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.


Nope, this has nothing to do with Acts 2 and the gifts of the Spirit!  But it is a serious question nevertheless. As a bivocational pastor or the pastor of a small church, how necessary is it to be able to communicate in another language?

One of the great loves of my life has been languages and I have spoken several over the course of my life.  I took Spanish as my first ‘other’ language, which was highly appropriate since I was living in an area with a significant Puerto Rican population.  Our city of 125,000 people had about 30%, and speaking Spanish was very handy.  At one point a friend from Puerto Rico told me that I spoke Spanish as well as most of his second generation Hispanic relatives.  Second, I took up the study of Russian.  I intended on a career in the sciences and there was quite a bit of technical literature coming out of the USSR.  God had other plans, but Russian later enabled me to easily read Greek in my pastoral studies.  Lastly, I took a year of Italian since my mother’s side of the family was from Italy.  We grew up using Italian words without even knowing it.  The porch was the ‘piazza’, etc..  Out of those languages the only one I have really maintained is Spanish.  Even though I now live in, literally, the whitest state in the USA, I have a prayer partner who keeps me sharp in Spanish.

Why should you consider studying another language?  Here are a couple reasons:

  1. Building connections with ethnic communities can prove fruitful.  If you have an ethnic community around you, knowing the language can help bridge gaps and help your outreach.  Every small church pastor can use that kind of help.  Learning another language is a relatively cheap investment with potentially big payoffs for the church.
  2. It’s not just the language, it is the culture.  When you learn a language you necessarily learn about another culture.  Even in the context of learning about culture you begin to understand some of the issues on the mission field.  This can lead to increased prayer and concern for the situations of missionaries around the world.  You might even be able to adapt some of those insights into your own circumstances.
  3. New doors of opportunities begin to open.  For instance, many denominations and affiliations offer short term missions trips.  The Church of the Nazarene terms these ‘Work and Witness’ trips.  Knowing another language can make those trips not only possible in your own mind, but can make you more useful if and when you do go.  The prayer partner I mentioned above went on a trip with his church to the Dominican Republic and found that speaking Spanish opened doors for him that would have been closed to a non-speaker.

What language should you learn?  There are two factors that come into play in this decision.  First, what languages would aid you?  look around and see what populations are in your area.  Not only might these be a clue as to how you can minister to your community, but they also are a source of potential help in your learning.  In my own area of Vermont my secondary language of Spanish is not very prevalent.  Making a choice of language in this area I would probably set my sights on French.  We are only about 45 minutes from the border of Canada, and the Province of Quebec speaks primarily French.  The second factor is much more personal;  what language do you WANT to speak?  As an experiment in this language learning my wife and I are starting with Hawaiian.  We happen to have family in Hawaii and love the culture and the people, and want to know more.  It is possible (although unlikely) that at some point we might actually move there.

I should note that it is also possible for you to use the ability to speak another language to enhance your bivocational employment.  You can use it in your current employment as an enhancement (who doesn’t love a waiter/retail worker/driver who can speak another language?).  You might also be able to use it as your PRIMARY employment.  One of my predecessors at my current church spoke French and was employed in Montreal to review an advertising firms work for correct English language applications.  He tells the story of reviewing an ad for hair salon chairs and telling the ad company that advertising “The Best Electric Chairs Made” was NOT going to work in the English-speaking market!

Most of us are pressed for time as it is.  How can you squeeze learning another language into your schedule?  I recently read a book that opened my own eyes into a way of doing just this.  It is ‘Fluent Forever’, by Gabriel Wyner.  With the help of some free and very accessible tools on the web it is possible to learn a new language, even if you have very little time to do so.  (Click here to see the book).

I hope you take the time to consider this as a potentially valuable ‘professional development’ area for your ministry.  It will be well worth the time and effort.


“…we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11 (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


ApplicationThe very definition of a bivocational minister is a person who has a secular job outside of the local church whose primary purpose is to support in come way their pastoral ministry.  Finding the perfect ‘second job’ as a bivocational minister is akin to the Quest for the Holy Grail. While the specifics may be different for everyone there are some common factors we can hone in on. Here is a good article in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal giving six characteristics of the ‘perfect second job’.

Click here…and enjoy!

Everyone likes to think their own approach is best, but most really successful people have a realistic view that there is normally a trade-off somewhere along the line.  ‘Compromise’ carries some negative connotations for us as Christians.  But when we take the lifestyle of a bivocational pastor there are indeed some trade-offs that we must recognize.  If our approach is healthy it is possible that those trade-offs can be utilized to enhance our effectiveness rather than prove a detriment.

The biggest trade-off we need to recognize is that of ‘time’.  A fully-funded pastor, or at least one whose entire day is spent on ministry has much more time to devote to tasks.  It is possible for instance for a fully-funded pastor to spend an entire weekday doing hospital visitation, spend time on community activities or attend denominational meetings.  For the bivocational pastor this is rare indeed.  Time is a precious commodity in any case, but even more so for the pastor [cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]The good side of the tradeoff is that  both we and the church itself become more efficient. [/cryout-pullquote]whose time is defined by the boundaries of a job outside of ministry.  To be effective the bivo pastor must learn to manage time very well and to prioritize, delegate or eliminate activities traditionally deemed indispensable.

The good side of the trade-off is that  both we and the church itself become more efficient.  More time goes into the really necessary items, leadership in the church is delegated to laity who may previously have sat back and watched the paid minister do it all.  The philosophy of ‘Every Christian is a minister’ can become reality!

Another, and much more poignant, advantage is that the bivo pastor becomes financially more solid.  I say poignant for a particular reason.  A few days ago I spoke with the pastors wife in the church where my step-mother attends (  It came to be told the pastors wife was helping my stepmother by buying her food…with the pastors own food stamps.  This full-time, fully-funded pastor was in the position of having to take food stamps in order to survive.  I have never been in that situation and it breaks my heart to see a pastor doing so.  A number of years ago it was told of a pastor in our area that he and his young wife lived in a parsonage for nearly two months in the Northeast winter with no heating oil in the fuel tank.  When his board found out and asked him ‘Why?’,  he said he did not want to impose on the church, knowing that finances were tight.

So, the trade-off…time?  Or money?  For some people it sounds more spiritual to say they are giving up more secure finances in order to devote more time to ministry.  Is it really more spiritual to live life as an ascetic?  Or would you rather see that our family is taken care of and the church becomes more efficient and live out its mission?  Only you can decide, and it depends on your own situation.  As bivos we will always face the trade-off with time, but it does help to know that it may well be worth it in the end.

(Disclaimer: This particular post is geared mainly towards small churches that may have borderline finances.  Obviously larger churches may not fall into the realm where this is a concern at all.)

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.


My wife asked me a question a few weeks ago,  “Should I tell people at work that I am a pastor?” and we ended up in a long discussion about the potential  implications of my answer.   She works second-shift in a data entry office. There are a good mix of various types of people working there, from the typical thirty-something soccer mom to a 20-year old Goth and seworkplaceveral older people.  There are some people who a church-goers and there are some who have never set foot in a church.

Why should we even ask this question?  Shouldn’t we be open about who and what we are, as bivocational ministers?  There are pros and cons to both responses.  We have found over the years that when you mention you are a pastor that interactions with people will change.  Some people become very reserved around you.  Some will even avoid contact with you.  They may do this in order not to offend you, or are in awe of you…as strange as that may seem.  On the other hand, some people become so self-conscious and anxious to prove that your “other job” is as a minister doesn’t bother them that they become even more profane than usual.  They suddenly make it a point to swear and curse, tell about their drunken escapades and their risk-taking activities.  It’s not that they are seeking approval or trying to corrupt you in some way, they are just proving to themselves that you have not changed them (which, in a way, you have).

We are not, as bivocationals, really trying to hide who we are, nor are we trying to be ‘secret agents’ or become the poster child for ‘bivocationalism’.  In all reality it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do.  It will all come out sooner or later.  The question is how long will it take?  How many relationships can you establish before your status becomes public knowledge?

I have found in my case that it is better if I let my ‘pastor job’ become public knowledge slowly.  I don’t make it a point to try and hide, nor did I make a big announcement to become the Christian-in-residence.  I build relationships and gradually become known.  Sooner or later people become aware of me; for instance people noticed immediately when I went out to a restaurant with them after work I did not drink alcohol.  However, the real door-opening began when we had a fairly young teacher die unexpectedly.  I offered my counseling services to our Vice-Principal, who quite understandably turned me down.  Over the last couple of years this has built on itself, and people now know me for who and what I am.  A few weeks ago I was privileged to marry one of the woman here and her longtime boyfriend, and there is another wedding in the works.  Stories like this have been the rule, rather than the exception, over my secular career.

What is the best thing to do?  I think ultimately you need to pray about it and see where the Lord is leading you.  There is good and bad, either way.  Your own situation and God’s leading will show you the way.  Ultimately the light of God will shine through either way, and another dark corner of the world will see Him.

Source: as a bivocational we might wish for many of the benefits of the fully-funded pastor.  But we should not overlook the advantages WE have that the fully-funded pastor might not possess!  One of these is the very thing that defines many of us as bivocational…our secular job.

The lifeblood of growth in the church is the connection we have with the community and the ministry we conduct outside the walls of the church.  This area is something a bivocational can excel in.  Every day you work outside the church you encounter unsaved, unchurched people.  Each of these encounters offers a possibility to touch someone for Christ.

Even in the most restrictive of environments God will open doors if you simply ask Him.  For instance, I work at a School District in Vermont.  We are the most unchurched state in the USA, and I work in an environment where the seeming ‘separation of Church and State’ rules supreme.  And yet, I received an email from a co-worker today thanking me for our prayers for her and her family as they attend a funeral.  This same co-worker has started attending church (not mine, but who cares!  It is Kingdom work!).  A month or so ago I completed premarital counseling with another co-worker and her fiance, and will officiate at their wedding in September,  A third co-worker has asked me to officiate at HER wedding this fall.

By simply being salt and light in this place, the Kingdom has grown.  What are the possibilities where you work?  Are you in retail, touching each customer as they come through your doors simply by being Christ to them?  Do you work in a social service agency, providing compassion to hurting people?  Working in a factory, showing people that they are not just cogs in a machine, but people whom God loves?  Use your job to expand the Kingdom.  In the words of H.B. London, “Bloom where you are planted”!

(Source: of the main concerns of the bivocational minister is the secular job which he or she maintains in order to supply a livable income.  When looking for a job, what are the characteristics you want to find?  What must the job provide to enable your ministry?  It is possible to outline some basic guidelines which will help you as you search.

Ask yourself these questions to get started…

  1. How far away can you commute? Consider where is the job site is in relation to home and church.
  2. How much salary do you need to cover living expenses?
  3. What job benefits (health insurance, etc) do you need?
  4. What hours can you work?  What hours can you NOT work?  What hours does the job demand you work?
  5. What are the possibilities for connection with your community?
  6. What might your employer think of your pastoral profession; i.e. would they mind you carrying a Bible and reading it at lunch or talking with co-workers about your faith?

Some of these might not apply to your situation, for instance if you have a spouse providing health insurance or other benefits, this may not be a factor.  Likewise, a working spouse may be able to supply most of your living expenses.

Retail employment is a fallback for many people and are tempting because they can be easy to find at certain times of year or certain locales, but most often full-time positions are hard to come by and part-timers are paid little but may be required to work weekends…including Sunday.  Even full-time retail people may find that their situation may change. I was employed at one point as a full-time Evening Manager for a grocery store, hired with the stipulation that since I was a pastor I would never be asked to work Sunday.  Two new general managers and four years later I was asked to work Sundays.

The ideal position will include schedule flexibility, good pay and benefits, allow plenty of community contact and be in your local area.  There are some good ways of achieving most of these goals, and we will explore some of those ideas in future articles.