Pastors as a group are not well known for risky behavior and especially behavior that may impact their church growth.  There is an old joke about the church being about 10 years behind the curve when it comes to innovation.  Sadly, that may be closer to the truth than we are likely to admit.  In my own small circle I know of churches who are just now introducing such things as lyrics projected onto a screen during worship.  In a meeting just this last week we were talking about music, and I remarked that what we refer to as ‘the new choruses’ were actually published almost 25 years ago!  (“Master Chorus Book” by Ken Bible)

The concept of risk is something with which we as bivopastors should become friends.  There are a few things we should know, as a basis, though.

First, risk is risky.  Duh!  Any particular action taken may or may not succeed, and in many cases the action will fail.  This is not bad, though, if we learn from our failures.  It is only bad when we do not learn from our mistakes.  Thomas Edison is said to have tried 10,000 experiments as he was inventing his light bulb.  When asked about his failure he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Second, just because it worked (or didn’t work) somewhere else is no guarantee it will do the same thing in our context.  As stock brokers are prone to say, ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings’.  Seeing something working in one place, like a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church, does not guarantee it will work for you. This is probably more a problem with context than with execution.

Third, a slightly tongue in cheek definition of ‘insanity’ is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.  One of my favorite movies is ‘The Princess Bride’.  No matter how often I watch it, though, it always ends the same way.  If I expected it to end a different way as I watch it over and over again…there is something wrong!  Yet, in the church we often do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  I knew of a missionary years ago who boasted that they had given out 20,000 tracts on a street corner over a period of two years.  When I asked how many responses they saw, he told me that 2 people  had come into the church.  That is a response rate of .01%.  Yes, those two people are precious to God, but almost certainly the missionary would have been better off trying something new.  ‘We have always done it this way’ is a death knell for a church.

How do we use risk to our own benefit?  We need to embrace the uncomfortable.  Yes, change is difficult, and sometimes painful.  We then decide to learn from our mistakes, rather than retreat from them or wallow in our own misery.  If we are successful, so much the better.  Never let a good failure pass you by!

Encourage your people to try new things.  Give them permission to fail!  Let them know that the trying is the important part, and you will not be mad at them for failing if they are doing something new and worthwhile.

Take a look at your current ministry, what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If it is not working or if it is requiring much effort for little in terms of results, don’t be afraid to cast it aside and try something different.  Realistically a small church cannot ‘do it all’.  It must pick and choose the ministries it can offer in a strategic fashion.  Those ministries it does, it must do well.  There are certain core ministries EVERY church must supply, however.  A worship service of some sort is essential, as is a missions program, an outreach or service ministry and an opportunity for prayer.  Beyond these, everything is up for grabs.  Notice I did not define what those particular ‘essential’ ministries look like.  These are more or less defined as missional priorities rather than a fixed format.  Worship could be home groups, a formal church setting, a live band with a worship leader in a park or a coffee house.  Outreach could be a nursing home ministry, a school Bible club, servant evangelism or collecting box tops for an Native American school.  In addition, some ministries simply have a life span.  It may be that once worked no longer does and it is time to change.  That is okay.

The one thing to keep in mind here above all else is that if you do not take some risks, the chances for growth are exceedingly low.  Failure is seldom fatal, but is merely another opportunity to learn.


‘ “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’

John 4:34 (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


ReadingIn a previous article we talked about how to have a personal spiritual retreat.  You have decided to just go ahead and do it, you might have even talked to your Board, scheduled it, found pulpit supply and have an agenda ready for yourself.  But where to have it?  Well folks, finding a place you can afford and that is within driving distance to have that retreat is the topic today.

There are a number of alternatives to consider.

First, check with your closest denominational headquarters, if you have one.  For me, that would be my District office near Boston, MA.  We are blessed to have a District Campground, and that camp allows pastors to schedule personal retreats on a space available basis free of charge.  It is centrally located and within a three hour drive of my location.

Second, and especially if you are part of an independent church, check with other local pastors.  They may know of places you can schedule a retreat at low or no cost.  It is possible, for instance, that other local pastors may be able to use our District Campground should they ask me and I make introductions for them.  Don’t underestimate the power of networking!

Third, do a search on the internet for ‘Free Pastor Retreats’.  This will bring up a list of locations and organizations that have free or heavily discounted retreat venues like “Converge Mid-America”.

Fourth, you can do your own arrangements at a local hotel, motel or campground.  This is probably the most expensive option, but if you choose the location and time of year carefully it can still be done relatively cheaply.  This can accommodate solo or multiple person retreats.

Fifth, if you are doing a solo retreat consider the possibility of visiting a friend, relative or colleague and staying with them in an extra room.  There are a couple caveats to this.  You should be up front with them about expectations…explain to them that you want to come for a retreat and are looking for quiet and solitude.  Ask about eating arrangements and such.

Lastly, if all else fails you can do a retreat at home.  This requires the most discipline of all the options presented here.  Phones should be shut off, TV’s disconnected, perhaps even telling people that you are going on a retreat but not mentioning to them you will be home, in order to forestall the inevitable “…but Pastor, this is an emergency!!!” calls and visitors.

There are many different options for finding a retreat location.  Think creatively and out of the box.  You can do it; after all, you are a PASTOR!


“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 (NIV)

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)

(source:;_ylu=X3oDMTBtdXBkbHJyBHNlYwNmcC1hdHRyaWIEc2xrA3J1cmw-/RV=2/RE=1435117632/RO=11/"It is rare you can talk to someone and offer them a short and sweet solution to their biggest problems.  That is especially rare in the context of the church.  So when someone offers you a bumper-sticker length bit of help you probably want to take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, this is exactly what I am going to do here today.

Most of the problems in the church are easy to define.  Lack of finances.  Lack of leaders.  Too many debates about inane issues.  Too much ‘gazing at belly buttons’. Lack of vision.  Lack of focus. Lack of involvement.  No new people.  New people leaving through the infamous ‘back door’. These are issues every church has, whether averaging 20 people in Sunday worship, 200 people, 2,000 people or 20,000 people.

There are two keys that you can use to solve these issues, or at the very least put a serious dent in them.

1)  Prayer, prayer, prayer!  Prayer is the ‘engine’ that drives everything in the church.  Prayer is our connection to the Father, made possible by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The closer we get to God, the more we hear His voice and the more we will have a heart for people.  I cannot stress this enough.  If your church was to die tomorrow, what would be on it’s tombstone?  “This was a praying church!” or “This church did a lot and accomplished little.”  Pray for your church.  Pray for people outside the church by name, and ask God for opportunities to minister to them and to tell them the Gospel story.

2) Get out of the church!  Yes, you heard me right.  Leave.  Go to the park.  Go to the beach.  Go to Walmart.  And get your people out, too.  The sad fact is that we have bought into a model that says evangelism must bring people in to the church so they can be told the Gospel and get saved.  The reality is that these days unsaved people will not come in to the church in any significant numbers (at least in places like my native New England) to hear the Gospel.   Kids who go to VBS are likely from churched families.  Kids who come to youth groups are most often from churched families.  Men’s groups are populated by men from the church and Ladies groups are as well.  Bible studies are predominately for Christians, not the unsaved.

The hard part is we as the church are stuck in our old ways.  As bivocational ministers we already have broken one mold…the view that the pastor is available to the local church body 24 hours a day, and is the primary evangelist (“That’s what we hired him for, right?”)  We also have the advantage of being able to take the Gospel out into the so-called marketplace…where we work.  In doing so we can model the behavior for our people.

I think, though, we have to take it to the next step to be truly effective.  This is an area I am struggling with.  We need to place less priority on our in-house ministries and more emphasis on ministries conducted outside the four walls of the church.  When we do this the church as a whole can start connecting with the community.

Now, the question remains.  Do you have the desire to reach people?  All of those problems you have in the church…too few leaders, too little money, not enough people being saved…they can all be solved by these two simple elements, prayer and focusing outward.  Do you have the desire, and will, to make a difference?


traffic_turnaroundThere are many different scenarios in which a bivocational pastor may serve.  One of these is in the context of a ‘turnaround’, or ‘church revitalization’.  These are churches which have either plateaued for a long time or have been in decline.  Many turnaround churches have lost the financial ability to pay a full salary, so they seek a bivocational pastor by necessity.  One way you know you are in a turnaround church is when the District Superintendent asks you to pastor a church with the comment, “This is the church’s last chance, either it comes alive or we are going to close it!”.

It takes a very particular kind of person to pastor a revitalization church.  An interesting study has come out that pinpoints some of the qualities of a successful “turnaround pastor”.  Take a look a the following article and feel free to comment on it here.  Do you find their results are useful?  Why or why not?

Link to article, click here.