Pastors as a group are not well known for risky behavior and especially behavior that may impact their church growth.  There is an old joke about the church being about 10 years behind the curve when it comes to innovation.  Sadly, that may be closer to the truth than we are likely to admit.  In my own small circle I know of churches who are just now introducing such things as lyrics projected onto a screen during worship.  In a meeting just this last week we were talking about music, and I remarked that what we refer to as ‘the new choruses’ were actually published almost 25 years ago!  (“Master Chorus Book” by Ken Bible)

The concept of risk is something with which we as bivopastors should become friends.  There are a few things we should know, as a basis, though.

First, risk is risky.  Duh!  Any particular action taken may or may not succeed, and in many cases the action will fail.  This is not bad, though, if we learn from our failures.  It is only bad when we do not learn from our mistakes.  Thomas Edison is said to have tried 10,000 experiments as he was inventing his light bulb.  When asked about his failure he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Second, just because it worked (or didn’t work) somewhere else is no guarantee it will do the same thing in our context.  As stock brokers are prone to say, ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings’.  Seeing something working in one place, like a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church, does not guarantee it will work for you. This is probably more a problem with context than with execution.

Third, a slightly tongue in cheek definition of ‘insanity’ is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.  One of my favorite movies is ‘The Princess Bride’.  No matter how often I watch it, though, it always ends the same way.  If I expected it to end a different way as I watch it over and over again…there is something wrong!  Yet, in the church we often do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  I knew of a missionary years ago who boasted that they had given out 20,000 tracts on a street corner over a period of two years.  When I asked how many responses they saw, he told me that 2 people  had come into the church.  That is a response rate of .01%.  Yes, those two people are precious to God, but almost certainly the missionary would have been better off trying something new.  ‘We have always done it this way’ is a death knell for a church.

How do we use risk to our own benefit?  We need to embrace the uncomfortable.  Yes, change is difficult, and sometimes painful.  We then decide to learn from our mistakes, rather than retreat from them or wallow in our own misery.  If we are successful, so much the better.  Never let a good failure pass you by!

Encourage your people to try new things.  Give them permission to fail!  Let them know that the trying is the important part, and you will not be mad at them for failing if they are doing something new and worthwhile.

Take a look at your current ministry, what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If it is not working or if it is requiring much effort for little in terms of results, don’t be afraid to cast it aside and try something different.  Realistically a small church cannot ‘do it all’.  It must pick and choose the ministries it can offer in a strategic fashion.  Those ministries it does, it must do well.  There are certain core ministries EVERY church must supply, however.  A worship service of some sort is essential, as is a missions program, an outreach or service ministry and an opportunity for prayer.  Beyond these, everything is up for grabs.  Notice I did not define what those particular ‘essential’ ministries look like.  These are more or less defined as missional priorities rather than a fixed format.  Worship could be home groups, a formal church setting, a live band with a worship leader in a park or a coffee house.  Outreach could be a nursing home ministry, a school Bible club, servant evangelism or collecting box tops for an Native American school.  In addition, some ministries simply have a life span.  It may be that once worked no longer does and it is time to change.  That is okay.

The one thing to keep in mind here above all else is that if you do not take some risks, the chances for growth are exceedingly low.  Failure is seldom fatal, but is merely another opportunity to learn.


‘ “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’

John 4:34 (NIV)


planningAs I write this article it is late July.  Last Sunday we held a Board Meeting at my church and we were reminded of a simple fact.  Summer is here, but Fall and Winter are fast approaching!  Some of the events we are interested in hosting over the coming six months are going to require a bit of preparation time.  We usually have a Thanksgiving Dinner in November, we want to have a ‘Trunk or Treat’ for Halloween, we were thinking of a special program for Christmas.  Even close, we have the beginning of school.  Some events, like a musical program for Christmas, require four to six weeks of practice, and materials need to be acquired even further ahead.  So…July is the perfect time to start planning ahead!

At a minimum we need to do the following:

  • Determine dates for special events
  • Determine precursors (things that need to be done beforehand)
  • Deadlines for material orders.
  • People needs…how many people are needed to do this?
  • Recruiting deadlines.
  • Prayer team involvement.
  • Advertising deadlines.

There are many other possible tasks, but these will get you started.  Above all, don’t let the summer slip by without at least taking a look at your fall and winter schedules.  We can all use a little less stress in our lives and scrambling at the last minute will not be good for the blood pressure!


“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Prov 16:3 (NIV)

Time ManagementWhen starting this ‘discussion’ around bivopastors I envisioned several different concerns that bivocationals have, but it has become obvious that certain ones have a higher priority than others.  Recently, in talking with a fairly large and diverse group of bivocational ministers,  one particular concern popped out as their universal and main issue.  Taking that thought and doing some checking with other sources even larger and more diverse and the concern was verified.  What is the overriding concern which almost every bivopastor has?  Time Management.  

Time management is actually an issue that touches on every area of the bivopastor’s life, whether it is family/work/ministry balance, management of church schedules, preparation for preaching or health concerns, time management plays a large role.  Moreover, if the bivopastor does not practice time management in an effective way every area of their life and ministry will begin to suffer.

One of my ministry mentors quotes to me years ago was originally from Benjamin Franklin,  “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  Good time management recognizes that adequate planning is the basis for success in any endeavor.  Recently we have found that quote to be true in my household, as my wife gets up at 4:30 am in order to be at work at 6 am.  We prepare her lunch ahead of time, make sure the clothes she is going to wear have been laundered and that her car has gas in it.     Without these vital items she would not get to work on time and our life would consequently be much more stressful.

Zig Ziglar said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”   You have to know what your goal is, then focus on that goal.  Our goal in the early morning hours is to get my wife out to work on time.  We concentrate on that goal and because of planning and focus we are able to do so.  In ministry, one of my most pressing goals is to walk in to church on Sunday morning with nothing (or nearly nothing) left to do for the Worship service. By planning ahead in terms of sermon preparation, speaking to my worship leader about music choices and setting aside time for service bulletin and PowerPoint construction I am able to accomplish that purpose.

The best advice we can offer, leading to all the other tips, tricks and techniques,  is summed up by Golda Meir.  “I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.”  It is easy to let the clock get ahead of you, it takes time and effort to master your time.  But in the end it is all worth it.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)

(Source: Image via Creative Commons/ James Wang)There is an old saying ,  ‘when life hands you lemons, make lemonade’.  This is a way of saying that when something unexpectedly bad happens, make the best of it.  There is another side to this, of course, and that is more along the lines of, ‘when life hands you sugar, make a cake’.  There is actually a word for this…’serendipity’.

I read a recent article in Fortune Magazine’s online edition showing the power of opportunity.  Arthur Gensler is an architect who in the early 1990’s was flying, quite unexpectedly on an upstart airline called JetBlue.  In his own words, “Later, as I was settling into my plane seat, a man’s voice came on the PA system. He introduced himself as David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue. He said that he would be joining the flight attendants to serve drinks, and he hoped to talk to every passenger. I thought this was fantastic and was suddenly glad to be sitting farther back in the plane because it gave me a few moments to think about how I would introduce myself.  When David Neeleman reached my seat, he asked what I did. “I’m an architect,” I said, adding, “We do airports.”  Those three little words changed everything.(Source:  Within two weeks Gensler’s fledgling firm was asked to submit a proposal to design JetBlue’s new JFK International Airport terminal.

Life happens.  Unexpected good and bad things happen.  The question for us as bivocational ministers is how can we anticipate and use those life events best for the Lord?  There is actually a single key practice that we can use to take control.  That is called ‘foresight and planning’.

There are a couple key points to keep in mind.

First, begin thinking in terms of possibilities.  Don’t just assume something is going to happen and concentrate on the one outcome.  What are the best and the worst things that can happen in a given circumstance?  For instance, you are having coffee with a person who came to the church on Sunday and you want to get to know him better.  What is the best thing that can come out of that meeting?  What is the worst thing?  Think through what you would say in each scenario.  Are there biblical principles that apply?  What about church policy statements?  District or denominational stances?  Now that you have thought those things through…what is the most likely thing that will come out of the meeting?

Second, begin to formulate well thought out answers and responses for various scenarios.  An example, for me personally, is that I have had some dealings with various cults and have found certain apologetic answers to their attacks to be more effective than others.  Some of these I have written in the back of my Bible, others I have simply memorized.  Scripture reading and memorization is never wasted…the Holy Spirit will call it to mind when needed.  This principle applies not only in apologetics, but in other areas of life, too.   In martial arts we repeatedly train the same moves over and over to develop what is referred to as ‘muscle memory’, the instinctive action that requires little or no thought.

Third,  change your behavior in order to shift the unexpected in favor of the good, rather than the bad.  In other words, make your own opportunities!  When someone asks you, ‘What do you do for a living?’, what do you say?  Do you say <insert secular job title here>, or do you say, “I am a bivocational minister”?  The first answer is likely to be very generic, while the second answer is probably going to generate an opportunity.  “Bivocational minister?  What is that?”

The Bible says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15-16 NIV)  We want to make the most of EVERY opportunity, whether the occasion is good or bad.  Are you ready?

(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!


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

If there was a way for you to cut down on your workload by a third to a half, reduce your stress by half and increase your effectiveness twice over, would you do it?  I think most of us would jump a the chance, especially those of us who are bivocational.  Sounds like a bad internet ad, though, doesn’t it?  Well, it is not.  There IS a simple way to do all of these things and more.  In a single sentence it is this:  Put your schedule for the next six months to a year down on paper.  Seeing that is it the beginning of a new year, this is the perfect time to start off on the right foot.  But if you are reading this article at another point during the year, don’t despair!  Start where you are and you will see the benefits anyway.

How does this help you?  First, you will know what you are preaching a long time in advance.  You can gather scripture, notes, illustrations and music ideas well in advance.  Many of us (even fully-funded pastors!) have those times when it is Saturday and we still don’t know what our sermon outline looks like.  That will be a thing of the past…and the stress that goes along with it.  Second, the person who does your music will have more opportunity to select and practice music.  Music specials will be easier to schedule.  Key dates will be incorporated into your schedule rather than being added at the last second.  Now, instead Excelof simply planning a single Mother’s Day sermon and a Father’s Day sermon, you can schedule a sermon series around family life that takes both of those days into account!

One of the most influential books I have read in the recent past was on how to do this scheduling efficiently.  This is Nelson Searcy’s book, “Engage: A Guide To Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services”.   It is available as an eBook as well as in hard copy.  I highly recommend that you add this book to your reading list.
My personal practice is to use an Excel spreadsheet that is color coded to create a schedule (see illustration at left). All Sundays and known ministry days are added first (Tuesday prayer meeting, etc.).  These are followed by holidays and special days during the year.  Advent, Lent and Thanksgiving are chief among these.  Sermon series and special events are scheduled around these dates.  This is only one way of doing these tasks; you will find a method that is meaningful to you.  Give it a try, and I guarantee you will see benefits to your ministry quickly!

Happy New Year!


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.

wise_owlThere are many questions surrounding the issue of bivocational ministry. Sometimes, however, the questions being asked are the wrong ones. Some of these may come from our education and training, some may be from life experience. Regardless, we need to start asking the right questions.

Dennis Bickers is an author, blogger, former bivocational pastor and presently is a judicatory leader for small churches and bivocational ministers. He recently wrote a post on exactly this subject. Take a look at his blog post, “Bivocational Ministry: Asking the wrong questions about bivocational ministry” and while you are there take a look at the rest of his articles!

Learn the RIGHT questions to ask!

Source: was reading a book on chess and came across a very interesting statement. The discussion was about ‘forking’, that is, attacking two pieces with a single piece. Such an attack means that one or the other of the attacked pieces can be saved and the other is captured. He stated, “In cases like this one you might compare a chess player to the author of a whodunit who starts his work by figuring out the solution which will come at the end of his book…the Knight’s forking check is the ‘solution’. Black’s task, once he sees this check is to search for the moves that make the check meaningful.” 1 

It occurred to me that this same process is applicable to us in the church. First, it is a clear way to structure our spiritual life. What is our goal in our spiritual life? Every Christian should strive to become more Christlike disciples, to be closer to God. You know where you want to go, and where you are now, so how is that reasonably accomplished? Daily Bible reading and prayer, finding an accountability partner, finding and using your spiritual gifts are all excellent paths to this goal.

Secondly, we can apply this to other areas of our lives. If you want to achieve certain things in your life, then what do you need to do to get there? For instance, if you want to write a fiction novel, you need to sit down and start writing. If you want to get a Doctorate, then you need to work on your Master’s degree. If you want to be a motorcycle mechanic, then you need to buy a ‘beater’ and enroll in a course or buy some books.

Finally, in the collective church we have goals as well. The high-falutin’ church language calls this “casting a vision” and there are entire seminars and college classes about it, but it’s really simple. The first question should be, “What is our vision for this church?” Where do we want to end up? What do we see this church being or doing in five years, or ten years? So many times we go along with no goal, and then wonder why we don’t seem to get anywhere. There’s an old story about a flight of military planes flying through overcast skies just after World War 2. Their navigational instruments were out when the controller radioed them and asked where they were. The pilot in the lead plane answered, “Well, I really don’t know, but we’re making good time!”.

If we want to be known as a “Praying Church”, do we have prayer meetings and activities? If we want to be known as “Friendly”, how do we support that goal? If we want to be known as the church that has its hands in the local community, how are we striving to get there?

Being a bivocational minister means that we don’t have time and energy to waste on random activities.  Don’t just dream about it and think God is going to drop things in your lap. Make a conscious choice to pray about where God wants you to go and what He wants you to do, then follow Him!

1 “How to be a winner at chess” by Fred Reinfeld: Fawcett, c1954, p65