The Bent of the Tent-Maker

By: Jan Ferguson

Bi-vocational ministry. If you’re like me, some days I wonder what that really means. Okay, so down the definition rabbit hole we go… Bi-vocational ministry (I’m calling it bi-vo for short) is an interesting term. It literally means two vocations.

What does vocation mean? According to http://www.merriam-webster.com, the main meaning is: a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work. Other meanings suggest, anything you do for a job, entry into the priesthood, or a calling.

Now, most people don’t want two job let alone, two full time jobs. So, why do we do it? What drives the bi-vo minister? By day, mild mannered administrative assistant/house painter/substitute teacher/ etc. but nights and weekends, Super Pastor! Downloading countdown videos at the speed of, well high speed internet. Able to make three hospital calls in one evening – at different hospitals. Powerfully peppering social media with quotes, scriptures, prayers and invites. Finally crashing sometime after midnight only to get up early to do it all the next day, and the next. So, I ask again, why do we do it?

I believe we do it, because we love God and we are willing to lay down our lives for Him and the sake of the gospel. We are driven by the gifts and callings God has placed in our lives. Hopefully, we are driven by obedience to Jesus and the desire to see people saved and set free. But are all bi-vo ministers alike?

As I see it, there are two kinds of bi-vo ministers and those I know fall into one of two groups:

  • Tent makers who minister
  • Ministers who make tents

Note: If you’re wondering where on earth I came up with the tent maker occupation, it’s an homage to the apostle Paul, whose trade was tent making.

A tent maker (fill in the blank with the career/job of your choice) is driven by a career vocation. Based on the definition above, it can be the thing you wanted to spend your life doing. But tentmakers may also be a youth pastor, worship leader, pastor’s wife, etc. I know a pastor’s wife that considers nursing her vocation. She teaches Bible study and helps lead the church, but she is an example of a tent maker who serves as a minister. She doesn’t actually dream of dropping the nursing gig to do ministry full time. God has strategically placed her in the marketplace as her primary service. She is passionate about the word and the church and she uses her gifts and talents in the church. But nursing… that’s the thing that floats her boat.

A minister who makes tents (fill in the blank with the job you do) has a different bent. Often, this is the person whose heart and passion are solely for the work of the ministry. They would drop the day job in a heartbeat, but God has called him/her to a church or ministry that cannot support him/her at this time. This pastor/evangelist/worship leader/church secretary/etc. works a job outside the ministry to pay the bills. But – their thoughts are consumed with ministry – sermon/Bible study prep, the people they serve, updating the church website, and the like.

With this in mind, our motivation may be similar, but the challenges we face may be very different. Next time we’ll look at the challenges and roadblocks encountered by the minister who makes tents.

Photo creds: amazon.com

New Series: Bivocational Profiles

When we talk about the bivocational, no two stories are alike.

For one thing, we’ve all been unique designed by a masterful Creator, not to mention blessed with a special set  of characters, challenges, and opportunities that paint the framework of our calling.

Perhaps some of you have wondered what your framework looks like or how your story relates to others out there.

If this fits you, well…let’s just say this validates a BIG reason why we’ve created this resource.

So for the next five Sundays, Lyssah & I are going to talk about five bivocational profiles most relevant to our time and place.

What is a bivocational profile? Basically…it’s a category to classify a group of similar stories. True, each story is divinely set apart. But at the same time…many gravitate towards certain “molds”.

So as we discuss these molds the next couple weeks, feel free to share your input and/or story in the comments  below.

As always, we look forward to hearing from you as we learn and grow together.

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Bivocational Profile #1: The Part Time Pastor

church-easter-sunday-01Meet Pastor Joe. Pastor Joe is the pastor at Your Community Church. He preaches, teaches, visits hospitals, marries, buries, and even mows the lawn. Pastor Joe also works 30 something hours a week as a middle school teacher. He has a wife and two kids. In any given week, Pastor Joe is lesson planning and counseling a depressed congregant. He can most likely be found reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the book of James while cheering his daughter on at soccer.

And people have the nerve to call him a “part-timer”.

Challenges:

  • Work-life balance is non-existent
  • Tendency to burn the candle at both ends just to keep all his plates spinning
  • Difficulty giving family the attention it needs
  • Occasionally distracted by the responsibility he is not currently working on
  • Living up to “full time” expectations in multiples areas of life

Opportunities:

  • Readily understands the pressures faced by his congregation as a worker in the “real world”
  • Is constantly exposed to new technics and tools in his job that can be used in his ministry
  • Access to non-churched families with opportunities to show Christ’s love…without being perceived as a “pastor with an agenda”

Our hats are off to you Pastor Joe. ‘Cause truth is: you are the furthest thing from “part-time”.

The challenges are real…and so are the opportunities. Do you fit into this profile? What are some other challenges or opportunities you have encountered? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photo credits: simplydisciple.com & collectionpicture.net

Coping With the “Part-Time Perception”: Part 4

Last time, we talked about the third way a pastor can shatter the ‘part-time’ stereotype without compromise.

Today, we’re going to discuss strategies that can help a bivocational minister create an atmosphere of effective communication.

No matter what stage a ministry or church is in, one of the key common denominators to effective functionality is communication.

Without communication, even the grandest of visions ultimately fade.

I mean…think about it. Without dialogue…without intentional engagement both in-church and out, it’s only a matter of time before disconnection sets in.

Perhaps some of you know what it’s like to have a God-given dream loaded with potential turn into a pumpkin without warning or what it’s like to lead a group of people plagued by disunity. While experiences vary, chances are somewhere along the way…there was a communicational breakdown.

So clearly, communication is imperative when we talk about sustaining vision and maintaining mission.

And when we talk about a church mixed with full-time and part-time staff members, it’s fair to say the challenge only increases.

Consider the open road. We would all agree when it comes to driving on the interstate, the most ideal setup is all cars moving at the same rate of speed and direction. When everyone is driving in harmony, people arrive to their destinations on time.

untitled3However, when traffic enters the picture, everything changes. Imagine a three-lane interstate with a car accident blocking the left two lanes of traffic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this will slow things down due to bottlenecking. Suddenly, you have different lanes operating at different speeds, with cars in the far right hand lane moving fast initially, before having to slow down to allow traffic to merge from the left lanes.

It’s the same way with communication. When church leaders aren’t on the same page, when the vision isn’t being shared or communicated equally among its members, then functionality will become impaired…and a church’s effectiveness will slow down.

Let’s discuss some practical communicational strategies a bivocational minister (or any minister for that matter) can utilize.

* Listen & stay alert. Often times, information comes at us from multiple sources in multiple directions. And at times, it can be overwhelming trying to stay caught up to speed; however, if you want to become a better communicator, you must become a better listener. When you allow yourself to be the living embodiment of Matthew 11:15, you essentially increase your awareness.

* Establish a communicational pathway: Whether you work for an elder-run or pastor-led church, it’s essential to know not just how to communicate, but who to communicate to. By sticking to a set communicational roadmap, you enhance not only the communication itself, but also the accountability needed to see it through to fruition.

* Utilize multiple outlets. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Learning to use websites and social media isn’t just a good idea; it’s a must. Nowadays, there are so many apps that can be tapped into for organization. As a bivocational leader, chances are you’re exposed to resources on a regular basis that your full time counterparts can benefit from. Take a look at the communication avenues you utilize for work and in your personal life – you may just find a diamond in the rough.

*Encourage, encourage, encourage. Regardless of your name or title, there’s never a bad time to encourage. Often times, encouragement is the best means of communication. I’m all about healthy project systems and living out efficient communicational strategies, but without encouragement, you risk diluting the vision.

*Stand at the door and knock. When you’re bivocational or part-time, being persistent in seeking out the information you need and making your voice heard will go a long way. By being faithful to speak up at the right times, you allow yourself to stay connected to the vision, while also inspiring others to stay engaged.

Coping With the “Part-Time Perception”: Part 3

Last time, we talked about the second way a pastor can shatter the ‘part-time’ stereotype without compromise.

Today, we’re going to discuss the next segment in our stirring series, specifically how bivocational ministers can model efficient time management skills to church members and staff, using their part-time status as an efficient template.

Let’s be honest: It’s pretty easy to compartmentalize, whether it’s with our time, beliefs, values and/or emotions.

However, I believe most people (myself included) tend to over-compartamentalize, no doubt, a byproduct of increased distraction and distress in the time we live in.

How does this relate to the bivocational minister?

Well, let’s just say I’ve been around long enough to know what a “church game-face” looks like. And by ‘church game-face’, I mean one who sets up a wall between what happens inside and outside the church.

Granted, there’s a time to be silent and keep our wrestlings between ourselves and God. But I think it’s easy to underestimate the value in being vulnerable with the real world challenges we deal with on a daily basis.

And I think for the bivocational minister, the constant switching of gears between day job and life calling can take its toll if the opportunity to model efficient time management to fellow leaders is missed.

Thus, I submit as ministers and pastors in the body of Christ, we pursue intentionality in sharing our lives outside of church. Whether it’s a one-on-one coffee date, a post-staff meeting conversation or (dare I say) making time to actually call someone up…I contend being transparent about the ups and downs of our lives can go a long way in encouraging people where they’re at.

Why, you might ask?

Because the majority of life is experienced outside the church. And if the function of the church is to equip the saints through radical engagement with Christ, why would it make sense to “silo” the evidence of it outside the church? For we’re called to be consistently faithful, persistently perseverant and patience in well-doing (Romans 2:7), not just in the easy places, but in every setting!

Thus, if you’re a pastor or minister who spends more time in-church than out, I highly encourage you to reevaluate your priorities…and perhaps your missional pillars while you’re at it. For whatever we contend with inside church walls is only to grow the body of Christ as effective disciple-makers…in spreading the hope of glory outside them.

And true me…I know it’s easy to think ‘part-time’ is worse than ‘full-time’. I know because I’ve been one for the past five years. It can be especially challenging when you work with people who treat or view you differently simply because you don’t have the same amount of time to invest onsite.

Nevertheless, if you’re a volunteer leader, it’s imperative to not only think differently, but to value what God has called us to outside the church in an evident way.

And perhaps you’re like me and feel your day job is nothing to be proud of. Or maybe you’re burdened by your occupation’s transient tendencies. My encouragement to you is simple: don’t quit. Don’t ever let discouragement hinder you from being a light amidst the daily grind. Because not only does the real world need to experience the hope of Gospel love in the marketplace, but your fellow staff members at church need to hear about it! They need to be let in on the unique narrative being authored within you.

‘Cause truth is: when we remove the veil that separates the work of God in our lives outside the church, we allow ourselves to better edify the rest of the body inside the church.

Next time, we’ll discuss communicational strategies that can help a bivocational minister stay better connected to his/her local congregation.

Cover photo from YouthMinistry360 

Coping with the “Part-Time Perception”: Part 1

Let’s be honest.

We don’t look at part-time ministers the same way we look at full-time ministers.

Not like it’s hard to see why…considering most people assume what a part-time pastor lacks, whether time, energy, availability or a M. Div, ultimately handicaps a church.

But truth is: while many invest in the idea that a church’s functionality, effectiveness and spiritual authenticity is tied to religious qualifications and reputation…this couldn’t be further from the truth.

And while it can be difficult for a part-timer to deal with the stereotypes, there are ways to cope with them in holy fashion.

For instance, a part-time minister can…

  • Demonstrate healthy prioritizing by making time to love people (internally through staff mentoring and externally through Isaiah 58-type ministries).
  • Model efficient time management skills to church members and staff.
  • Exercise honest leadership to motivate effective conflict and executive/administrative management.
  • Lay an ignitable foundation for compassion and conviction to occur among the congregation.
  • Teach believers how to be effective disciple-makers in occupational settings.

Of course, there are other strategies and approaches that can be utilized.

But at any rate, it’s important for bivocational and/or part-time ministers to not look down on their calling, just because it doesn’t fit a certain mold or look like what the church world says it should.

Thus, in the months ahead, we will discuss four ways a bivocational minister can rightfully deal with the ‘part-time perception’, whether it’s with the stigma itself or the actual process of juggling multiple responsibilities. We’ll also talk about the dangers of striving mentalities and why it’s wrong to think ministerial leadership and success is based solely on educational status and congregation size.