Source: any bivocational minister can tell you, time management is a top priority.  We work secular jobs, some of us more than one…as well as try to do all the work of the ministry that needs to be done.  Sermon preparation, home and hospital visitation, crisis management, administration…but where does our family fit in?

I want to make sure that this point is made…if you don’t get anything else out of this, please get this one point.  You have been called to the ministry, but if your family falls apart you will have lost most of the meaning of life.  Let’s not debate theological niceties here; a divorce or children who are neglected are NOT in God’s plan for your life no matter what else may be accomplished!  I have made that mistake, so I know firsthand.  At one point in my life I did what I thought was needed for my family and I was working THREE secular jobs.  I worked as the evening manager of a grocery store, I worked in a school as a Special Ed Aide and I was running a business as a computer consultant.  I worked six days a week (two half-days off, Thursday night and Saturday morning).  I also was planting a church.  My family life suffered, but I never realized the extent until years later.  My wife and I remained strong, but it harmed my children.  If I had it to do over again I would not have done things as I did.

Assuming you are not being quite as crazy as I was, you may still have to deal with some issues.  Here are a few pointers:

1) Use a dedicated cell phone for the church phone number.  Designate ‘office hours’  and outside of those hours let the calls go to voice mail.  You can check it when you want, but do NOT return calls that are not true emergency calls until your office hours are open again.  ‘Trac Phones’ or other prepaid cell phones are perfect for this purpose.  Many times it is advantageous to replace your land line with one of these and cheaper, too.

2) SCHEDULE family time into your calendar.  When talking with people who want to make appointments with you, you don’t have to make excuses about your family time.  All you have to say is, “I’m sorry, I am booked up on that day and time, but I can schedule you in at this day and time.”

3) Make time to get away with your spouse on a regular basis.  It may be only a dinner date at McDonald’s or going to a movie, but do it at least once a month.  Make this a priority!

4) Let your church board know you will be taking vacation time every so often and make sure you have budgeted for pulpit supply.  Also, let them know that while you are on vacation there is someone to call for typical ministry issues (board secretary, supervising pastor, etc.).  I have been known to tell my people that they are not to call me unless the church is burning down…but first call the Fire Department, Board Secretary and Insurance Company in that order!

5) When you are with your family, be WITH your family.  No talk about ministry.  Focus your attention on them.  ‘Nough said?

6) Bonus point:  Make sure you schedule time with your spouse to do devotions each and every day.  It might have to be on the phone or some other way, but make sure you watch over one another spiritually.  You are the most important accountability partner your spouse has.

Family is important.  Watch over them.  Protect them.  Be there for them.  You will not regret it.


boy_and_cat_fishingSummertime brings visions of the beach, the mountains and the theme park.  But a bivocational pastor faces one large challenge that few fully-funded pastors face in this scenario…not only does the bivo have to account for vacation time in the church, but also in a secular job.  A fully-funded pastor may opt for a vacation starting on a Monday afternoon and coming back on the next Saturday, but this option is not usually available for a bivo pastor.  Also, we will often find there are events during a weekend time slot for denominational events.  For instance, on our District we have a Pastors and Spouse Retreat that is scheduled from Sunday afternoon through Tuesday noon.

Here are some things to keep in mind to be prepared for such times:

  • Think ahead and plan ahead.  Gather all the planning pieces you can for the year.  District/denominational calendar, local church calendar, work schedule, family schedules.  Put it all down on paper and plan each area to dovetail with the others.   Request time off from secular work, plan around holidays, family events and other important dates.  Putting it on paper makes it all concrete and easy to see at a glance.
  • Talk with your local leadership.  Make sure they know what is happening and when.  If funding is needed for some denominational activity, they should know ahead of time in order to budget for it.
  • Find Sunday pulpit supply well ahead of time.  Do you have any retired preachers locally, or ministers in training (we call them ‘Locally licensed’ and ‘District licensed’ ministers)?  Be up front with them about them filling in for your vacation time and that you will not be there.  If they are coming from a distance you may have to make some travel arrangements. Make sure they have directions, contact information, service times, know who is expected to lead worship as well as worship style.  And a key point…build up the expectations among your people for your pulpit supply!  You want people to come, so announce the special speaker, and build them up in your congregations mind.
  • What to do in the case that you cannot find pulpit supply?  First, do NOT cancel worship service and do NOT cancel your vacation!  You can make other arrangements, such as having your worship team do an ‘All Music’ worship time, or find a leader within your church who can bring a devotional.  Think creatively!
  • Prioritize your time.  This is probably the most controversial thing I am going to say, today.  (If my DS is reading this…I apologize ahead of time!)  Certain denominational events are best skipped in favor of family time.  Pray about each activity and seek God’s will about it.  At the end of your life I can guarantee you will not be saying, “I wish I spent more time at District Committee meetings”!  Some are not optional (District Assembly),  and some such as Pastor and Spouse Retreat can serve a dual purpose, but not many are like this.

Vacation time and time away needs to be made a priority.  Not only for your sake, but for your family and even for your church.  At the very least it would be nice to hear people say, “Boy, Pastor, am I glad you are back!”  Blessings, and have a  great vacation!

You arrive at your church office on a typical night after work, and go to your desk.  Flipping on the monitor for the computer, then hitting the power button on the desktop, you sit back and wait for the system to come up.  It grinds away for a few minutes and then the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH displays!  If you are a techie you start trying to diagnosis it.  If not, then you call the techie who set it up for you.  In either case you get the bad news eventually.  Your hard drive failed.  Crashed and burned is more like it.  And with it goes your financial records for the church, the documents you have so carefully written, your sermons, your hymns and choruses for the presentation software.  Even your church directory.  Those  pictures you took at the church retreat last year, the profile pictures for the church directory?  Gone.  If you had a church techie the first question out of their mouth after telling you the hard drive is toast will be, “Do you have a backup?”  You hang your head and your face turns red as you say, “No.  I didn’t think I needed one.”  Well, Sunshine, you did.

Another scenario…you have turned your resignation in to the Church Board.  You are heading to another, larger church but you have to leave some basic info for the pastor who will be following you into this church.  How do you do this?  Paper files?  My father-in-law, with 40 years in ministry, would always leave a detailed letter with key documents for the next pastor.  A CD-ROM?  The password to the computer and a wish for good luck in locating anything?

When I came to my current church we did not even have a list of the members.  We had a number given at the previous District Assembly, but no names.  We never did identify who all of the people were who were supposedly on a list somewhere.  The previous pastor was not available to call, either.

I’d like to offer a couple suggestions.  First, backup your computer.  The best choice is a backup offsite somewhere.  If you do this and the building burns down then your backup is safe even if the hard drive is literally melted down.  If you do not have an internet connection at your office then the second best choice is to buy two portable hard drives (~$60 each at the time of this writing).  Schedule a nightly backup  of all your user documents with one, then take it home or to another safe place and then use the second the next week to back up the same files.  One of your backups will be safe regardless of what happens to the second one.    You will lose no more than a week’s worth of data.  DO NOT backup the applications.  Those can be replaced and will take up a huge amount of space.  Your user documents cannot be replaced.

Second, consider using a secure cloud server off site to store generic documents that you will want to pass along to the next pastor.  I recommend using the Google app ‘Drive’.  Create a user account for the church and store the documents you really need to pass along here.  Categorize them so someone looking through them can find information easily.  So you might want a folder for Board Meeting Minutes, broken down to subfolders by year.  Another folder might contain documents related to membership records.  A third might be policy documents.  Make sure the Board knows about this account and the account login information is available to trusted individuals.  I have known more than one pastor who has died and someone else has been left to pick up the pieces. When the time comes to resign or you otherwise leave this pastorate most of the documents needed will be available simply by giving the new pastor the login info.  You can even do this by loading completed documents to a thumb drive at the church, in the case you don’t have internet access there, and upload them to the cloud server from another location.  The beauty if this is that the cloud server is (or should be) well protected and encrypted, and is accessible anywhere there is a web connection.

We never like to consider these things, but if you take the two basic steps outlined above you will save yourself, your church and another pastor a great deal of work.


“…making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:16


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.




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?




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!


prayerThere are similarities and differences between bivocational pastors whether they minister in the city, the country, a small town or on a foreign missions field.  No matter the language, the culture or what your faith tradition happens to be, these still apply.  Over the course of my time writing for bivocational pastors there have been several themes that have emerged which show these needs clearly.

First, far above and beyond every other concern, bivocational pastors feel a need to better manage their time.  Time is a crucial commodity for the minister who works a secular job in addition to the day-to-day ministry of a church.  There is a saying that, “there is no such thing as a ‘part-time’ minister, only those who are not fully funded”.  There is a great deal of truth to this statement.  Most bivocational pastors will put in a 40 hour week at a secular job, and then spend another 20 or so in ministry during ‘slow’ periods.  Given extraordinarily busy times they may put in 40 or 50 hours in ministry alone…that makes a 90 hour week!  So the need to be as efficient as possible and manage time well becomes a passionate pursuit.

Second, bivocational pastors wrestle with what it really means to be a bivo.  Their relationship to other members of the ministry and the misunderstandings that can occur is important to them.  They wish to be taken seriously, and in some areas or traditions this is more possible than in others.  For instance, the Southern Baptist Church has been historically heavily invested in it’s bivopastors.  Likewise the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church make use of bivos and recognize their unique placement and value.  Other bivos may not be as blessed, but all bivos struggle with these issues.

Third, all bivo pastors need encouragement and support.  This can be from several sources, but denominational support, family support and support from the local church are all needed.  October is ‘Pastor Appreciation Month” in the USA, but many pastors will go through the month with no hope or expectation of a show of appreciation.  All it takes is a single sour encounter with a member of their church to color the month badly for a bivo.  Some of the statistics around pastoral burnout are quite shocking.  80% of pastors feel they have too little time with their spouse, as well as believing that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.  (click here to see burnout stats) That alone should give any church a cause to reflect on the emotional health of their pastor.

Fourth, following closely on these concerns are matters of Church Administration.  Despite all the time pastors spend in education there is little to no time spent learning the day to day running of the church.  When I was in the process of preparing for ministry I spoke to the Senior Pastor at the church I was attending and asked him for ways to learn about this.  We settled on several courses of action.  One was taking a certificate course in Church Administration offered by Nazarene Continuing Lay Training (CLT).  The other was rotation through several church positions and shadowing others.  The learning was invaluable.  As much as I needed to know how to exegete the Old Testament Prophets, I needed to know how to understand the accounting and bookkeeping of the local church.

The last one I am going to mention is the need for connections.  Bivocationals are very concerned with making connections with people.  Not simply connections in regards to church growth, but personal connections.  Everyone needs friends and confidants.  Everyone needs people around them who don’t think of them as ‘Pastor’, but as ‘Jim’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Bubba’.  Ok, maybe not Bubba, but they need to be known, trusted and liked by people outside the context of the church.  Loneliness is a career killer for pastors, and many pastors who manage to last beyond the average career length live a very lonely existence.  Stats say that 50% of pastors will leave the ministry after their first five years. (Click here for reference).  Some of these stats are a little bit up for grabs, but they are not far off.  Imagine a context where an engineer goes to school for a BS, then an MS.  They graduate from school and after 5, 6 or 7 years are so discouraged they leave the field, never to work in it again.

Bivocational ministers share many of the same concerns the world over.  But there are solutions.  Our hope here is to not only point out the problems, but to point the way to some of those solutions.  Ultimately it is the call to ministry that sustains us in the dry times.  Look to Jesus for strength, healing and restoration.


planning_bubbleHave you planned for your church to shrink this year?  No?  Didn’t think so. But have you planned for it to grow?

A significant problem for small churches that are growing is lack of planning.  What do you do if you have a family come in with small children and you don’t have a children’s ministry?  Or perhaps you have a worship area that is not big enough.  What do you do?  The wisest thing you can do is to think of these things BEFORE they become an issue.


  1.  Set a goal for growth and be specific. Sit down and write it out.  “We would like to see two families come in during the next year with 4-5 kids under the age of 14.”  “We want to see a total net growth of 20 people over the next 12 months.”  “We are doing outreach to senior citizens and expect to see 6 attending worship in the next 6 months.”
  2. Determine what you would need to support those goals if they are achieved. Need another Children’s Church worker?  Need 20 more seats in the sanctuary?  ADA Compliant bathrooms and an entry ramp?
  3. Put the resources into place.  Find the children’s church worker and train them, rearrange the sanctuary and put 20 more seats in there!  Start construction on the entry ramp and bathroom, or at least find the funds for construction.

Planning for the future is essential if you are to see any permanent growth. This is is a basic principle set forth in the Bible.  We have to ask ourselves the question, why would God send us people if we are not prepared for them?  If we are not prepared or at least preparing for growth, maybe we don’t really want it to happen.  And that…is the subject of a whole other post!


“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

newspaperreadStaying current on world and local events is a mandatory activity for pastors.  In the life of the bivopastor it comes a little more easily, since you are ‘out in the world’ more than someone who is tied to an office.  On the other hand a fully-funded pastor can be more intentional about the process.  Either way, it has to be done.  How can a bivopastor make sure they are up to date?

  1. Set a time daily for a quick update on news and events.  It can be listening to the radio on the way to work or reading a trusted website on your phone at lunch.
  2. Talk with the people around you to get an idea of what they consider important.
  3. Subscribe to a newspaper, either a major daily like the “New York Times” or a local paper like the “St. Albans Messenger” in my locality.
  4. Aim for a broad view.  Don’t just focus in one area, get an overview that covers many types and kinds of events.
  5. Don’t read the comments on websites.  Most are useless and reactionary and will only serve to raise your blood pressure.
  6. Mix in a foreign news source every so often to get a different perspective.  My favorites are “BBC America” and “CBC” (Canadian) news programs.

In addition to keeping you current and knowing what people are concerned with, the news can provide you with many cutting edge sermon illustrations.  Look for them and if needed take notes.  You won’t regret it.


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 13:3-5 (NIV)