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)

lonelinessYears ago I was a phone counselor for Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  One of the things they trained us to recognize was the prevalence of loneliness during the times of the Crusades, which were typically around Thanksgiving or Easter.  The likelihood that you would take a call or two with someone suffering from loneliness during the holidays was pretty good.  I have found since that time that when yo talk to a pastor the likelihood of loneliness is even higher.  A great percentage of pastors are feel isolated and alone other than with their spouse, even pastors who have churches numbering in the thousands.

What causes this kind of loneliness?  According to Pastor Rick Warren on his podcast of May 14, 2007 (“How to Overcome Loneliness in Ministry”)  there are a number of possible causes.  One of these is simply pride.  This is the sort of pride which causes a pastor to say, “If I have God, then I don’t need people.”  This sounds very spiritual, but it is totally false and leads to dysfunction.  Another is a reverse of that fallacy where the pastor believes they must maintain a ‘face’ in front of their flock.  Essentially this is fear; fear that their people will lose faith in them if they show weakness.  Some schools and professors in seminary have even taught that this is good pastoral practice.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, the Bible teaches us that our true strength comes when we admit our weaknesses, let God bring us strength and let others minister to us while we minister to them.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn when I was younger was that I had to let someone else minister to me once in a while.  By not letting them do so, I was actually taking a blessing away from them.  By allowing someone minister to me I was actually building them up, discipling them, growing them.   By refusing to ‘put on a face’ I was also letting my people know I was not some ‘super-Christian’, I was a sinner saved by grace just as they were.  By admitting I needed help, they were encouraged to ask for help when they found themselves in need.

Another reason for loneliness is, ironically, busyness.  Many pastors get so busy they don’t take time out to be with people just as friends, with no ministerial goal in sight.  Their calendars are full but their insides are hollow.  Everyone needs time away from the ‘busyness’ to regenerate and revitalize themselves.

How do you deal with loneliness?  First, realize that you do need people.  You are not, never have been and never will be able to stand all on your own.  God created us as social beings and we need others for love, encouragement and support.  We are not robots.

Second you can find your way out of loneliness by not retreating from people.  When you feel lonely you need to be around other people.  You find friends by being friendly.  Look around and see if there is someone you can meet with just for recreational purposes.  Take a walk, meet at McDonald’s for coffee, get involved in a sport or a hobby.

Third, admit that you are not perfect…not simply to yourself, but to others.  Show your weaknesses.  Allow others to minister to you. By letting others into your life you can actually be more effective in ministry than you ever dreamed you could be.  As others minister to you they will grow and become more consistent in their walk.  They will become deeper disciples.  Isn’t that the whole point of our ministry, to grow Christ-like disciples?

“Therefore go and make disciples…”  Matthew 28:19 (NIV)


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!