Have you ever thought something has gone away and will never return?  I have thought that on a number of occasions and been wrong.  Vinyl Records were overtaken by first 8-Track tapes, then cassette tapes took over.  Cassette tapes gave way to CD’s, and CD’s eventually were supplanted by digital music files.  And then…vinyl came back.  WHAT?!

Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s the ‘worship wars’ were all the rage.  Churches debated endlessly whether it was better to stick with the old hymns, use more modern music, instrumentation and choruses-heavy worship or maybe do a little of both.  The debates were often billed as being ‘seeker sensitive’ versus ‘maintenance mode’ worship orientations. The discussions often had more heat associated with them than light.  Since I was just starting ministry during this time period I remember having many discussions with other pastors about the best way to proceed.

Last week I found this was one of the ‘old becomes new’ discussions.  A very animated discussion took place on a pastor’s forum I am involved in, and it generated a heavy sense of Deja Vu in me.

So, what is the real answer here?  Is there one?  Well, as a matter of fact, there is an answer. The answer is that it depends on your context.  The problem herein is that this is not a nice, clean answer for pastors.  We want someone to tell us that if we use a particular worship pattern that our churches will grow, we will reach new people, that the church will be healthy and will fit the Biblical patterns established in Acts.  It is akin to the statement often heard when people from various faith traditions get together and they start having ecclesiology debates.  The statement invariably comes out, “Our church follows the New Testament form and pattern better than any other church”.  To which my comment is, “WHICH New Testament church are you talking about?  Acts 2?  The Church at Ephesus?  The Church in Jerusalem?  The Church at Rome?  Galatia?  Philippi?  Corinth?”  Each of these churches was unique in some way, and fit the context of their region.  In the same way, we need to fit our church and it’s worship to the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In my own circumstances we have a  number of people who have been in the church for many years, and who really appreciate the old hymns.  We also have a number of younger people who prefer the newer choruses.  So, we host a blended worship service.  Almost a year ago we tried moving to a much more contemporary format, and frankly it was a disaster.  No one, not even the younger people, liked the format.  For us the blended format is what works.  Some churches in our area find that the contemporary format is more appreciated, and some find that a strictly traditional and even liturgical format is best.

The lesson from this is simple.  Don’t get caught up in these kind of debates which attempt to fix one form or format to everyone.   There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ church.  God has made a wonderfully diverse church which has many appearances, and consequently many differing needs.  Pray about it, ask your people, and do an honest evaluation. Then, and only then, decide if a change is needed.


Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Cor 12:27 (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.




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)




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: https://pixabay.com/en/writing-write-writer-letter-41354/)Some people are just not very good at journaling.  I have tried to keep one several times in my life, but have never succeeded over the long term.  Today I went out and bought a new journal; however, this one is for a specific purpose.  One of the ladies in my prayer meeting on Tuesday nights was keeping track of our prayer requests and answers to prayer.  Unfortunately she is taking a class now and is not able to come to the meeting.  The new journal is meant to fill that gap.  That begs the question, why keep a prayer journal at all?  Isn’t just praying good enough?

  • Keeping a journal forces you to be specific in your prayers. It also keeps you organized.
  • Keep a journal allows you to pray for people from week to week, easily tracking them.
  • Keeping a journal allows you to record the answers to prayers as you know them.
  • Keeping a journal lets  you look back and see the answers when you need encouragement or assurance.  Think of the times when the Israelites looked back to the Exodus during their various festivals, or as we do during the Lord’s Supper when we look back to the Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross .

Keeping a prayer journal does not require an Italian leather-bound, hand-made notebook.  It can be a college composition book, a loose-leaf notebook, spiral-bound notebook or something else.  A journal is as valuable for your private prayer time as it is for a group meeting.  Here is a good article  on creating your own journal.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)

prayerWhen I was growing up as a kid in church we always went to Sunday School and the Holiness Meeting (Sunday AM Worship).  The more devout among us went to the Salvation Meeting (PM Praise service).  The really, really devout went to the Wednesday prayer meeting, too.  As I got older and a little wiser I began to  go to the evening Salvation Meeting and realized that it did indeed add to my spiritual well-being and life in the fellowship.  Even later, when I was called into the ministry I went to the Officer (pastor) and asked when the mid-week prayer meeting was, so I could attend.  To my utter shock and surprise he told me that it had been discontinued due to lack of interest!

Fast forward to today.  In my own church there are only two indispensable ministries.  The first is the Sunday morning Worship Service.  The second is our mid-week Prayer Meeting.  we can dispense with any ministry we have, but not those two.  And of the two…the prayer meeting is, in my opinion, more important.   So why should you have a prayer meeting?

  • Prayer is the engine that drives the church.  Prayer, communion and communication with God is what undergirds everything we do.  Without that we are just a fancy social club.
  • Prayer focuses the church.  The church is brought to the point where they begin to intercede in a very specific fashion.  It is easy to pray for ‘world peace’ in a general way, but you are more likely to be able to see answers when praying for a sick person, a conflicted relationship, or someone who needs a job.  Focus and intentionality increase as the prayer life expands.
  • Prayer forces us to look outside the church.  In a word, outreach and missions are brought to the front of the church.  Praying for someone at work or at the store can be a very powerful thing.   When people outside see the Hand of God in their lives when they know a church has been praying for them…lives are changed.  When people in the prayer meeting see God’s Hand in response to their prayers their faith is increased.
  • Prayer bonds the church together.  People who are praying for each other become connected.  Those connections are the ligaments of the Body.
  • Prayer makes spiritual matters, and especially spiritual warfare, become as tangible as brick and mortar.  Most people sitting in a pew who do not pray with a group of other people regard spirituality and spiritual warfare as euphemisms.  They are not solid and real.  Group prayer makes it real.

So, how do you start?  “Where two or three are gathered…”.  It is as simple as that.  Find someone and invite them to join you, even if it is only one person.  Set a time and a date to get together on a regular basis.  Mondays at 7am at McDonalds is as good as 7pm on Wednesdays at the pastors office.  Set an agenda and stick to it so you don’t waste most of your time simply talking about random things, or worse…gossiping in the name of prayer.

Then just do it.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  Matthew 18:20


waitressingSome time ago when thinking about the whole concept of friendship evangelism it became apparent to me that people are, by and large, scared stiff of talking with people about Jesus.  At least in their minds this is something that is complicated, theological and out of their league.  Traditional evangelism training was not working because people simply didn’t use it.  So, what do you do in this case?  We decided to provide tools for people to use in everyday situations that are non-threatening and effective in raising awareness of the presence of the church.

First, we provided pens with our church contact information on it.  Not just pens, GOOD pens!  We called this part of our strategy “Use It AND Lose It“.  We urged people to take four or five pens and use them when out around town.  Sign a check at the bank.  Sign your credit card slip at a restaurant.  Use a pen at the store.  And here is the key…after using it, leave it there!  Waitresses are constantly hunting for pens because people walk off with them.  What is nicer than having someone not only leave a tip, but leave a good pen behind?

Second, we provided our people with small copies of the book of John from the Pocket Testament League. They have various pictures on the cover to appeal to a wide range of interests, as well as being in NIV, KJV or even large print versions. We asked people to dedicate one pocket in their jacket or coat to carry one or two of these.  Then simply pray for God to open an opportunity to leave them with someone.  Not get into a theological  debate, but offer comfort during a time of trouble or stress.

Third, we provided prayer list cards for people to take.  We asked them to think of one or two people who they had in their circle of friends and family who need Christ in their lives.  Keep the card and pray for those people specifically each day.  The cards were also used to keep track of prayer requests that people might randomly encounter from their circle.

Every item on this list can be carried in a single pocket.  A couple pens, a prayer card and one or two Gospel of John’s.  Three tools.  No extensive training, no confrontations or debates.

How effective is this?  One Sunday after church my Board Secretary and his wife went to lunch at a restaurant about 10 miles away from the church. When they went to sign their credit card slip after eating the waitress handed them one of our pens to use!  We have seen people come to Christ.  We have seen answered prayer.  Maybe this won’t work everywhere or in every context, but it is something to consider.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”   1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Writing a noteThere is an old story about a pastor who was standing in the doorway greeting people after a worship service.  As one of the men came by and shook his hand he said, “Great sermon pastor. But when are you going to get a REAL job?”

Being a pastor on any level is hard work.  Most people don’t know how difficult it can be.  It is often done at odd hours and inopportune times.  You know, those 2AM emergency room visits, the funerals on a weekday, weddings taking up a whole weekend from rehearsal through reception, the panicked calls at all hours of the day and night.  ‘Saturday Night Specials’…very likely all of us have had them…those sermons we didn’t quite get done and are still working on them the night before we are going to deliver them.  Having to leave a family event or even vacation to tend to an urgent ministry situation.  Yes, it is hard work, sometimes exhausting work.  Work that can leave us feeling drained and emotionally vulnerable.  Add to this the usual schedule of events and discouragement can be the result.

How to handle this culture of discouragement is a question we must answer.  My first response is…we must become the Church as God intended.

It is a truism that the Church often tends to stratify.  Lay people versus ordained, lay leaders versus lay followers and local church pastors versus denominational leadership.  The church is supposed to be one unified Body, but in reality we separate ourselves one from the other by expectations being set too high or unrealistic views of one another.  When we get into this mode of existence the parts of the body become a bit disconnected, and it can be a blind spot for many of us.  We need to open our eyes and see it.

Second, we need to take our new-found insight and work to circumvent man’s artificial church culture with God’s grace to become what He intended.

One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.  It reads, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and 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. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”  The experiences we go through are intended to make us able to comfort those who are going through similar trials.  

We use the experiences we have had to comfort others.  In other words, in the voice of Paul, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” and in Hebrews, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” 

I think we are good at praying for our people in the church, but this is something at another level, Look around you today at the other ministers you may know and see how they are doing.  Ask them how they are, physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally.  Send someone a random note of encouragement, tell them that you prayed for them (and actually DO pray for them!)  Find something specific to encourage them. (“Thanks for your testimony at the last ministerium, it really impacted me!”)

Listen for the ‘still, small voice’ of the Holy Spirit telling you someone needs prayer and encouragement and follow His direction.  Do the same for your denominational leadership, if you are in that kind of ministerial relationship.  Let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them.

The side effect of this is that you will be lifted up yourself by what you are doing. The  ministry of encouragement works both ways…it is a ‘win-win’.  But also, by doing this you may actually change the entire culture of your surroundings and find that others are dropping YOU a note of encouragement.  God is funny that way…He works in ways we cannot see on hearts and lives.

Ready? Set? Go!

Retreat_cabin_insideJesus, during his Galilean ministry, took time to go aside from the crowds either alone or with His disciples for times of prayer and reflection. Spiritual retreats are still, today, a common fixture in many pastors lives, seen as both a way to recharge spiritual batteries and as a way to put in some concentrated study and preparation time for ministry tasks.  Some pastors will go on a retreat to spend time in prayer, while others may use the time to congregate with other pastors or to formulate their next sermon series.  No matter how you want to use the time you have blocked out, it is worthwhile to go on a retreat.

The problem in the bivocational world is most formal retreats are not usually scheduled to easily accommodate bivopastors.  On my own District, for instance, we have an annual ‘Pastor and Spouse Renewal’ in late Autumn at a hotel in New Hampshire.   The retreat starts on a Sunday afternoon and generally goes through Tuesday.  We have a good percentage of our pastors on the District who have never been to this retreat because of their secular work schedule.  So, how do you have a retreat under these circumstances?

First, realize that, as nice as it might be to join with other pastors, it is not a requirement to do so.  You can schedule your own retreat and it can be just as effective, if not more so.

Second, you need to schedule the retreat into your ministry calendar.  Put it down on a calendar as a firm commitment.  Inform your church board.  As for timing, a good possible schedule would be to start on a Friday night and go through Sunday afternoon.  Then put out feelers for a pulpit supply pastor.  If one is not available you might have to make do with a one-day retreat, but two full  days are preferable.

Thirdly, consider what your schedule is going to be, what the purpose of the retreat is.   Set a goal for yourself and keep the goal in sight.  Is it going to be a prayer and study retreat?  Are you intending to work on a project such as a manuscript, or to firm up your church calendar for the coming year?

One of the considerations you will need to allow for is, where the retreat is to take place?  There are many possibilities.  One person I knew in the past used to schedule retreats in a year-round motel on the coast of Maine, usually in February or March when the cost was very low.  He would write portions of his manuscript on an old manual typewriter, and treat himself to walks along the stormy beach and scrumptious feasts of clams and lobster at rock-bottom prices.  There are many places to look for cheap retreat locations (look for an article on this later!), but the key is to be open minded and practical.

If you are so minded and know other bivocational pastors you can invite three or four along to share costs.  Just make sure your goals are all compatible and it might be a good idea for you to schedule some activities together, such as a morning devotional time.  This kind of retreat can be as formal or informal as you wish.

The main though of this article is to encourage you to take time for a periodic retreat, but not be limited to the formal retreats planned on schedules that may not fit your own bivocational needs. As the words to the old hymn by William Longstaff say, “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in him always, and feed on his word.”

“After leaving them, he (Jesus) went up on a mountainside to pray.”  Mark 6:46 (NIV)