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)



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?




mindfulLately we have had some interesting happenings around my secular job.  Yesterday I walked in to work and found we had a mandatory meeting across the parking lot at the Middle School library.  Upon arriving there I learned that our ‘Wellness’ coordinators had booked a meeting for our department to have a lecture on ‘Mindfulness’.  If you have not followed this trend then be assured it is coming to a venue near you!  Our presenter told us that mindfulness is being presented around our School District to all the employees as a way of reducing stress and therefore contributing to our overall health and happiness.  According to one source, mindfulness is defined as a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them’.  We went through three exercises in which we were encouraged to focus on certain thoughts.  Afterwards, in speaking with another participant who is also a Christian, we were both struck with the same thing; this was really prayer, but without God!

Now, that is kind of a strange thought, isn’t it?  How can you pray, without praying TO someone?  Frankly, twenty years ago this would have been immediately derided as a New Age indoctrination.  Parents and staff would have been complaining to the School Board.  Newspaper, TV and magazine articles would have been devoted to the subject.  Grated, this is Vermont, so even back then it might have been ignored or viewed as ‘progressive’. But now, we have a staff member who is paid to do this specific job.

So, what is to be our stance on this?  I will be the first to say that if we believe that this practice is dumbing down Christians into some Eastern religion technique, or even atheistic/agnostic psycho-babble, then we need to engage it directly.  But if we look at this as a way that NON-Christians are being given a first step into a relationship with God, and that God may use it to speak into their lives…then maybe we should think of this as an evangelistic tool.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  If being STILL is a first step, then the second step of ‘knowing God’ may very well be the next thing to happen.  God’s prevenient grace can work in ways that we may find to be…unusual!

Just to be clear, there is a distinct difference between Eastern meditative techniques and those of historic Christianity.  The Eastern techniques, especially those from Buddhism, are essentially an ’emptying’ of the mind, in order to connect with the ‘universe’, whereas Christian mediation focuses on taking the mind off ‘self’ and filling it with God’s presence.

Many of the best of the old time hymns were framed around the bawdy songs sung in the bars.  The early Holiness preachers used the familiar tunes to catch hold of the sinners there and provide an in-road resulting in their salvation.  Could it be that we need to use the ‘frame’ of the ‘Mindfulness’ movement to catch the attention of the sinners around us, to see them saved?

Thoughts to challenge us…


“Be still and know that I am God”.    Psalms 46:10


(source: is finally here; although the weather news from South Dakota today did include a blizzard the temps in New England are in the 70’s.  We will take it!  It has been a long and arduous winter.  People are looking forward to getting out of school, some are graduating, others are planning vacations and weekend getaways.  Many churches will slow down their ministries or have certain ones that will completely stop until September (a mistake in my opinion).  The question I have for you today is relatively quick and simple.  As a bivocational minister, with summer here, what plans have you made to learn or do something that will have a positive effect on your ministry?

For your own personal and professional development there are many educational institutions offering accelerated summer courses.  Perhaps you can add one of these to your summer schedule.  If you are more of a hands-on person, would you consider a ministry project or a missions trip?  No time for these?  How about doing something to set your ministry up for success during the coming fall and winter seasons…research and schedule a sermon series, perhaps?

For your ministry, how about bringing a new piece of technology on board?  It could be as simple as setting up a Twitter account for your church or as complicated as integrating wi-fi into your building.  Perhaps you can concentrate on some of the physical maintenance issues you couldn’t get to until the weather turned better.  Schedule an outreach event for the summer.  Maybe you can host a month-long, one-night-a-week movies series, complete with popcorn (and proper licensing of course!).

Summer is the ideal time to think about both your own personal improvement and the gearing up of ministries for the fall and winter.  Sunshine is burning…don;t let it go to waste!


sabbaticalI was recently talking with someone on our District and the subject of Sabbaticals came up.  In our denomination it is suggested a pastor should take a Sabbatical once for each seven years in ministry.  So far I think I have ‘earned’ three Sabbaticals by that measure and have never taken one!  Why might this be, you ask?  Because being a bivocational minister means even if I take a break from ministry for a period of time I will still have to contend with a secular job and responsibilities.  The face of ministry is changing, and so is the concept of the Sabbatical. We still face some issues, though.  First, we have to contend with so-called ‘ministry burnout’.  The pressure of having to manage a local church, plan and execute worship services and other programs for years on end with little or no break wears on pastors, and they find there is a need to draw away from local ministry for a time.  This can be for formal study or for a time of reflection, prayer and meditation.  Second, in our faith tradition and many others, there is a mandate for continuing education.  So how do we deal with these issues when we have a secular job to deal with in addition to ministry?

Mini-retreats over a weekend or during a mid-week break can be a help (I work at a public school, so we have some of these kinds of times).  Schedule a few days away while pulpit supply is brought in to handle your worship service if needed.  Prepare your Board ahead of time so they will know this is happening. Our District maintains a campground which includes a year-round Inn.  This is available at no charge for pastors who need to take some time away.  There are several interdenominational venues which provide pastors with the same kind of opportunity.  Seek these out and take one or two mini-retreats a year.    I knew one person who would take a few days and book into a motel off-season on the coast of Maine.  Another benefit of mini-retreats is that it allows your congregation to hear someone else speak other than you.

Look into educational opportunities delivered online.  Some of these can be very reasonable in cost and can be done with a flexible schedule.  In the Church of the Nazarene we have classes available at a pastoral discount through Nazarene Bible College, as well as other continuing education courses.  Several years ago I earned a certificate in Church Administration through our ‘Continuing Lay Training’ (CLT) curriculum.  These are generally meant for laymen, but it was very useful for me. All it cost was the price of the textbooks.

Being a bivocational pastor means that you might have some extra things to deal with, but it does not mean that you cannot have your needs met.  If you have to, work with your ecclesiastical superiors and clergy colleagues to come up with creative ways to keep your sanity.  You won’t regret it.

podcastIn our digital world it is amazing what opportunities we have for various kinds of continuing education.  In the Church of the Nazarene we have a requirement for ordained clergy to take at least 20 hours of continuing education a year, although the requirement doesn’t really have any ‘teeth’…yet.  Still and all, especially for the busy bivocational pastor, we need to ‘keep our heads in the game’ and in a way that not only stimulates our hearts and minds, but is also flexible enough to be of practical use.  One of the methods I have found to do this is to listen to podcasts while driving to and from work.

First of all, for those who may not know, a ‘podcast’ can be defined as the equivalent of an old-fashioned radio interview.  The recorded podcasts I listen to are downloaded onto my iPad, which I then broadcast in the car to a Bluetooth-enabled speaker.  Last night I was challenged by a podcast recorded by the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God.  The speaker was Pastor Wes Davis, and was a lecture delivered to the NMN at their Annual Conference in 2010.  The title was “AC10 Preaching to Reach Pre-Christians”.  Pastor Davis challenged many of the assumptions and attitudes held by typical church people, and I foresee several sermons being developed from this one podcast.

I do not just listen to Christian podcasts; many are business related.  Even within these interviews and discussions I find that my ability to speak to others in my secular job is enhanced, and there are direct applications to the Church as well.

Rather than listing out software and specific podcasts here, I recommend doing a Google search for applications for your specific platform (tablet, computer, mobile phone…).  I will occasionally bring a specific podcast to your attention through these articles, and will list those in the resource section of the website as well.  Listen to those, and have fun exploring!

I have been considering over the last several years the value of education, and what might be termed the ‘return on investment’ it might provide, especially in regard to the bivocational minister to whom time and money are generally a scarcity. I read an article yesterday that dealt with the overwhelming cost of obtaining a law degree and the crippling effect it has on graduates. I can see this in my own daughter; she just completed a year in law school and I know what debt she carries. The article made the point that in most cases the debt is likely to take many years to get rid of, if at all. There is an overabundance of lawyers and the field is shrinking.

Then there are the theology majors. The so-called ‘entry-level’ degree is a Masters of Divinity. A traditional MDiv will take 3 years of full-time study and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. The typical graduate will join a field of graduates all vying for pastoral positions which pay in the vicinity of $25,000 in salary (other benefits MAY be included, but no guarantee). As a matter of fact, the average church in the United States has 75 people and the pastor is likely to be bi-vocational. Return on investment? I would say that there is very little.

This raises a question in my mind. If the return of investment is so low, why do it? Especially for a minister who is already ordained, what’s the point? There are only a couple reasons to pursue an advanced degree in ministry. One is to advance your skills or keep your skills sharp. Another is for the ‘prestige’ of an advanced degree. A third reason would be to allow the recipient to teach in a more formal setting (at a District educational center, for instance). A fourth reason, at least in our denomination, is that there is a requirement for ordained elders to participate in continuing education.

A better option might be to take advantage of free or low-cost educational opportunities according to a plan of education you draw up yourself. There are free courses available online from places like Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. Low cost courses are available from Nazarene Bible College and others. Why not look at a Master’s level program from a legitimate school and see if you can duplicate it, or come close to it, by using these kinds of resources? If you honestly pursue the plan and meet your goals, at the end you could even print yourself a certificate and hang it on your wall.

The typical response by many in our field is that this is simply not the same as earning an advanced degree from an accredited institution. Yet, if it brings the knowledge and skills that you need, who cares? Abraham Lincoln did not seem to find his self-education in law a problem either when practicing law or as a politician. Maybe we are becoming too caught up in the formalities to recognize what the end goal should be…ministry.

(Originally published by Ray Mann in  “”, 1/13/2011)