Along the way here, we have often suggested that it is to your advantage to seek a mentor who can guide you as you encounter real-life ministry issues.  A mentor is someone who has a little more experience than you do, and who is willing to ‘build in’ to you.  This requires a commitment of time, effort and prayer.

The problem is  sometimes it can be difficult to find a person who fits all the needed criteria and is willing to do the work of mentoring.  Many years ago my wife asked an older woman, a ‘pillar of the church’, to mentor her.  This lady asked if she could pray about it and a week later came back to tell my wife that she simply ‘did not feel ready to mentor someone’. THis was a person who was a church board member, the choir leader, had numerous roles and responsibilities in the church…and had been a Christian for 40 years.  Exactly when would she feel ‘ready’?  And yet, this happens all the time.

What is the solution to this issue?  One method of dealing with it is what I call ‘Self-mentoring’.  This is the process of getting resources to address your situation and learning from them rather than having a real live person mentor you.  Here are some guidelines.

Set aside a certain day and time of the week to check up on yourself.  Make a list of the issues you have encountered during the previous week which you have questions about.  It may be helpful to keep a journal of these things whether physical (notebook, cards…)  or electronic.

Review the sources available to you that may speak into your own situation.  I don’t usually recommend books or magazine, but prefer podcasts and other recordings.  For instance, many resources speak to churches that may be larger or more urban. My own church is small and in a semi-rural area.  Listening to a podcast by a Saddleback or Willow Creek pastor or another large, urban church may not be ideal for me.  But listening to the ‘200Churches’ podcast is perfect. (

Make a commitment to your own improvement.  Your commitment to spend an hour a week is critical.  Mentoring, or self-mentoring, does not make a difference in your life and ministry unless you are consistent.


Admittedly, self-mentoring is not the best choice, but in some cases it may be the only choice you can make.  Make the most of it!


“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8-9 (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?




stressed girlThere is an interesting quote from a fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson.  He says, “Once one becomes a man, he can and must make his own decisions. But I do offer warning. Even a good thing can become destructive if taken to excess.”

As a minister we make many decisions as to policy, mission, purpose and methods in the church.  One assumes that these are all decisions that are supposed to in one way or another benefit the local church and ministry.  But when do you have too much ministry?  Does that sound strange to your ears?  It should…we ministers are in the ‘helping’ professions.  We want to help people; it is usually not in our nature to say ‘No!’ to anyone.  The reality is that too much ministry CAN be harmful to ourselves, our family and our church.  Here are a few ways you can determine if this is happening in your context.

  1.  You have no one else to run the program or ministry.  There is no one with a passion for that activity in your church, so you do it yourself.  If you have a ministry like this you seriously need to consider letting it go.
  2. You are so over-involved in various programs and meetings that you have no time for your family.  Your family is your FIRST ministry.  You cannot put yourself in a position where you harm your marriage or your children for the sake of the church.
  3. You are getting so stressed it is causing health issues.  Your health is important.  Your ministry will be shortened if you end up making yourself chronically sick and that will benefit no one.  Many don’t realize John Wesley was not only a theologian and preacher but that he wrote a booklet called “Primitive Physick” which emphasized the importance of care for physical health as part of holistic ministry.
  4. You have people who would like to be involved in a ministry, but you are running it instead.  Sometimes we get caught up in doing things our own way and decide we should lead the ministry instead of someone else.  In most cases we are robbing someone of a blessing, and perhaps even setting them up to leave the church.  They do not feel like they are able to contribute.
  5. You have people who are wearing more than one ‘hat’.  In fact, they are wearing four or five.  That is too much.  Typically you should not have anyone who is filling more than two major positions in the church.  My rule of thumb is that you should be leading a ministry, assisting in a ministry and being fed in a ministry.  For instance, a person might be teaching a Sunday School class (leading), in the choir (assisting) and attending a home Bible Study (being fed).  If that same person was teaching a Sunday School class, leading the choir and leading a Bible Study group they are probably on the road to burnout.  This applies to you as well!  Don’t overload.

People will tell me I don’t know what it is like to be in a small church where you have to be this involved to minister effectively.  My church averages 25 people in Sunday worship.  When we first came to this present assignment we had a fair number of pew warmers, while our Church Treasurer played the piano, led worship, was the Missions President and cleaned and decorated the church.  We saw she was drowning, so the first order of business was to relieve her of some of those responsibilities.  We found out what she felt called to do.  we found out what she was doing just because she felt someone had to do it.  We approached a couple ‘pew warmers’ and asked them if they would like to help..and they enthusiastically said yes.  At least one ministry was side-lined.  Not only did the church survive, it grew.  More importantly it grew spiritually as people took ownership.

Rick Aster in his book ‘Fear of Nothing” says, “Most of us try to do too much because we are secretly afraid we will not be able to do anything at all.”   John says in 1 John 4:18…“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”  Sometimes the punishment is implicit in the doing.  We do because we are afraid, but we harm ourselves in the doing.  On the other hand, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Perhaps we need to listen to and act on His words.


coachingDo you have a mentor or a coach? We have discussed this in the past on this site and I truly believe you need to have someone who can ask the tough questions and who is willing to build into your life and ministry. As Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary would say, “You need a ‘Paul’ in your life!’

One of my favorite authors and authorities specifically on bivocational ministry is Dr. Dennis Bickers.  He has served as a bivocational pastor and church leader working primarily with smaller churches. Here is a great article by Dr. Bickers on his blog, and the subject of why coaching might be right for you…

Click HERE to go to the article.

Happy reading!

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?

A recent installment on this blog discussed the subject of ‘How to be a mentor’…this one is concerned with the flip side.  As important as it is to BE a mentor to someone, it is just as important to have your own mentor.  This is the ‘Paul’ relationship of the ‘Paul-Barnabas-Timothy’ model of mentoring.  But just how do you find a mentor to begin with?

mentoring2Ideally you should start people who are close to you, who you know and respect as leaders in the path you want to follow.  It is likely that your network includes people just like you but more advanced.  Church planters, for instance, often have a formal or informal relationship with other church planters in their area.  Associate Pastors are likely to be connected to Senior Pastors in their area who have been on a pastoral staff previously.

Look at your own situation and ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in five years?”, and then look at who you know that might be able to help you get there.  One of my life Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, where Paul talks about ‘the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God‘.  People who have trod the path you are walking are often the best sources of encouragement and instruction.  God has used the circumstances in their lives to prepare them to minister to others in the same situations.

You will also want to make sure that you and your mentor have personalities that get along easily.  Time is generally on your side with finding a mentor, you can afford to wait for the right person to come along at the right time.  God’s timing is impeccable, but don’t delay your decision when the time comes!

Examine yourself to see if you are ready for a mentoring relationship.  It can be a humbling experience when you find someone to mentor you, and they point out areas that need improvement.  You may be doing something that they themselves have already tried and found to be a mistake.  Hearing that kind of response can strike deep at our ego.

Set a time for the mentoring relationship to end, if you need to do so.  Asking a mentor for a long term relationship might be overwhelming, while asking to meet with them once a month for a year might be more warmly received.   This, of course, will depend on your circumstances. I have found myself over the years to have had four mentors.  Some of those have been long term, others were short term.  One of my mentors was my Senior Pastor while I was going through ministerial training, mentoring me formally for about four years.  Another was a fellow church planter, older, more experienced and wiser than I with whom I met once a month for a period of two years.  Another is my ‘Mission Area Director’, with whom I have a relatively informal relationship that has lasted for about fifteen years now.  and finally, my father-in-law, a retired minister with over forty years of ministry experience has been a primary source of guidance and encouragement over the last 30 years.

Sometimes a person who you think might make a good mentor will refuse.  Sometimes there is a good reason, sometimes not.  When we were new in the ministry my wife identified a leading ‘pillar’ of the church as a person who she wanted to ask to be her mentor.  This lady had held numerous posts in the local church and was highly regarded.  She had been in that church for almost forty years.  She refused the request to be my wife’s mentor because she felt she didn’t have enough experience and was unworthy.  This was a product of her own self-esteem issues, not really because she did not have anything to offer.  As a result my wife did not have the possibility of a good mentor for several years following that refusal.  I believe they both lost out on a blessing.

If you don’t have a mentor right now, keep your eyes and heart open.  Be open to the blessings God has for you!

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.

Source:‘Social Media’ has become one of the hot topics over the last 10 years.  The Church has been said historically to seriously lag behind in tech innovation;  while that may be true the bivocational minister will find Social Media offers some unique opportunities to expand ministry.  Here are some ways you can start using social media for ministry today.

1)  Start a Facebook page for your church.  There are many voices today saying Facebook is on the way out, but even if it is, it still has a large user base.  Most likely a majority of your congregation have a Facebook page already.  The account is free, and has many useful features.  We use our page to announce and invite people to events, share pictures of significant happenings in the church and occasionally post links to articles of interest.  I even post quotes from the sermon the previous Sunday, so our people who attended have an extra learning point and those who did not attend have at least some idea of what was said.  Download the Facebook App onto your smartphone and you don’t even have to be at your computer to conduct Facebook ministry!

2) Use texting (and email) to keep in touch with people. Want to remind people of an upcoming event?  Text’em!  Want to find out if Joe Cool is alright because he wasn’t at church on Sunday?  Text’em!  Again, right from your smartphone.  No stamp required.

3) Use YouTube to post video excerpts from your worship service.  It is free and easier than a full-on podcast, although the free accounts limit the clip duration.  Put the link to your excerpts and channel on FaceBook and your church webpage.

4)  Need to make quick announcements?  Set up a Twitter account.  This is great for doing things like making weather-related announcements during winter, and for reaching targeted groups of people (separate groups for youth ministry, etc.).  You can send out a ‘Scripture-a-Day’ message, or short sermon quotes.

5)  Finally, a warning.  Social Media allows us to keep in daily contact with our people.  But sometimes that daily contact can be a hindrance as well.  I lost a family from my church because of things they posted on Facebook which were inappropriate; they were offended and left when I brought it up.  Sometimes a thick skin can be handy (sometimes it is better to let small matters pass and recognize that everyone is growing in Christ), as well as letting people know that their life during the week should match what they are saying on Sunday.  This one is difficult, but we all need to know the possibility and develop a plan  BEFORE we actually need it.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:16, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Social Media…it can make a big difference in your ministry as a bivocational.  Make the most of the opportunities you have been given!  

BONUS:  Free eBook from Chris Forbes  Click here –> Facebook For Pastors

Mentoring and accountability are two looming issues for any minister but especially for the bivocational, whether in an established church or in a church plant situation.  Mentoring is the process by which one person builds into the life of another less experienced person, and accountability is the mechanism that keeps the minister honest and on the right path.  Mentoring is essential for the growth of the minister professionally, and accountability is what can keep the minister from personal tragedy such as relationship problems, moral and ethical issues or even criminal activities.  As such, the bivocational needs to have these elements built into their life in a way that works for them.  The church as a whole needs to acknowledge this and provide the means for doing it.

Why is this such a problem for the bivocational minister?  Simply put, they have little time for such activities and what time they do have is not usually during nine-to-five working hours.  The typical bivocational needs to have accountability and mentoring on their own flexible schedule or it is just not going to be done.  This is something many fully-funded pastors realize about their bivo brethren, but don’t have the means to address.

Many years ago I developed a relationship with one of my fellow ministry students on my District and we began to pray together and become accountable to one another by meeting at least once a month.  Most often we would grab a coffee at the local burger joint and head over to the parking lot of the school where his church plant was operating.  Eventually he moved to Vermont and took an established church.  A few years after this my wife and I were assigned to a church plant effort in Vermont and we renewed the relationship.  There were several key factors that made all of this work.  We both had crazy schedules, both were bivocational, and both had the desire to make it work.  We both had the backing and support of our wives.  Most importantly, we trusted each other and gave each other the permission to ask the ‘hard questions’.

The relationship I had with my accountability partner was good, but in many ways it was not suitable for a mentoring relationship.  For one thing we were too similar in experience levels.  A mentoring relationship is more of a “Paul/Timothy” than a “Paul/Barnabas” thing.  Paul and Barnabas were very similar in experience and functioned well as an accountability partnership.  Paul and Timothy on the other hand were years apart in experience, so Paul took on a teaching role in Timothy’s life as a minister.  Early in my ministry I sought a mentor (more on this process in another article!) and found an experienced and successful church planter with whom I had taken many classes.  I asked him to pray about establishing a mentoring relationship and he accepted.  We met once a month for prayer, catch-up and mentoring activities.  The relationship did not end until he passed away a few years later, but mentoring relationships can be for a fixed time as well as open-ended.  My main mentoring partner right now is my father-in-law who has forty-plus years of experience in the ministry.

Some ministers see little reason to have either a mentor (“I am already taking classes…”) or an accountability partner (“I am doing alright, I don’t need anyone keeping an eye on me!”)  But for long term professional development and preventing moral ‘drift’ over time, they are worth all the effort.

The key thing to remember here is that bivocational ministers need both accountability and mentoring relationships, but they also have special requirements for those relationships because of their schedules and ability to connect.  If you do not have these built into your life, please consider it seriously; you will not regret the decision!