10 Suggestions for Bi-Vocational Pastors

I spent my first few years of ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. For those who may not know the term, I sought other work to supplement my income I received as a pastor.

I still have a heart for those who hold down two jobs – sometimes both of them approaching full-time. Additionally, I think more pastors are going to have to consider bi-vocational ministry in the years ahead as economies change and the level of committed givers in the local church. (A great book on this change – and change to come potentially – is a book by a friend of mine, John Dickerson titled “The Great Evangelical Recession“.

I love assisting pastors and especially want to help these dedicated servants. Let me share a few things I learned and have observed from working with other bi-vocational pastors.

I’m going to share 5 suggestions of things you should do, followed by 5 suggestions of things you should not.

Things you should do

Be accountable – Let people speak into your life. You may feel more independent if you’re not dependent on the church for your total income, but you still need accountability – like we all do.

Be disciplined – You have to stay healthy in all areas of your life. We all do, but you have more pressure on you to do so.

Be organized – Have someone help you if needed, but develop systems to do everything you have to do in a week. I find the busier I am and the more I am doing, the more structure I need to provide myself. There will always be interruptions, but you’re better prepared for them when you start your week with a plan.

Be intentional – It’s hard work, but you have to keep both business and church worlds running well – and still be a good family man. It will require intentionality on your part.

Be diligent – In all areas of your life, you must do your best. Your witness is at stake.

Things you shouldn’t do

Complain to the church – It’s tempting, because the work is hard. They should know you do – and hopefully they will give you consideration for it. But, it’s not fair to them to hear you complain about it all the time.

Lose sight of vision – The reason you are doing what you are doing is to complete the call God has on your life. And, what you do is valuable. Life-changing. Eternal.

Let yourself burnout – Stay healthy physically, relationally, and emotionally. Again, let people speak into your life who recognize when you are stretching yourself too far.

Allow one world to outshine the other – This is the hard part, but you have to be good in all your worlds if you’re going to continue. Yu’ll need God’s strength, but, again, it’s your witness.

Neglect your family – Here’s another hard one, but they are your first commitment. They will be there after either vocation.

I’m pulling for you, but one key to your success long-term will be to continually improve personally, so you can do more professionally. Ask God to help you with that.

Have you ever had to balance dual careers? What advice would you give?

7 Ways for a Husband to Encourage His Wife

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I would write that 100 times, but I think you get the message and I’d probably lose most of you at number 17. That’s the average number of times you’ll read the same thing. (Of course, I just made that up.)

But, I want it clear up front, I’m not a perfect husband.

I have learned a few things and I do want to be a better husband. I know, for example, part of my happiness is found in Cheryl being happy. I love my wife enough I want her to be happy. I think most husbands would agree with this statement. If not, its time to get outside help for the marriage.

Obviously, I can’t control all the things which happen in a day for her. I can’t stop people from being rude to her as she drives to work. I can’t keep the co-worker who is having a bad day from taking her bad day out on Cheryl. I can’t stop the pressures and stress Cheryl will encounter by being a pastor’s wife or by being a friend, mother, daughter or sister.

All I can control is the way I respond to Cheryl and the things I do to encourage her happiness. I do believe – as I read Scripture – just as I strategically think for my ministry, I should strategically think how to encourage my wife. It’s part of loving my wife as Christ loves the church.

Obviously a wife wants to know she’s loved, that you believe in her and respect her, and that we are committed long-term to the relationship. But, what are some practical ways to show this on a continual basis? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Here are a 7 ways I try to encourage Cheryl:

Send flowers – when they aren’t expected. 

This seems so trivial, but I honestly have to remind myself to do this. Flowers on a special occasion are nice, but I have found the ones she enjoys the most are sent on the days she’s not looking for flowers. This could be something besides flowers if your wife isn’t into flowers much, but I’ve also discovered many of the practical-minded women who say they don’t want flowers actually love receiving them occasionally.

Reserve a day – just for her.

I try to do this every Saturday. I let few things interrupt this day and none without consulting with Cheryl first. You may not be able to do this once a week and it may not be for a full day, but it should be consistent enough she can anticipate it. I think it’s great if these are placed on the calendar and trump other interruptions. (There are always emergencies, but as much as possible keep them. Plus, some things we claim as emergencies could actually be delegated to someone else.) During the times when life is most stressful and you are pulled in different directions, these reserved times give her something to look forward to and remind her you’ll be able to “catch up” soon.

Give a giftt which keeps on giving.

This idea is brilliant, I must admit. I love to give a gift which takes a while to receive. When the boys were at home and getting away was more difficult, I would give Cheryl a trip for Christmas every year. We would take the trip in May. I would usually pick a location, request brochures, and give them to her as her “big” gift at Christmas. We had months to plan for it, which built positive emotions leading up to the trip and then anticipating the next Christmas trip. (Plus, many of these expenses were paid outside the Christmas spending frenzy, which helped our budget.) We are more flexible with our schedule since the boys have moved out, but I still try to keep something planned ahead for Cheryl to look forward to in the future. These are huge boosts on otherwise cloudy days.

Be a responsive listener.

I realize whenever Cheryl says something there is usually a deeper meaning, so I try to listen for the deeper meaning. I try to understand her thought process.(Girls, guys really do talk in simpler facts, which makes it more difficult for us to understand subtleties sometimes.) Instead of dismissing what Cheryl said, because it wasn’t clear or assuming I know what she’s saying, I ask questions for clarification when needed.

Give her details.

Okay, I know, this one can hurt – and, I’m not the best at it. Again, I’m not the perfect husband here. (Do I need to write that again?) I try allowing Cheryl to ask me questions and I try to tell her when I’ve told her everything I know. I realize details are more important to her than to me. (This may be opposite for you and your spouse.) Cheryl is very accommodating here – knowing I don’t like details. We plan times together where she knows I’m more likely to talk – such as our morning or evening walks. I have to remember though – just because details aren’t important to me doesn’t mean they aren’t to her.

Listen without fixing.

This is my toughest, but just in the last couple week I did this. I hope she caught it. She had a list of things on her mind she was struggling with and I didn’t say a word until she got through all of them. And, it was hard. I am a fixer. I fix problems everyday. Give me a problem and I’ll be quick to race to a solution. I realize many times, however, Cheryl simply wants my ear and not my expert insight.

Brag to others about her.

Let your wife hear you bragging about her to other people. She’s wonderful, right? Let her know you recognize it. Of course, this should be genuine, but I know Cheryl appreciates hearing me affirm her to others. And Cheryl is wonderful. You heard it here first. It’s funny sometimes, because people who haven’t picked Cheryl out in the crowd on Sunday or met her yet, will ask – “Are you ‘the Cheryl’?” They’ve heard me talk about her enough they want to know who she is.

Guys, your list will be different from mine, because your wife is different. Some of them will be the same. The point of this post is to encourage you to think strategically about how you can encourage your wife.

Ladies, feel free to help us men. Most of us really do want you to feel encouraged. So, anything you would add to my list which would encourage you?

Put Your Mask on First

Leadership advice from airline safety

If you’ve spent any time flying commercially, you’ve most likely memorized the flight attendants instructions prior to take off.

Perhaps this will sound familiar:

Oxygen and the air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

Years ago I was listening (I usually tune these announcements out – sorry) and one line jumped out at me.

If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.

I was instantly reminded of an important leadership principle. This is probably something you already know, but it’s always good to be reminded.

Leader, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t continue to lead at the level needed to help your team be successful. You certainly can’t lead a team to be healthy if you are living an unhealthy lifestyle. The healthier you are – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally – the more health you can bring to the team.

Just like on the airplane, you can’t help your team if you are having trouble breathing on your own.

Be honest.

What is one thing you would need to change in order to live a healthier life?

Grab your mask – get some needed oxygen – get the help you need, whatever it is, so you can lead at your best again.

If God Gives You Influence…

A Reminder to Pastors and Church Leaders

If God gives you influence the enemy gives you attention!

We shouldn’t be surprised when we see pastors and church leaders struggle. They are human – imperfect humans.

I have witnessed over the years – watching others and with my own experience – it’s often in the seasons where everything seems to be going so well when temptation is greatest.

Should we be surprised? I think not! We’ve been warned – and told how to respond.

Be self‑controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Pray for a pastor or church leader today. And, drop them a quick note to let them know you did.

5 Helpful Questions When Attempting  to Discern God’s Will

When options are plentiful

I am often asked how to know if the plans we make are God’s will for our life. I’m not referring to which cereal to have for breakfast. For the most part I think God would simply say choose your favorite (and, like a good parent, try to steer you to a healthier option). I’m talking about those life-altering decisions, such as career choice, relationships, or decisions requiring huge steps of faith.

Most of us want to do God’s will, and yet, as I view Scripture, God seems to give us a tremendous amount of freedom to choose the paths in our life. If you’re like me, you’re fully capable of making a mistake. I’ve made many doing things my own way.

It seems easier for me when I have some sort of structure through which to process a decision. Years ago I began to ask myself questions when facing major options in my life.

Here are 5 helpful questions I often ask myself to help discern God’s will:

Does what I’m doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?

Always start here, because God’s Word will never contradict what He’s asking you to do. God is always true to Himself and His Word is always true and relevant. We may differ in interpretation of a passage, but if it’s clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we clearly know His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with the counsel of others?

God uses others to confirm His will. I am thankful for the people in my life, including my wife and sons, who have helped shaped the path of my life. Often they see things I can’t see or believe in me when I can’t believe in myself. God sends the body of Christ to encourage, challenge and strengthen the body. (Don’t be confused, however, with times God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy. See Noah for an example of one of those times.)

Does what I am doing conflict with the spirit within me?

God sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. He guides us with an inner peace or a holy unrest. If Christ is in you, He will not leave you to make a decision completely alone. Often God provides a peace or a lack thereof when He is trying to confirm His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with my life experience?

God uses our experiences in life to teach and mold us to His will. Often it isn’t as unusual of a path when we look back over our life experiences. Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also, but consider the life of Joseph. God continually used his past experiences to shape his future.

Does what I am doing conflict with my passion for life?

God tends to work with the things which fuel our fire. He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. When I look at Bible characters like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul it appears their calling matched their wiring. Paul was zealous for whatever he did. God used his passion for good. What’s your greatest passion? God may work within it to confirm His will.

Try those questions together and see how they line up to help discern God’s will as it relates with your the options before you.

I should encourage you in closing with this – I fully believe God works all things for good even when we miss His will in individual decisions. You can make a bad decision, but God retains the right to finish your story His way. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

You may want to read 7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

5 Qualities to Seek in the Heart of a Leader

As evidenced from the heart of Joseph

In this post I’d love to consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for the heart. I want a heart which honors Christ more than self, one which desires to grow and learn, and one which is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others.

The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ – not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

The part of Joseph’s story I want to point out has to do with what identified him with the heart of leader. I submit his heart is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination

Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity

When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment

Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality

Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation

Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

The hope of this post is you would reflect on your own leadership – consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?

Silence Can Be Deadly!

Especially when people are involved.

You’ve heard silence is golden – and it’s true. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 5:2. “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Let your words be few.”. James tells us to guard the tongue. I often get in less trouble when I talk less.

And, maybe this is exactly the encouragement you need from this post. Quit talking long enough to think before you speak – or before you post on Facebook! 

But, silence can also be deadly.

Especially in a team environment, in an organizational structure, or in a relational setting – anywhere people are closely involved with other people – silence can be a curse. When working on a project, implementing change, planning for the future – silence can kill you!

The point of this post is simply to remind you – people only know what they know. They often won’t know what they need to know unless you tell them.

In the process of leading people, keep people updated with what you know. Even if you don’t have all the answers, let them have the answers you do have.

When people don’t have information, they tend to invent their own scenarios.

Silence fuels rumors. They make up stories. They stretch and fabricate what the little they do know. Fear, tension, and frustrations rise. Even those who were once fully invested often become discouraged. Morale is injured and enthusiasm wanes.

And, all of these mostly emotionally-driven reactions are fueled by the unknown – by silence.

In my experience, people will be more patient if they receive adequate communication while they wait for the final details. Of course, the main thing people need to know is the why behind what you are doing – and you must keep reminding the – but they also want details of progress along the way. If you want to keep progress moving forward – break the silence and share information. Keep people informed. Communicate!

Have you experienced the pain of silence in a team, organizational, or relationship setting?

I Am a Pastor – And, I May Be Suffering From Burnout

What Now?

Pastor burnout is a common problem in the church today. I hear from pastors on a regular basis facing the stress of ministry. 

Here’s a common scenario, which can cause burnout to happen. These may be some of the more common ones I hear. Perhaps this is your story.

  • The church gets to a certain level.
  • Things start to slow down.
  • The church stops growing.
  • Maybe even slides backwards for a while.
  • Money becomes tighter.
  • People are complaining more.
  • Everyone is asking the pastor “What’s next?” “What do we do now?”
  • You’ve done everything you know how to do.
  • You feel stuck – trapped – afraid – paralyzed – confused – overwhelmed.

And, this is just one scenario. There are so many others. It could be the church is still growing – even rapidly, but the pastor is doing more now than previously. There never seems to be an end to the growth. People are demanding more and more from the pastor – there’s pressure to continue the increases – but, it feels like life is always going to be running out of control.

Pick your own scenario, but I know this – if not careful, the stress will quickly cause the pastor to:

  • Become more sensitive to criticism and stress.
  • Stop reading and learning techniques and strategies.
  • Quit taking risks – for fear of messing something up.
  • Become protective – maybe even isolated from others.
  • Develop excuses for every challenge.
  • Respond defensively to every challenge.
  • Begin to question your abilities.
  • Work harder, but not smarter.

No doubt, even if only a few of these are true, these are impacting every area of your life – including your family. 

If this is your story, I have a few words of encouragement:

  • Get help now. It might be professional help or not, but ask for help today!  You wouldn’t encourage the people you lead to do life alone – so why is it a good idea for you?
  • Surround yourself with people. Not the opposite, which can be a usual response to times like this – especially it seems by pastors.  Find people who love you – they are there if you look.
  • Find your center of gravity again. (Most likely this is Christ, right?)
  • Get back to the truth you already know.  You may start by reading 1 Kings 19 for another time one of God’s servants fell on difficult times. Read the Psalms. 
  • Renew the passion for your vision. God called you to something. He never said it would be easy. God-given dreams rarely are. Let whatever fuels you most fuel you again. This may mean you have to stop doing a lot of other things – even things people expect you to do – so you can better concentrate on what God called you to do. And, I assure you it wasn’t to please everyone. Plus, some of the stuff you are doing someone else probably needs to be – it’s could even be what God has gifted them to uniquely do. 
  • Start doing something towards a goal.  Inactivity never solved anything. you may need to rest – I’ll cover that too, but you may need to see progress towards something new to refuel your tank. Again, this doesn’t mean doing more. It means doing something better with your time – and trusting others with some of the things you’ve been doing. It means getting better as a leader – a Jethro counseled Moses type of leader. An Acts 6 type of leader. 
  • Look for some small wins.  It will help rebuild your confidence.
  • Stay faithful in the small things. Those disciplines you once had – such as reading your Bible everyday – but, you may have gotten distracted from them – they are even more important now. 
  • Discipline your Sabbath. This is huge! God didn’t give this command for seasons when everything was “caught up” and there were no more immediate demands. Those days never come! God knew what He was doing when He commanded a regular Sabbath – and, when He demonstrated it for us in His Creation. So, certainly a day a week, but if you need more it would be better to quit for a quarter than be out for the rest of the game.

Thanks for serving – even when the serving gets difficult. I am praying for you.

(You can make this post better if you share resources you know of to support pastors who may be facing burnout.)

 

Even in the best restaurants…

The napkin goes under the table leg.

Even in the best restaurants – they still put napkins under a wobbly table.

They just use nicer napkins.

I was made aware of a wealthy family who took advantage of a couple of much lesser means. It was frustrating, because they were “legal”, but seemingly inflexible and even hurtful in their actions. 

The poorer couple was selling something to pay some unexpected expenses. In the closing documents they made a simple paperwork error in their original calculations – just a couple hundred dollars on a many thousand dollar sale – and, the wealthier couple held them to their original agreement – knowing it was an honest mistake and not the understood verbal agreement. They made sure every single penny was paid. 

It was a MAJOR loss for one couple. They needed every dime they could get. The extra money meant nothing in the grand scheme to the other couple – pocket change.

Of course, the wealthy was completely within their “rights”, but was it really the right thing to do? 

I hate when stuff like this happens. Jesus told a similar story I seem to recall. 

Shortly afterwards, Cheryl and I ate in a really nice restaurant. We were on vacation and treated ourselves to a great meal. It was one of those white tablecloth places where we had more than one waiter/waitress. You have forks you don’t – or I don’t – know how to use. 

At the table next to us sat a nice, well-dressed couple, also enjoying a romantic evening. I could tell the couple were struggling with the rocking table. It wobbled whenever they leaned on it.

What did they do?

The well-dressed man leaned over, lifted the table slightly, and stuck a folded napkin underneath the leg. Problem solved.

The two stories working together reminded me of an even greater life principle – far more important than money or wobbly tables. It’s one I hope we all remember. 

While some of us may think we are better than others – when it comes to a wobbly table – we are all the same.

My mom used to say, “Everyone puts there pants on one leg at a time.”

I say, “Everyone fixes a wobbly table with a folded napkin.” (And, sometimes with packages of sugar.) 

God says, “Don’t think you are better than you really are.” (Romans 12:3)

Have you been looking down others who have less than you? Maybe who don’t share your opinions or agree with your views? Have you judged people unfairly based on your expectations of them? 

Be honest. We can all be guilty of it at some level.

God, continue to mold us into who you want us to be – seeing others as you see them.

Peace Often Comes Through Obedience

Are you struggling with a “word from God”?

Do you feel there is something you need to do, but you aren’t quite certain about it yet?

Do you wish you had greater “peace” before you struck out to follow a dream – a dream you feel is God-given?

Are you sensing a desire to plant a church, revitalize a church, launch a new ministry effort, or surrender to vocational ministry?

If any of those or a similar scenario is your current story I may have a word of encouragement for you – or perhaps a word of challenge.

In my experience, peace often doesn’t come until obedience begins.

Seldom do I have complete peace prior to beginning to obey what I sense God is calling me to do.

Many times the direction God appears to be leading me doesn’t make sense. I’m restless. I don’t sleep well. I may even question myself and what I’m sensing.

I’ve previously written steps I take to discern God’s will (You can read that HERE and HERE), but after I’ve done those processes, and I’m still sensing God’s leading, the next place for me hasn’t always been an overwhelming sense of peace. The next place for me is one of obedience.

I’ve learned I may have to get my feet wet (Read Joshua 3) before the waters begin to part and peace begins to fill my heart.

When we agreed with God (and the search committee) He was calling us to leave an enormously successful church plant to go to an established 100 plus year old church almost a third of the size – where budgets were stretched and I was expected to preach three times as much and visit far more hospital beds – and to wear a tie on Sunday – it was difficult to get peace about any of those things.

It wasn’t until we agreed, and I showed up to tell the leadership of our church plant we were leaving where God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. I had to obey first though.

To finish the story, we are a different church in many ways today. I preach once a week and very rarely have on a tie. And, the church has grown beyond our imaginations and the budget is healthy. But, we couldn’t see all this going into the process.

Are you in one of those times of discernment? Do you sense God’s leading? Do you believe God is calling you to a new level of faith and dependence on Him?

The next step may be to get your feet wet.

Improve this post. Share your stories of where peace came in obedience.