Ideas for Effective Bi-Vocational Ministry
I remember it well. Early in my marriage, I had the privilege of serving as a full-time student pursuing a Master’s degree, a graduate assistant to the Dean of the School of Theology, a part-time tree trimmer and lawn mower, a new father, and a bi-vocational youth minister at a local church. When I was called to the ministry, I never thought it would be like this, and many times I wondered whether or not I could accomplish the mission God had entrusted to me. How could I hope to do justice to my ministry when my attention had to be divided just so my family and I could survive?
Sound familiar? It’s the tension felt by every bi-vocational minister. The simple fact is there is no such thing as part-time ministry, and the minister working for a church that is not able to fund the minister fully finds himself constantly caught up in that tension. Additionally, some well-meaning Christians actually look down on bi-vocationals, perceiving them as second-class ministers simply because they aren’t ministering “full-time,” when nothing could be further from the truth.
Bi-vocational ministers can be some of the hardest working people on the planet. In fact, they are this author’s heroes. Ministers who balance working full or part time, perhaps going to school, family, and ministry at a local church are not to be looked down upon but lifted up and lauded as the heroes they truly are. Don’t forget that even Paul, one of the greatest missionaries this world has ever known, was also a tentmaker (Cf. Acts 18:1-3).
Since a bi-vocational minister’s time is split between responsibilities, it is essential that he learn how to maximize his effectiveness. Here are a few suggestions for making that happen.
• Have realistic expectations. You are not Superman, and God does not expect you to be. He created you with limitations, and He called you knowing those limitations. His desire is for you to be faithful to Him and dependent upon Him. Remember Jesus said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).
• Ask for, and expect, help from others within your church. The most effective leaders are the ones who know how to delegate responsibility to trusted and trustworthy individuals in any organization. Because of a bi-vocational minister’s unique circumstances, he will not have as much time to spend doing the work of ministry in the church. To be perfectly honest, neither does a full-time minister. In fact, Moses’ father-in-law scolded Moses for attempting to carry the full weight of the ministry on his own shoulders (Cf. Exodus 18:13-26). The minister, and his church, must understand that there will be times when a pastor will be unavailable and others within the church will do ministry in his stead.
• Learn to manage your time wisely. While this is an important thing for every minister to learn, it is not optional for a bi-vocational minister. Discover the “time wasters” in your life and cut them out. This does not include family time, but it may include television or other forms of non-essential media. Consider Paul’s admonishment to the Ephesians that they learn to “make the most of [their] time,” (5:16, NASB).
• Beware of substituting that which is good for that which is best. This goes hand in hand with good time management but takes it one step further. Don’t waste time on good things that distract you from what God deems necessary. Effective and successful ministry rests on a foundation of earnestly seeking the face of God in order that we might know His will. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was that they might “be able to discern what is best . . .” (1:10a, NIV).
• Make use of available resources. The staff of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention stands at the ready to assist you in the gargantuan task of ministry. Many resources are available online. Do you need someone to train your adult Sunday School teachers? How about someone to lead a marriage retreat for your young married couples? Or perhaps someone to teach about stewardship? These services, and many more, are available at no cost to your church because of the Cooperative Program. You are not alone in your ministry!
Bi-vocational ministry can be challenging and even exhausting. However, for those who dare to venture in, a world of untold blessing awaits. Hats off to you who are brave enough to follow! You are my hero!