At this point in time all of us  (at least in this area of the world) are aware of the technological wonders that can make ministry a bit more ‘user-friendly’.  One of the main ways this has worked in my own favor has been my usage of the resources at  The sources are good and easy to use.  I can cut-and-paste verses or quotes from various commentaries, compare versions and access it even from my phone if need be.

As for other tech, I have preached from printed notes most of the time, but on several occasions I have resorted to using my tablet or and iPad in the pulpit.  However, technology can and DOES have drawbacks.  I came across an interesting article for those of you who might be thinking of going this route.

Check out Brandon Hilgemann’s cautionary tale here, at

Do you have any good cautionary tales of your own?  We’d love to hear them!


So many words in the Christian lexicon are important, but many of them are meaningless outside of the Church.  We have a language of our own and although useful for communication between ourselves they are not useful when communicating with people not in the church.  Communication is always a two-way process, and if we are not speaking to people in a way they understand then there is no real communication.  So much of it comes down to one simple word in our glossary…’relevance’.  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary ‘Relevant’ has the following definition: “a :  having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand  b :  affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion relevant testimony  c :  having social relevance”.  In order to meet any of these meanings it is necessary for communication to take place.

How do we as pastors make ourselves relevant?  The first step is to examine our language and see if people can understand what we are saying without using cryptic language.  John Wesley tried hard to achieve this very goal. “I design plain truth for plain people. I labor to avoid all words which are not easy to be understood, all which are not used in common life.”   This was part of the great character of the man in his preaching style.  If the least educated person in your congregation cannot understand what you have said, then you need to go back and rework your sermons so that they do understand.

Different people have different learning styles as well.  Some of your listeners may be stirred by your words, others by the images you convey, still others may write notes on your sermon to review later.  Some others may learn from the visual cues or resources you use.  Endeavor to provide all learning styles with something they can take away.

Keep your sermons simple.  Boil them down into one sentence or one thought.  Don’t try to cover the entirety of the Gospel message in one sermon.  As “Gold Five” said to “Gold Leader” in Star Wars, “Stay on target!”.

Always provide an action item or a challenge at the end of the sermon.  If people can take away something and then you tell them what they can do with the teaching in a practical sense, then they don’t have to try to read between the lines and potentially never get started.  For instance, after one sermon on evangelism I introduced a concept called ‘Use It and Lose It!”, in which I gave everyone present three pens with our name and address on them.  They were instructed simply to use the pens during the week at a restaurant, bank, work or some other place and then to leave them behind.  They were then to pray about the pens and those who might use them.  No confrontation, no memorizing of scripture, no fancy debate techniques.  By the next week all the pens we had given out had been used and prayed for…and people were asking for more.  Some people came back with wonderful stories spurred by this simple action.

And perhaps the most important item of all, spend time yourself getting to know what the social trends are within your community and setting.  Jesus knew the news of his time (“…Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?Lk 13:4 NIV) and used it to connect with people.  Know what TV shows and movies are being watched.  Know what music is being listened to.  Know what political views are being expressed and which sports teams are adored (or reviled).  Simply knowing these things and being able to speak about them will create connection points for you.

Being relevant is important, and it is really simpler than you might imagine.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we approach the end of the year pastors are dealing with the elephant in the room.  What do we do next year?  Whether you are trying to make the next year better than the last, come up with sermon series or to simply round out a schedule of basic events, the task is much the same.  In the old days we used to have a wall calendar with a bunch of various colored Post-Its.  Nowadays most of us have a computer.  So,  shall we get down to it?

I’d like to describe here one solution that I have found that works for me.  I first described this last year just after Thanksgiving, and got enough good comments that am outlining it again here.  There are other ways to accomplish this task, but this one works.

First, I signed up for a Google account, giving me access to a number of tools.  One of those features is called ‘Google Calendar’.  Once signed up with Google, I created three different calendars.  One for the church, one for me personally and one for my secular work.

Second, I put dates as appropriate in each calendar. So far, so good!

Thirdly, I use the code generated by Google to embed my church calendar into the HTML of the church calendar webpage.  Any events put into the church calendar are now visible to our congregation, and dynamically update as the calendar is changed.

Fourth, I downloaded the Google Calendar app onto my smartphone.  I have set up a home screen on my smartphone that displays only this app so I can get to my calendar by only flipping between home screens.  In setting the app up, I specify that it displays all three of my calendars.  This merges the dates on the calendars so that I can easily see what I have, and when, coordinating all three areas of my life.

Fifth…and this is where the magic comes in…when I update the church calendar from my phone the church calendar on the church website is automatically updated as well!

If this solution works for you, then I am glad to have helped.  If it doesn’t work for you there are other solutions that can work just as well or better.  But in any case it is imperative that you get a handle on the issue or sooner or later you are going to find yourself scheduling a Board meeting when you were supposed to be at your child’s school event.

I pray you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a well-scheduled and conflict-free calendar of Christmas events…all filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit!


disastersThere are many events happening in the world around us and we would be remiss if we did not address them from the pulpit.  Some are good, some are bad.  The question is, how do we address them in a way that undergirds what we do in our preaching?

As I write this we are going through one of the most tumultuous Presidential election cycles in memory.  With less than a month to go until we vote, people’s minds and the news are occupied with the likelihood of one or other of the candidates getting into office.  On a local level, last week there was a horrendous traffic accident taking the lives of five promising high school kids.  Our entire state is grieving.  If I we to go into the pulpit and not mention any of these things people would be thinking, if not saying, that the sermon was detached from everyday life and the impact would be blunted.  On the other hand, if I simply preached using these as main points people would think that I was simply giving a secular speech.  There is a fine line to walk here.

First, do not ignore the events around you.  Whether it is a natural disaster such as a hurricane, a tragic accident or a nationwide occurrence such as an election, these are on people’s minds.  Jesus used current events as illustrations.  ‘ Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” ‘   Luke 13:2-5 (NIV)  Using current events keeps your sermon fresh in people’s minds and makes it relevant to their lives.

Second, use current events as illustrations, not the main point of your sermon.  The events should always serve a specific purpose in the sermon.  If they don’t, don’t use them or find another way to use them.  Maybe it would be better to mention them in the pastoral prayer rather than in the sermon.

Third, don’t go into more detail than needed to make your point.  Your congregation probably has enough knowledge of the events to know what you are talking about without too much detail on your part.

These few simple rules should help you as you make your sermons timely, pointed and relevant.  Have some more thoughts?  Please leave a comment!



NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

In 1943, during World War 2 an airborne unit was formed that still exists and whose mission is unique.  Today that mission encompasses several agencies in the US government including the US Air Force Reserve, NOAA and the US Navy.  The mission…to track and acquire data on tropical cyclones by flying into them.  They are known as Hurricane Hunters.

Watching the political rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential contest, and just having gone through both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is easy to imagine the whole scenario as a figurative hurricane.  Lots of wind, rain and collateral damage.  How do we as ministers, especially as bivo pastors out in the secular workplace, address the current situation?  Do we visibly back a candidate?  Do we support them from the pulpit?  Can we post to our church website links to a candidate?  Ask for donations?  Can we do any of these as private citizens? Even if we CAN do these things, SHOULD we do them?  Folks, we are about to fly into the eye of the storm!

The first question is CAN we do these things suggested?  The answer is two-fold.  On the public level, from a pulpit or from a church website or other official forum we reference the Johnson Amendment put forward by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, which refers to a change in the U.S. tax code prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)3 organizations are also specifically addressed in the US Tax Code and have strict limits or prohibitions imposed on them.  So very simply…the answer is no, unless you want to endanger your tax-exempt status.

On the private level, yes we can endorse or work for any candidate we wish as long as our official capacity is not used or referenced.  Be warned, this is sometimes a thin line.

Should we endorse a political candidate?  That is an ethical question which should be approached on a case by case basis.  In some contexts it may merely serve to push people away from the church on account of their knowledge your choice of candidate.  In other contexts it may be perfectly fine.

In practicality I have found that simply reminding people that the Bible has specific things to say, urging them to read the Bible and then getting out to vote is sufficient.  I specifically tell them I don’t care who they vote for as long as they have chosen a candidate that lines up with their view of what is best and what God is telling them.  I leave the rest in God’s hands.

One final note.  I remind our congregation that we are Christians first, and citizens of an earthly nation second.  The words of John Wesley in his journal still ring true today…

“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Go and do likewise. Amen.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:17-18 (NIV)

squirrelA movie a few years ago added a new word to our lexicon, or at least a new meaning for that word. “SQUIRREL!”  When I hear that word, pronounced in a certain way, an image from the movie “Up” is immediately invoked.  It is shorthand for a person who is easily distracted from the task at hand.   It is easy to be easily distracted in today’s world.  We live in a visually driven culture and are surrounded by images and videos on our phones, tablets, pc’s, laptops and TV’s.  The old adage about, “Have you ever entered a room and forgot why you were there?” applies to the pastor entering the wilds of the internet.  I have had many times when I have gone on the internet to find a particular piece of information and noticed a half hour later that I had visited 20 different sites and forgot why I was on in the first place.  How do you avoid this?

First, when working on a project write down what you need to find.  Be as specific as possible. For example, “public domain picture of a squirrel”, “illustration about tithing” or “Greek meaning of word for ‘grace'”.

Second, accomplish everything you can possibly do without going online.  Doing this will give you a headstart in your work.  Even if you only manage to put down an outline you will find this helps progress enormously.

Third, set a time limit for yourself.  This will serve to keep you focused and goal driven.  If need be, set an alarm with a countdown timer.  there are many variations of these you can get for free at Google Play or the Apple Store for phones.

Fourth, find a quiet space where people can still see you.  This will keep you accountable, but still in a place where you can work.  You can also ask your spouse or a ministry partner to check on you occasionally.

Being in a high pressure position like bivocational ministry means that you have to use your time wisely.  Distractions can be a killer.  So keep your eye on the <SQUIRREL!!!!>


“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Phil 3:14 (NIV)

stressWe started a new year a few days ago and with that change comes the stress of resolutions for the coming seasons. We all do it, even if we don’t do it in a formal way. On a personal level perhaps we say, “This year I am going to travel more”, or “This year I am going to have more family time”. On a pastoral level maybe it is,  “By the end of the year we will have 4 new families in the church” or “This year I will not write any sermons on Saturday night”.  Actually, that last one can help you with many of your other goals (whether or not you actually try to keep them!).

I have found the week-to-week grind of preparing services and writing sermons is a big source of stress for me and robs me of much of my time which could be used for travel, family time or outreach, among other things. But how can I avoid that grinding routine? For a bivocational pastor avoiding that grind can be lifesaving, literally. Stress has all sorts of bad health effects, so reducing stress should be a top priority. Here are a few tips for doing exactly that.

1) Pick a time and sit down to schedule out your sermon series for the coming calendar year. Yes, you heard me right…the WHOLE YEAR. It doesn’t matter if it is November or March, you can start anytime, but do it now.  You will need a calendar and a list of holidays and special days. You can do this in your favorite spreadsheet or on paper. Mark all the holidays and special days on the calendar and any recurring events. For instance, we do a ‘Family Sunday’ with communion and following potluck on the second Sunday of every month. I use Microsoft Excel for this and color code our various event types.

2) Mark out any other days that are going to be unusual. These would include days when you are going to take vacation or going to denominational events and need to find pulpit supply.

3) After praying about it (you have been praying about this, haven’t you?), put down on a separate sheet of paper your anticipated sermon series and weekly sermon themes. For example, recently I did a sermon series on Titus, going through the book in five weeks. This was followed by a four week series on Advent. Note your main scripture references and perhaps a blurb about the theme for each sermon.

4) Place your sermon series on the calendar. This can be like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Every so often you might have a gap of a Sunday or two…these can be filled in using stand-alone sermons or extending a sermon series. They can also be a good opportunity for doing something out of the ordinary, such as an all-music worship service or baptism service. Adjust as needed.

Once you have a good calendar for reference you can begin to structure your services around them ahead of time. When I did our calendar for the coming months I sent the basic information to our Worship Leader to aid her in picking out music. Rather than having a weeks notice she now has several months notice to think about and pray about the music selections. My wife (and co-pastor) does the Children’s message, and she now has my sermon schedule to coordinate with well in advance of the service.  You can work on sermons as far ahead of time as you would like, getting your outline prepared, illustrations gathered and cross-references noted. You can find time in breaks or lunchtime at work to work on them, or set aside a specific time or day.  You can edit the manuscript at your leisure, rather than doing so hastily on Sunday morning.   Ahhhhh…..can you feel the stress leaving your body?

If you set a deadline to have your sermons ready to go, say two weeks ahead of delivery, you can approach a Sunday worship service with a finished sermon in hand, service prepared and music carefully selected with much less stress than normal. Even if you end up slipping that deadline due to other unforeseen events, such as a funeral, you will still be able to be ready in plenty of time.

There are many nuances to this process, some of which are going to be specific to you.  Certainly there is much more than I can cover here in this short article.  I highly recommend reading “Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services” by Nelson Searcy, Jason Hatley and Jennifer Dykes Henson for further and more in depth information on the specifics of this kind of technique. Don’t let your calendar control you, control your calendar!

“My times are in your hands”
Psalms 31:15 (NIV)

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”…the best sermons put ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ right into the application points. When you stand to preach, you’re not just giving a moralistic pep talk. You want to change lives, and the power for changed lives comes only from God.”[/cryout-pullquote] In exploring various web resources I occasionally discover something I think is worth passing along.  The goal and mission of Bivopastor.Net is to bring those resources to your attention.

I received an email this morning pointing me to an article by Rev. Rick Warren concerning sermon construction.  Bivocational pastors know that the biggest job they have in terms of time spent is preaching from the pulpit.  The typical sermon takes several hours at least to formulate and research, so we want to be sure that those sermons are truly fitted to be instruments God can use to change lives.  As Rev. Warren states in his article, “…the best sermons put ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ right into the application points. When you stand to preach, you’re not just giving a moralistic pep talk. You want to change lives, and the power for changed lives comes only from God.”

Regardless of whether you use liturgical resources, preach topically or exegetically, write full manuscript, outline or expanded outline, this article provides some points for you to think about as you prepare your messages.

Follow this link to read this Rev. Rick Warren’s article on creating strong sermon points.  Leave a comment below with your thoughts after you read the article!


writing_storiesWorking a job outside of the church has many benefits, but probably one of the most under-rated is the potential for developing illustrations for sermons and devotionals.  Rich real-life applications can be drawn from almost any job, and these touch people in a way that illustrations from a book or from the internet simply do not.  Carry a small notebook or a computer tablet to jot down notes for things you might use later.  If you can, develop a file of illustrations and stories with subject categories so you can find them easily. Some guidelines may be in order, though.

First, look for stories and illustrations that touch as many people and circumstances as possible.  When you are preaching, writing or delivering a devotional to the men;s breakfast you don;t know who might be in the audience or what circumstances they may have in their own lives.  John Wesley would hone his sermons to be understandable to the lowest common denominator, and we would be wise to do the same.  Unless you are delivering an illustration to a particular audience, such as the time I delivered a devotion to a group of ministers, you should appeal to the widest audience possible.

Second, be careful to generalize your story to save embarrassment to other people unless you have obtained their permission beforehand.  One of the most frequent areas I have found to be at fault here is the story is about your own family.  Being transparent is admirable, but if you tell a story about your spouse in an unflattering or embarrassing manner you may end up sleeping on the couch!  Children are perhaps even more susceptible to feeling humiliated by a story than your spouse.  This is one area I find myself having to be conscious of when I speak (and I often fail!).

Third, be aware that drawing your stories from real life may open you up to other challenges.  Some of these might even be serious enough to warrant legal assistance.  If you tell a story involving your workplace improperly it may cause your employer to consider workplace discipline up to and including termination.  If you are talking about your work, be sure to avoid anything that could put your employer in a bad light or be a violation of workplace confidentiality.

With all of that said, you can feel blessed as a bivocational pastor in knowing you have expanded opportunities for developing real life, touching and impactful illustrations.