Three Imperatives of Bivocational Ministry
If you do a search on bivocational ministry, you will find a lot of great articles that address the demands and benefits of bivocational ministry—why it matters, what pitfalls to avoid, etc. All of these are great articles written by great pastors or church leaders. For this article, we define bivocational ministry as a pastor who holds a full-time or part-time secular job to support his ministry. I want to address some of the experiences and wisdom I have gained in serving as a bivocational pastor in two church revitalizations. It is my belief that in some cases, a church may need to be closed and a new church planted, but not in all cases. I believe that some churches just need someone willing to work a secular job and invest some time in the church. By working with its existing board and leaders who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the church in years past, I believe a pastor can see great success.
These are three imperatives that I believe are essential for bivocational ministry.
1. Effective Time
This is not an area where I serve as a good example. Before I joined the staff of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, I was a lead pastor and roofing contractor. In my secular job, on any given day, I would start in Waxahachie, Texas (forty minutes south of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex), go to my company’s headquarters in Plano (an hour north of the Metroplex) and then wind up on the west side of Fort Worth for an inspection or adjuster’s meeting. Keep in mind that my church was in Farmersville, which is way back over on the east side.
I’m not telling you this to impress (or depress) you, but to let you know that a bivocational minister must guard his schedule and be very intentional with time management. If you don’t work your schedule, it will work you.
When feeling overwhelmed by pressures of a job and ministry, God reminds us of the importance of rest. We must intentionally set aside time for rest. Doing this requires discipline and time management so we can unplug our brains for a while. If we take the time to slow down, calm down, and bow down to our Lord’s design for creation and wisdom for our lives, He can impress upon our hearts what is important in life. The Lord will do this if we slow down, calm down, worship Him, and listen for His Holy Spirit to speak to us. Proper time management will help us get the rest we need.
2. Overcome Insecurity
One of the worst traps for any minister is the game of comparison. Social media has made comparing so easy for us, and we measure ourselves and our definition of success against each other.
As a bivocational minister, it’s easy to doubt your calling and feel, “If I am really called to this, then I shouldn’t have to work a secular job to support myself.”
A close friend of mine who I served on staff with years ago was recently installed as the lead pastor in a church where he had served eleven years. I went by the campus of his church to visit and say hello before I had to do a roof inspection in the area. I must admit that when I pulled up to his beautiful $7 million facility, I was envious at best and downright jealous at worst. The Holy Spirit convicted me almost immediately and reminded me that He had not call me to be my friend; He called me to be me. My friend had worked very hard to get where he was, and I knew first-hand that his ministry had not been a cake walk.
When you take on a church revitalization project, you must stay realistic with your goals. If you are like some church planters, and your church explodes to five thousand people in a relatively short amount of time, then more power to you, but that is the exception, not the norm.
I’ve found joy in small victories like launching a new ministry from our church where we did car repairs for single moms and the elderly on fixed incomes because we had a mechanic who donated his time and shop to us. Or when we joined with other churches in town to support the food pantry and clothing thrift store in our town.
When I was an undergrad student in Bible college, a missionary preached in chapel one morning and gave a message that has stuck with me through the years. His message was simply “Just show up.” If you will be faithful and just show up, it is amazing what God will do through you when you are in the right place.
3. Trust God
Trusting God is a common theme throughout the life of any Christian.
Being in both commission-based sales and church revitalization really stretched my concept of how much I trusted God.
The largest roof I ever put on was for a $2 million home in Plano, which is a very affluent area. I walked up to the door of that home, knocked, and prayed, “Lord if this roof has damage, then someone has to put a roof on it. Please let it be me!” Much to my shock, the roof did have damage and the customer wanted to go with me as the contractor. Then I met with the adjuster. He said, “We don’t have to get on the roof” and used a drone to take pictures and look for damages. He said, “Yeah, I’m going to replace the roof, gutters, and downspouts.”
My jaw dropped because I couldn’t find any damage on the gutters or downspouts, but who was I to argue with him? There was plenty of business out there, and this roof taught me that God was going to lead me to my share.
I trust God that there will be a time when the finances will be there for you to be able to devote full time to your church. Until then, enjoy being salt and light at your secular job. It was amazing how many talks about theology and life I had with people I worked with once they knew I was a pastor and how many of them I had the opportunity to pray with.
The first part of Zechariah 4:10 says, “For who hath despised the day of small things?” If you are a bivocational pastor, put these words in your heart and be amazed at what God will do in your ministry.
There is an old saying regarding church planting versus church revitalization that says it is easier to give birth than to raise something from the dead. That is true in most cases. But don’t neglect the times when God is calling to resurrect the dead. Some churches need a steady-handed man or woman of God to lead a turnaround. The right thing at the wrong time is failure. The wrong thing at the wrong time is disaster. But the right thing at the right time is success.
Dr. Dave Watts is a professor and recruitment officer for Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and a regular panelist on programs airing on SonLife Broadcasting Network.