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.

If you are like me and are being honest with yourself, there are days (sometimes MANY days!) when you wonder if what you are doing has any validity, any impact or is doing anything at all worthwhile.  As a matter of fact there are days when you might wonder if the ministry is actively harming you and making life more difficult, even to the point of harming your health and your family.  The truth is that ministry can be a brutal avocation, whether you are a bivopastor or a fully-funded pastor.  There will be days when you come out of the pulpit on Sunday morning and look desperately for the back door so you can get out unseen.  There will be days when you have to confront someone about a sinful behavior, or mediate between two warring ‘pillars’.  There will be times when you are called out in the middle of the night to a deathbed.  There will be times when you and your congregation just don’t seem to be on the same page, and you have to lead them into unknown and very frightening territory.

And then, there are days like yesterday.  After church my wife and I went to the local mall and in the food court encountered one of my former High School students from my days in Special Ed as a paraeducator.  She saw me from a distance, talking to her parents, and before I knew what was happening she had me in a bear hug that would have cracked a lesser man’s ribs.  Fortunately I knew her well enough to expect it!  We talked for quite some time, and she introduced my wife and I to her two daughters.  The oldest is in first grade now.  My former student has been married for twelve years.  The most important things that were said were, first, she feels she would have never made it through High School if it were not for me taking the extra time with her she needed and encouraging her, and because of this she is now an advocate for her own daughter in school.    And second, she is attending a local church and reaching out to everyone she can.

What is the proof of the Holy Spirit working through you, the proof of ministry?  It is in the changed lives around you.  Seemingly small things can be tremendously impactful, while the big, flashy events we all like may make no difference at all.  Having an outreach event which brings in 500 people sounds great, while sitting with a person in a coffee shop and praying with them after they lost their job may sound mundane.  Years later we find out that the person in the coffee shop was so greatly moved by the encouragement you gave, showing God’s heart to them, that they came to Christ and now their entire family is on fire for Him.  And we never heard anything else from those 500 people at the big event. The problem is we do not have God’s perspective and while it may seem that sometimes we are just spinning our wheels, God is at work in the background.

Those days when you feel discouraged…look back and remember the individual lives that your ministry has touched.  The proof of your ministry lies in those lives.


“I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…”
Philippians 1:3-5 (NIV)

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)


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.




Bivo pastors in a small church know how much a small change in attendance can help…or hurt…the health of the church.  Good statistics are definitely not the end goal of a pastor, but they do tell stories.  A few years ago my wife and I moved to Vermont to plant a new church.  We had a storefront where we worshipped.  The church did pretty well, and was consistently running in the black financially.  We had the largest teen youth group in town, despite the fact that many churches had been there much longer than we had.  But in the last two years we saw several crises hit the church.  We had to move to another facility which was not as suitable as our first.  A family that had been supporting us consistently moved out of state.  Another left because they decided a church plant was not for them and they ‘needed better music’.  What had been a thriving ministry became a struggling ministry.  The bottom fell out.  Eventually we closed the work and moved on after making sure everyone in the group had a place to go.  Our last Sunday we had four people besides my wife and I.

No doubt about it, when a small church loses even a small number of people the ministry can be devastated.  For a church of 200 people, losing 10 can be painful.  For a church of 20 or 30, 10 people leaving might completely wreck the boat.  So, what do you do when the bottom falls out?  How do you handle it?

Most bivo pastors would say that numbers are not what drives us to do what we do.  Yet when the numbers dwindle like this, or even lead to a closure, our egos take a hit.  It hurts.  We regard it not only as a ministry failure, but a personal failure.  There is going to be a time of grieving.  We grieve for what we have lost, and for what might have been.  We ponder and think about what we might have done to stem the tide.  We blame ourselves for the failure.  One of the first things you need to do is realise that this is normal.  we need to make time and space to let ourselves heal.  Find a group of encouraging people with whom you can share your struggles and hurts.  Do not be too quick to go back into a ministry position.  Sit back, take time to think and pray.

If your ministry still exists, but is failing, it is time to ask what went wrong and ask God to show you a way forward.  It may be that the ministry needs to have a  new leader.  Yes, you might need to step aside.  Or perhaps you need to refocus on the important things.  Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Church” says that surfers go out to seek the perfect wave.  They don’t try to MAKE the wave, they find where it already is and then ride it.  As pastors we sometimes find we are spending more time trying to MAKE a wave of the Spirit than SEEKING where He is working.  How many times have you seen a church with no children trying to put a children’s ministry together?  What is your church doing right?  What is your church doing wrong or failing at?  What is there in your church that cannot be duplicated by any other in your area?  Start there and work outward.

Perhaps the next part of the process is to recognize the difference between our ministry and our calling.  The fact that a particular ministry did not go well does not mean that your calling has disappeared.  God called you into ministry, and He will walk with you through the dark parts as well as the light.  Hold on to the fact that God has a special mission and purpose for you.

Most importantly, get as near to God as you can.  Let Him show you His peace.  Let Him guide you.  Read the Bible and pray.  As you get closer to Him, things will become clearer.  Let His blessings wash over you.

“Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

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)

During the last two weeks I have been extremely busy with various events.  The normal work schedule is of course supplemented with the usual variety of church functions, such as Tuesday night prayer and Sunday Worship.  Add to this the doctor appointments and a root canal for our 14 year old and it is quite a sight on the calendar.  So much so that I was very stressed out.  A couple weeks ago I took a Friday night to Sunday morning retreat seminar for chaplains.  The following weekend I met with my long-time prayer partner for a Friday night to Saturday afternoon hike in Fox State Forest near Windsor, NH.  If I had not had those two breaks I am pretty certain I would have been locked up in a looney bin! (Yes, I know that was politically incorrect, but then again so am I.)

The value of small, even informal, spiritual retreats cannot be overestimated.  Jesus had this same kind of practice.  Luke states that, “…Jesus OFTEN withdrew to lonely places and prayed”.  This was not a one time event for Him.  It was something He did often.  Jesus was under a lot of pressure and this was His strategy to recover and revive HImself.

Going off by yourself is like sharpening a saw blade.  Sure, it takes time to do it, but in the end you are more productive than working with a dulled (or broken) blade.  What do you do when you go on a retreat?  Different people have different ideas, but usually include some combination of reading, praying, studying and relaxing.  The next time you feel under pressure and about to ‘pop’, try going on a small retreat to rebuild.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (NIV)

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!


i-am-a-failureEveryone likes a success story.  You do, I do, everyone does.  We generally don’t like to hear about failures, yet which of us has not failed at some point?   I have a confession to make; the reason I stopped listening to certain pastors and motivational leaders is because they succeeded too well.  It is discouraging to me because I hear on the one side how well something may work, and then I look at myself and my own context and think, “Why do I fail when I try something like that?”

Well, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the last 20 years is the art of failure.  So here are a few points for you to consider.

  1.  Realize that everyone fails.  Even that megachurch pastor and motivational speaker with all the success stories fail.  For every success story they have a plethora of failures that they usually don’t bother to mention.
  2. Give yourself permission to fail.  Learn from each failure.  Then sit down and analyze what happened and why, and what might have been done differently.  Debrief all your team members and apply the lessons learned to other efforts in progress.
  3. Train your people to do the same.  Make learning from failure a part of the discipleship process, and teach them to extend this practice of grace and forgiveness to themselves.  People tend to be better at extending grace and forgiveness to others than they are at applying it to themselves.
  4. Give your people permission to fail, too.  Most people are afraid to try new things because they don’t want to be seen themselves as ‘a failure’.  Tell them you are giving them permission to try new things and it is okay if they don’t work as desired.  Become an encourager!

A famous pastor once made the remark that he tells his people to try new ministry ideas and if one out of 10 succeeds then the effort was worth it.  I not only agree with him, but have told my people the same thing.  I am not going to think less of them if we try something and it fails…we can always learn something from the effort.

One of our biggest successes over the last few years has been a ministry no seminary-trained pastor would have ever thought to try.  My men’s ministry director started a blowgun competition.  My church now offers the only United States Blowgun Assn sanctioned club in New England.  We have great fun with it, but it also offers us outreach opportunities we could not otherwise duplicate.  We have been in our local paper twice with full color pictures and nice write-ups.  We have drawn interest from a wide geographical area and presented our ministry to over 75 men’s group leaders at our church camp.  By the way…over half of our group are now women.

The moral of the story is don’t fear failure.  Use it.

Learn to fail well and you will end up succeeding, too.


“After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”  Mark 9:28-29 (NIV)