Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Helping Bivocational Pastors Avoid Burn Out

A training seminar developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

Bivocational pastors are ministers who work a second job in addition to the church. This is normally due to the church being too small or too poor to be able to provide an adequate salary to the pastor. Sometimes pastors choose to be bivocational as a way to stay connected to the community. When pastors are bivocational, they have the added stress of a second job which puts pressure on the pastors’ families and personal lives. While all pastors are prone to burn out, bivocational pastors typically face that threat with fewer resources from their local church and denomination and sometimes with less formal education about how to avoid burn out.

One way to help pastors avoid burn out is to help them overcome the “second class syndrome.”
• Many bivocational pastors feel that they are “second class” pastors.
• Though there are many reasons for this, common ones include: they lack education, they serve a small church, or they cannot take part in denominational meetings because their second job conflicts with those meetings.
• They should not feel like second class pastors because bivocational ministry is actually NORMAL for the church – Acts 18:1-4, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9.
• They should not feel like second class pastors because bivocational ministry is becoming MORE COMMON in America.
• Many younger pastors, especially church planters, are embracing bivocational ministry for missional reasons instead of economic ones.

While there is no way to guarantee that bivocational pastors will not burn out, two key factors that will help avoid that fate is delegation and taking care of one’s personal well being.

Delegation is a challenge for many bivocational pastors.
• Pastors should learn to delegate because shared leadership is NORMAL in the church – Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2.
• God NEVER intended for pastors to do the entire ministry on their own!
• It is very unhealthy for both pastors and churches when pastors do it all.
• Pastors need to realize that there are multiple callings to ministry in a healthy church. 1 Timothy 5:17. There are people who are called to do ministry who may not be called to be pastors. Pastors should help those people discover what those callings are and then train them to fulfill those callings.
• Some pastors do not delegate because they think the lay people are not willing to do ministry or that the lay people are not trained adequately to do ministry.
• Pastors need to understand that lay people will help if asked.
• Pastors need to realize that the local church is the primary training place for ministry; therefore, lay people can be trained for ministry on site and in context. – 2 Timothy 2:1-2

What are some duties that bivocational pastors can delegate to others?
• There are many small tasks that may be delegated to others, such as issues regarding the church building, office work, printing bulletins, etc.
• While delegating small tasks will help relieve some of the pressure from bivocational pastors, if they really want to avoid burn out, they must also be willing to delegate some high level ministry duties to others.
• Since preaching and pastoral care are two of the most time consuming aspects of ministry, we must help bivocational pastors learn to share these two aspects of ministry with others through creating a team approach to ministry.

Why will some bivocational pastors resist sharing preaching and pastoral care duties with lay people?
• They think they can do all the preaching and visitation on their own.
• They think no one else can do it as well as they can.
• They have forgotten the doctrine of the priesthood of believers
• We need to help bivocational pastors understand how great the danger of burn out is if they do not share preaching and pastoral care with others.
• We need to help bivocational pastors realize that lay people can and will help with these ministries if trained adequately.
• We need to help bivocational pastors realize that formal education is helpful in these two ministries, but not necessary.

How should pastors go about building a ministry leadership team?
• While announcements from the pulpit or in the church bulletin may stir up some interest, what pastors must do to really get this going is personally recruit 2-3 men whom they think can do this if they were trained properly. Personal recruitment is the key.
• Once the small group has been selected, pastors will need to meet with them for a minimum of six weeks to train them in how to do basic pastoral care and preach a basic sermon. (Eight to twelve weeks is better, but many men may initially be unwilling to make that type of commitment.)
• Classroom training alone will not be sufficient. After 2-3 weeks of learning in a classroom environment, pastors must take the students on some pastoral care visits.
• At first the students will simply observe how the pastors lead the visits, but then pastors must assign the students some portion of the visit to lead and eventually must let the students lead the entire visit with pastors being only silent observers.
• Likewise, the students will need to preach some sample sermons to the other students.
• Students will then need to preach a sermon to the home church.
• Students will then need to preach a sermon at a nearby church.
• After each preaching experience, students will need feedback on how to improve their sermon. There is a very helpful sermon assessment tool in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.
• When the six to eight weeks of training is completed, the church should recognize the students in some way. They can be given a certificate of completion or recognized in whatever way the church deems appropriate.
• The pastor should then look for ways to use these graduates in a REGULAR way for preaching and pastoral care. Examples might include having one of the graduates preach every fifth Sunday and make all the visits on the pastor's day off or during the pastor's vacation.

What resources are available for this training?
• Seminary Extension courses offered through the SBC.
• The skills and experience of retired pastors.
Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, a training course just for bivocational pastors, published in August 2010 by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.
• Regardless of whatever training system is used, the key is to make sure the students learn practical skills that they can actually use, otherwise they will grow discouraged and not continue the training.

The “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church” course teaches students:

• The different types of sermons
• The difference between preaching and teaching
• How to select a sermon text
• How to prepare a sermon, including how to use a concordance, a commentary and a Bible dictionary
• How to present a sermon
• How to conclude a sermon well
• How to use a sermon series
• The difference between pastoral care and pastoral counseling
• How to make a hospital visit
• How to make an absentee visit
• How to make a crisis visit
• How to avoid a visitation disaster
• Note: This particular program does not cover how to make an evangelistic visit simply because numerous other resources already exist which cover that topic quite well.

• We must help bivocational pastors avoid burn out so they can continue their important ministries to small churches.
• Bivocational pastors can avoid burn out best by creating leadership teams to assist them in the ministry.
• While any assistance from the leadership team is helpful, to gain maximum advantage, pastors need people to help them with some of the pastoral care and preaching duties.
• There are many resources out there which pastors can use to train leadership teams, but it is important to use one that is practical. One of the most practical is the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.


  1. Jay Wolf, pastor, FBC, Montgomery, ALNovember 24, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    So well done, thoughtful and practical!

  2. terry please accept my apologies on my previous posst. i had no right to jump to the conclusions that i did. church divisiveness has been an extremely sore point for me as of late, but that does not excuse my cutting of your post. again, i am sorry.

  3. Frank,
    Don't sweat it. We all filter life through our experiences, which is why we need each other. Sometimes our own experiences color our perceptions of the world and we need a friend to help us grasp a wider perspective. God bless you.

  4. Sir,
    I'm a US Navy sailor, seminary student, and hopefully soon-to-be bivocational pastor of some sort. Your post here was very nice and well done of course.
    I know that one reason I've been concerned about sharing preaching and ministry duties is that I feel that if the church is paying me anything, then I should be doing the work. Having read this post, I understand a little differently. Thank you!

  5. Dan,
    Thanks for your note. I appreciate your service to our nation in the Navy. I look forward to hearing how God will use you in the future. I am glad the post was helpful to you.

    Dr. T

  6. Amazon has temporarily lowered the price on my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church to $13.57. That is 32% off the regular price. It is a great time to pick up copies for your leadership team. You can read all about this book at this link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1615072527