you will be able to last until the finish line.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 NIV