Lessons from an Unemployed Bivocational Pastor

On Friday morning, I got an email from the religion editor at the newspaper asking if my column was ready. It had been due by 5:00pm on Thursday. It was on my calendar, but somehow I had totally forgotten.

Vanessa was doing the Boutique Show. We had set up on Thursday, her birthday incidentally. And I had just totally forgotten. When I got the email from my editor, I was sitting in Vanessa’s booth at the show.  

articleI grabbed brown paper bag, a pen, and headed to the men’s bathroom – undoubtedly the quietest place at a boutique show full of women. I scribbled out my column. Then I tapped it out on my phone and sent it in.

I wrote about the strangeness of being a bivocational pastor who was also unemployed.

I use the word “was” intentionally. A couple hours after writing this column, I got a job offer. I start today.

The lessons still apply. Enjoy.

Much In Life Beyond Our Control

I am what’s known as a bivocational pastor. Bivocational pastors work full-time to support their families in addition to their work in their church ministries. Most of us don’t call ourselves “part-time” pastors because the truly part-time pastoral ministry is extremely rare.

For some pastors “bivocational” is a dirty word. In their minds, it is synonymous with fledgling and failing churches that aren’t able to support their pastors adequately.

For a long time, one of my biggest goals was to drop the “bivocational” label and return to being a regular, vocational minister. I’m not sure I’ve completely abandoned that goal, but I have become increasingly comfortable as a bivocational pastor.

Being bivocational has taught me many things about people, church, and life. These are lessons I never got in a seminary classroom.

For instance, I’ve learned as a bivocational pastor just how busy people’s lives really are. I don’t think that church should add to those crazy schedules. There are many days that I am exhausted from a day’s work. The last thing I want to do is lose my valuable evening to some pointless church meeting or activity.

I’ve learned to embrace a simple approach to church life that puts people above programs.

Being bivocational has been good for me. It’s also been good for my church.

Because I am bivocational, my church hasn’t been burdened by having to pay me a full-time salary. This has allowed us to add other bivocational leaders to our team. We also are able to invest a significant percentage of our budget to meet the needs of people.

But here’s the ironic part. I am now unemployed.

The company I was working for closed its doors, and I was out of a job on the first of September. This is actually the second time in two years that I’ve had to endure a company closing.

This time around, I’ve been personally finding out what many people have known – this is still a  very difficult job market for the unemployed.

article 2And so, I am learning some new life lessons.

These lessons involve trusting God and being willing to wait on God. This can be especially tough for a person like me. I normally try to make things happen. I’m a motivated, ambitious person.

However, after a couple months of being unable to make a new job happen, I am realizing anew that there is much beyond my control.

My days are spent sending out resumes and waiting for the phone to ring. It gets very discouraging when it doesn’t. Every day is an exercise in humility and faith.

I’ve grown to be comfortable as a bivocational pastor, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be comfortable as an unemployed, bivocational pastor.

But I am thankful for this time.

I am thankful for the extra time I’ve had with my wife.

I am thankful to be on the receiving end of the generosity of friends.

I am thankful for the opportunity to practice what I preach about how being a Christian doesn’t mean that Jesus is going to make all of your problems go away.

I’m especially thankful each Sunday to lead my congregation in the Lord’s Prayer. For the last couple of months, when we’ve said the words, “Give us today our daily bread,” I’ve actually meant it.

And that’s a very good thing.

 

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  • Holly

    A bi-vocational Pastor is a plus to me for one of the reasons you mentioned. You get that the rest of us aren’t able to “sit around and think about church stuff”. You rub shoulders with “us” every single day. And hopefully you lean on your church leaders and other bi-vocational staff more when you need to. I know it is hard and sometimes it is not ideal but I appreciate a bi-vocational Pastor like nobody’s business!

  • dougmullin

    It’s very Biblical to be a bi-vocational pastor. The idea of “tentmaking,” to use Christianese, is rooted in the work of Paul. And I think it makes for a better ministry, for the reasons Holly mentions.