Surviving and Thriving in Bi-Vocational Ministry

 ImageMost Pastors start out their ministry being bi-vocational.  According to a recent article in the Baptist Press, bi-vocational Pastors make up nearly half of all the Pastors in many states.  When I served in West Virginia, our association of 15 churches only had 2 full-time ministers.  It is expected that in the coming years the numbers of bi-vocational Pastors is going to increase. Before I talk about how to prepare sermons as a bi-vocational Pastor let me first remind you the ApostlePaul was bi-vocational throughout his ministry and that you should never feel second-class or unimportant.  Bi-vocational Pastors are the iron men of the ministry and have helped to push the gospel into places that it would have not penetrated.  The first two years of my ministry were spent in bi-vocational work and honestly it was some of the most exciting days of my ministry.  The very nature of this kind of work forces you to be dependent upon God, but it does come with its own set of problems.  Not the least of which is the problem of how to get everything done when you are working two full-time jobs.

The key to succeeding in bi-vocational ministry is to carefully plan how you will use your time and to delegate as much work as possible to lay leaders.  As a bi-vocational minister you will have to streamline your sermon preparation and try to cut the 10-15 hours that it usually takes to prepare a single message down to 3-5 hours.  Preaching through a particular book of the Bible will help you greatly because you will not have to try to come up with the topics and ideas.  You will simply preach the next passage or the next book.  You still have to plan but this is much easier than dealing with the stress of trying to come up with what to preach week after week.
One of the resources that I found to be very helpful when I was bi-vo is the “Preachers Outline and Sermon BIble” published by Leadership Ministries.  This is a multivolume set that gathers together all of the Word study, lexicon and a survey of commentary material into one easy to use volume.  As a Bi-vocational Pastor I liked this resources because it put a lot of material at my finger finger tips.  Another suggestion that I would have for bi-vocational Pastors is to consider purchasing a good Bible study software package like Logos or WordSearch.  I use Logos to prepare sermons and love it.  Basically, I just type the passage that I wish to study into the search box and the software searches my library for that passage and then gives me a listing of all the resources that contain the information about the passage.  It streamlines my study by putting everything that I need just a mouse click away.  By having this resource on a laptop computer you can do sermon prep during lunch or a break at work.  The one suggestion that I would have is that you need be careful of having information overload.  What I mean is that Logos can put so much information at your disposal that you can spend all of your time looking at things that are interesting but not essential.  Therefore, I recommend that Bi-vocational pastors decide on just a handfulof resources that they find useful and limit their attention to these resources.
Another valuable resource for bi-vocational Pastors is the amazing amount of sermon material available online from other Pastors.  I am not recommending that you steal or plagarize others peoples sermons, but I am suggesting that they can help to streamline your study.  If John MacArthur or Jerry Vines has done the hard work for exegesis, there is nothing wrong with drawing form their study.  You should still study the text but they can help a lot.  The nice thingabout listening to what other guys have done with a passage is that you can listen in the shower or on the way to work or sometimes even while you are at work, if the job allows.  When I was bi-vocational I loved to listen to J. Vernon McGee and Adrian Rodgers, I didn’t copytheir sermons but I did draw alot of information from these trusted men of God.
I encourage bi-vocational Pastors to try and limit the number of fresh, original messages that they try preach a week.  When I was bi-vocational, I always preached an original sermon on Sunday mornings but on Sunday nights I would develop the sermon off of a resource such as Experiencing God or Masterlife.  This might seem like cheating a little but actually it was quite effective.  One of the guys that I have been mentoring in the ministry is a bi-vocational Pastor.  Currently he is preaching through Romans on Sunday morning but on Sunday night he has put together a topical series based on Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love.”  I have seen this work very effectively and highly recommend it.  Building a sermon off of another resource helps you to save time and to focus more of your attention on the Sunday AM message.
Finally, let me say that you must be sure to stay balanced as a bi-vocational Pastor.  Plan your time wisely and make sure that you give yourself enough time for family and for Pastoral care.  I developed a habit when I first started in the ministry of making sure that Saturday is reserved for family.  We spend sometime everyday together but Saturday is all about family.  I do nothing church related on Saturday, except for maybe one or two funerals a year.  I also started using all of Sunday for ministryactivities.  When I was Bi-vocation Sunday afternoon was the time that I used for Pastoral visitation and new visitor follow-up.  Today, I still use the entire day on Sunday for the ministry but it is slightly different.  After lunch I come back to the church and spend from 2:30 – 4:00 pm mentoring a group of young guys preparing for the ministry, then at 4 pm I start working on the text for the next Sunday, at 5 pm we have committee meetings, 6 pm preaching, then after service I will sometimes have some counseling to do.  As a bi-vocational Pastor I encourage you to use every minute of Sunday for the work of ministry.
These are just a few of the ideas that I have for how to survive and thrive in bi-vocational ministry.  I would love tohave your comments about some of the things you are doing to manage your time inthe ministry.

The Case for Antioch


Beginning today I am going to dedicate my Friday blog posts to reviewing the books I’ve been reading or that have made a particular impact on my life and ministry.  This morning I want to begin with a review of Jeff Iorg’s book entitled “The Case for Antioch.”  Dr. Iorg currently serves as the President of Golden Gate Seminary but prior to coming to this position he served as a Pastor and church planter. In this book Dr. Iorg presents the church of Antioch as a case study for what a healthy church should look like.

He begins the book by showing the difficulty that occurs when we say that we want to be a New Testament church.  Which one of the many local churches mentioned in Acts do we want to be like? — Corinth with it’s infighting and moral problems, Galatia with their fundamental doctrinal errors, Thessalonica with their end times fury.  The simple truth of the matter is that nearly every church mentioned in the New Testament struggled with the very same problems that the modern church does.  But of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, Dr. Iorg suggests, that one stands out as a shining example for what the church should be like —the church at Antioch.

In the first chapters of the book, Iorg provides us with a brief history of the church in Antioch and how it came to occupy such an important place in the New Testament. You will remember during the first ten to fifteen years after the resurrection of Jesus, the work of the church primarily focused on Jewish evangelism in and around the city of Jerusalem, but after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 8, the church began to be scattered. In Acts 11:19-20 a group of unnamed, innovative evangelists preached the gospel to the Hellenists in the city of Antioch.  When the news came back to the church at Jerusalem the elders there sent Barnabas to check out what was happening.  He in turn went to find Saul and together they returned to the city of Antioch where they spend the next year teaching and preaching in the city.  Acts 11:26 says that “the disciples were first called Christians” in the city of Antioch. Over the next several years, Antioch would become the base for Paul’s three missionary journeys and in many ways eclipse the church in Jerusalem in terms of importance.

 In the subsequent chapters of the book Iorg walks us through the history of the church at Antioch.  These chapters provide us with a solid case-study approach of how a healthy church functions and carries out its mission.  Each of these chapters is backed with solid Biblical and practical material that could easily be adapted into sermons or Bibles studies.  Last year, I drew a great deal of information from this book in a series of messages that I preached entitled “What Kind of Church Are We Going to Be?”  Several of our church leaders read through the book while I was preaching the series and found it to be extremely beneficial.  This year, I plan to use it as one of the small group classes that we offer on Sunday nights.

What I liked best about this book is that it provides us with a Biblical model.  There are a tremendous number of books on the market about how various churches are growing and conducting their ministry.  These are helpful and I enjoy reading them, but what I most want as a Pastor is to be able to develop a Biblical model for how the church should function.  “The Case for Antioch” would be at the top of my list for anyone wanting to develop a Biblical view of what the church should be and do.