Managing to be a Bi-vocational Pastor

We are in the middle of our Lenten season with the sun providing a few rays of the hope to come that is Spring (next week by the way) I got asked how I was spending my time since each of our Pastors-in-Training are preaching these five Sunday’s and I’m not in school any more. This is a very good question considering it is Lent and I haven’t shared what God is working on in my life.
It can seem like an overwhelming situation being Pastor at times but I’ve learned a few things over the past six years or so that have kept me out of too much trouble (for the most part) and I want to share some of them with you. But before we begin I want you to understand that we are all called to bi-vocational ministry and it is hard work if you want to succeed. It requires home work, hard work and finally heart work. We don’t have time to explore the full impact of that concept in this setting so let me just give you a preview of how I’ve been spending my time.
I put the big rocks in first. I remember when Janet Coleman taught this lesson to her Middler class when we worshipped at F.T. Binns Middle School. You probably know the illustration of the physics teacher who gave his students five big rocks, a wide-mouth mason jar and a container of sand. He said, “You’ve got one minute to put the rocks and all the sand in the jar – go!” They poured the sand in and started stuffing the rocks in. As the seconds ticked by the frustration mounted until all the time ran out. The students were frustrated because they couldn’t complete the assignment. The excuses piled up. “We didn’t have enough time!” “We would have to break the jar.” “You tricked us.” “It’s impossible!”
But you know how the story ends. The teacher pours out all the sand and puts the rocks in first and then pours in the sand and just for fun then fills the jar up with water. When he put the lid on the jar, he not only completed the assignment he had room to do more! In bi-vocational ministry we have a tendency to get caught up in the sand of life and if we do that nothing will fit. I have learned to use an acrostic P.E.P.R.D. (Pepered.) You’ll need to figure out the big rocks in your life and ministry but here are mine:
P – prayer
E – exercise
P – planning
R – reading
D – devotions
Honestly, if I do nothing else but put these five rocks in my daily jar, I’m a happy camper. If I do all kinds of other things and don’t do these then I’m a foolish steward of my time. The water added by the teacher represents what can be done when I working with the Holy Spirit who is able to bring about more than I could even imagine. All it takes is putting first things first and recognizing that we all have the same amount of time each day and we have to utilize it wisely.
I minister to as many people as I can, including my wife and children. This may come as a shock but my wife is a member of our church and I need to make sure she is attended to as her Pastor and as her husband. The line is blurred at times, but we manage.
I work to do the same thing every day and believe me its hard! But God calls us to take up our cross daily. To that end we are working to get out of debt, and I work on my purity. With such easy access to so much “stuff” it can be difficult to disengage from the world. You can find yourself immersed in the Internet, Facebook, twitter, TV – you name it and then wake up one day months later to find life changed and wonder “where in the world have I been?” I have to work to remember where my heart belongs so that I don’t move from temptation into sin. Proverbs 5:7-14 helps me in this regard:
7 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
do not turn aside from what I say.
8 Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house,
9 lest you give your best strength to others
and your years to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth
and your toil enrich another man's house.
11 At the end of your life you will groan,
when your flesh and body are spent.
12 You will say, "How I hated discipline!
How my heart spurned correction!
13 I would not obey my teachers
or listen to my instructors.
14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin
in the midst of the whole assembly."
I’m learning to adjust my sights and focus on the vision and ministry that God is laying on my heart. You can’t shoot deer if the scope is off – we can’t do ministry either because we’ll wind up in the wrong place. Plan, plan, plan – write it down because God talks to you at different times. These plans provide me with boundaries that keep from straying from my ministry into “nice” to do areas.
I work to have a personal Sabbath each week. It’s difficult because I still have to drive to Reston four days a week so I take a day off an hour or two at a time. My goal is to take every seventh Sunday off and go the cabin. I’m working to make that goal come to fruition.
Finally, I’m learning to increase the use of the question “why.” Doubt doesn’t enter when you question why, as a matter of fact it’s very biblical; just read some of Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples. It stops me from blindly following and calls me back to examine my life, my heart and my motives.
In ten or twenty years my house could be empty; I just don’t know how much time I have in this world. I used to think that my time was to be used to fill up my nice big house or drive a nice big car. That may get included in my time on this earth and if it does that’s great. But I don’t want to lose the reason I am in ministry because of it.
I told you when we began that its hard work if you want to succeed. It requires home work, hard work and finally heart work. Yet despite all that I am content with being a bi-vocational Pastor. Are you?
Let’s pray,
Thank you so much for helping us to be the men and women of God that you want us to be here in these last days. You have given each of us a ministry assignment. Most of us will be bi-vocational our whole lives but that does not make us second-class citizens in your Kingdom. For those of us who strive to be more professional in our calling it may just be for a season. It may be to help us get our house in order. Maybe it’s to get things clean and straight and stream-lined in our lives because you tell us that those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much. Help me to see that if I’m unrighteous where I am I’ll be unrighteous if you give me more. Help me to be more faithful!