Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bivocational Ministry Is Becoming More Common

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get to mentor and encourage young people who are just starting out in ministry or interested in going into the ministry. I enjoy hearing about their dreams for the future. I love it when they discover some new spiritual truth and yearn to share it with anyone who will listen. Though I do my best to fan the flame of their enthusiasm, sometimes I also have to temper their excitement with a dose of realism.

One of the areas that I often have to dash some of their hopes about is how much money they will make in ministry. Though some ministers serving larger churches do quite well financially, a growing number of pastors have to work a second job in order to provide for their families. This is often referred to as bivocational ministry. Very few people entering the ministry want to become bivocational. It is hard to work two jobs. Bivocational pastors are often looked down upon by ministers who serve larger more affluent congregations. But this is the reality that many young people entering the ministry will face.

Regardless of how pastors and/or church attendees may feel about bivocational ministry, it is a growing practice in North American church life. Patricia Chang is a research professor at Boston College and has studied many denominations and written extensively about clergy issues. Chang has done extensive research on how bivocational ministry is impacting American denominations of all sizes and theological persuasions. In a major study published in the Pulpit and Pew journal of Duke University, Chang concludes that "the majority of congregations in the United States are small, with fewer than 100 regular members, and cannot typically afford their own pastor." This results in a growing need for more bivocational pastors every year.

Patricia Chang's findings demonstrate that "the current religious landscape is skewed towards a very large number of small congregations and a small number of large congregations." Most of those small congregations are unable to fully-fund their pastors, resulting in those churches seeking bivocational pastors to guide them.

By understanding how common their situation is, bivocational pastors do not need to have negative feelings about their status. Bivocational ministry is a growing reality of ministry in North American Protestant church life. Dennis Bickers reminds bivocational pastors that he works with to "never let the misconceptions others may have about your ministry cause you to question your call and your value to the work of the kingdom of God." Bivocational pastors are not second-class ministers. They are an important and growing segment of American church life.

If you are a young person considering ministry, dream big, but also accept the reality that you will probably need to work two jobs. It's okay. Most of your peers will be doing it too. Just accept it as part of the cost of serving the Lord in the 21st century. Just make sure you take time for your family. Train the church to assist you in your ministry so you do not get burned out. There are a number of great resources to help you do that, such as Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. Mostly, trust the Holy Spirit to empower you. You can do this!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seven Steps to Help Rational Skeptics Find Faith in Christ

Yesterday I was reading On Mission magazine, which is published by the denomination I am affiliated with. It was filled with great articles but one captivated my attention most because it touched on a subject that I am very interested in. The title of the article was Helping the Rational Skeptic Find the Way to Faith in God. It was written by Kitty Foth-Regner, author of Heaven Without Her. According the Ms. Foth-Regner's website she was living the feminist dream with a successful copywriting business, the perfect live-in boyfriend, beautiful garden, and a nice house. But when her beloved mother developed a fatal illness, she found herself on the brink of despair with nothing but questions.

Ms. Foth-Regner began her search for truth and finally came to faith in Jesus Christ. In the article, she lists seven steps that Christians can take to help their friends who are skeptics consider faith in God. I have listed the steps below and added my own comments on each one for why I think that step is important.

  1. Pray – only God can call the non-Christian to faith.
  2. Help frame the questions – spiritual seekers are often too confused to know exactly how to ask the right questions. They may be angry about some past hurt which may be clouding their thinking. They may have had a number of conversations with various religious people and have all the ideas mixed together in their head. All religions are not the same.
  3. Point to a Creator – the teaching of evolution has led many to conclude that there is no God before they have even considered if there IS a God. Often we may need to spend time helping our seeker friends think through the concept of Intelligent Design. Once they get that down, the conclusion that God is the Intelligent Designer is often an easier step to take.
  4. Clarify the alternatives – we live in a world that thinks all ideas are equally true. But clearly some ideas are not true. Some ideas are better than other ideas. If there is no God, then what is there? If there is a God, how can we know Him?
  5. Tailor our tips – instead of giving a "one size fits all" salesman pitch, we should take time to actually listen to what our seeker friends are saying. Then we must give them the information that addresses the issues they are concerned with instead of our favorite issue that we think we may be experts in.
  6. Explain the Gospel – way too many people both inside and outside the church do not really understand what the Gospel is. We need to cut through all the religious junk and share the essence of the Gospel. The essence of the Gospel is that every person has messed up and therefore does not deserve to live in the perfection of God's Presence. Justice demands that the mess be paid for. Since none of us were perfect enough to pay for our own mess, Jesus came and paid the price for us. When we repent of our mess-prone lifestyles and instead commit to follow the way of Jesus, we are freed from the consequences of our messes and begin to walk a better road. That road leads us to the perfection that is God's Presence forever.
  7. Pray some more – we should not be fooled into thinking that if we give our skeptic friend some memorized Gospel presentation or some book on apologetics, that they will suddenly fall on their knees in repentance, sell all their possessions, and then become a missionary to Africa! We must listen. We must share. We must provide materials. And through it all we must keep praying! It will take time. But the best part about witnessing to skeptics is that our faith tends to grow alongside the faith of our skeptical friends. We both become more spiritual during the process. Prayer is an important piece of that.

I liked Ms. Foth-Regner's seven steps. I might have written them a little different if it had been my magazine article. But I think she does a great job of giving us practical steps to be a witness to those who need to hear the Gospel but may not realize it yet. The hard part is putting those seven steps into action!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shipwrecked by Bad Advice


A sermon based on Acts 27 - Preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Faith Community Church in Barre, VT on August 22, 2010

Introduction:
  • We have been studying the end of Paul's ministry for the last few weeks.
  • We have learned that Paul was arrested for something he did not do and put on trial a number of times for his alleged crimes.
  • Paul's opponents were determined to kill him and he eventually had to appeal to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.
  • Paul had to be transferred to Rome where he would stand trial before Caesar.
Verse 1 - When it was decided that we were to sail to Italy, they handed over Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment.
  • After Paul appealed to Caesar, he was transferred yet again. This time into the care of Roman centurion named Julius.
  • Little is known of Julius, but tradition says he was well respected and held great authority.
  • Centurions normally commanded a group of 100 soldiers. It is possible that all 100 of these soldiers traveled with Paul on this journey.
  • There were a number of other prisoners who had to go to Rome as well. Though the Bible does not tell us if they were Roman citizens too, mostly likely they were or they would not have been worth the expense to transfer them.
Verse 2 - So when we had boarded a ship, we put to sea, intending to sail to ports along the coast of the province of Asia.
  • The entire group began their journey with great hope and expectation.
  • The prisoners hope to be found innocent and set free.
  • The soldiers hope to see family and friends after months or years out on the field.
  • The sailors hope to make a big profit off of the government passengers and cargo.
  • Little did these passengers know they would barely survive what was going to be one of the worst ordeals of their lives.
  • We often begin a new phase of life with great hope and lofty expectations.
  • Our expectations do not always come about.
  • We must learn to deal with life situations that are not what we expected them to be.
Verse 4 - When we had put out to sea we sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus because the winds were against us.
  • Though the passengers started off with great hope and expectations, it did not take long before the wind turn against them.
  • When the wind turns against us in life, we have to make serious decisions about how to continue.
  • Do we continue on the same course hoping things will turn around, or change course?
  • It is sometimes hard to know if we should continue on or change course.
  • If we are always changing directions the first time we experience difficulty, we will not get far in life.
  • But if we stubbornly refuse to change direction when it is clear we are headed the wrong way, we will not get far in life either.
  • Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the balanced Christian life. This is a balance that only the Holy Spirit can help us find. 

Verses 5-6 - After sailing through the open sea we reached Myra. The centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.  

  • When trouble first came, Paul and the other prisoners let the centurion make the decisions since he was in charge of the whole trip.
  • This later turned out to be the wrong choice, but we can understand why Paul did not object. After all, Paul was a prisoner bound in chains.
  • We often let others make decisions for us.
  • When we are young parents try to help us.
  • When we are married, spouses give us advice.
  • When we work for someone, we must listen to the boss.
  • There are times when we have to let others make the decisions even if we do not want them to. That is just the way it is.
  • Regretfully, our hopes and dreams are sometimes shattered because those other people make bad decisions that we have to live with. 
Verse 8 - With yet more difficulty we sailed along the coast, and came to a place called Fair Havens near the city of Lasea.
  • As the group continued on their journey, things began to get even more difficult because the season for sailing had already passed.
  • They finally came to a safe place where they could stay for the winter and continue their journey when spring came.
  • Though it may sound odd to us, travel in the First Century often took months and staying over for the winter would have been a very normal thing to do.
  • As a matter of fact, that is why the town was named Fair Havens. It was a good place to stay in situations like this.
Verse 9 - By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous.
  • The writer of Acts (Luke) points out that so much time had passed that sailing was already dangerous. At this point, it was wise to wait for a while before continuing the journey.
  • We all go through seasons in life.
  • Sometimes we need to push forward.
  • Sometimes we need to pull back.
  • Learning to listen to the Holy Spirit will help us know which time is which in our lives. 
Verse 10 -Since the Fast was already over, Paul gave his advice and told them, "Men, I can see that this voyage is headed toward damage and heavy loss."
  • Paul was not a sailor or a ship captain. But he was an experienced traveler who could see the obvious.
  • It was obvious that they needed to spend the winter in Fair Havens and wait until spring to continue their journey.
  • Paul spoke up and shared this good advice with the group.
  • People who have a lot of experience in life often have wisdom about things even if they have no formal training in those issues.
  • We should learn to listen to wise advice.
Verse 11 - But the centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than to what Paul said.
  • The centurion chose to listen to the captain and ship owner instead of listening to Paul.
  • On the surface, this sounds okay since both of those men had more training about sailing ships than Paul.
  • But both of those men also could make a lot of money if they pushed on.
  • They had a personal agenda that clouded their judgment on the issue. Paul had no such agenda.
  • When we are seeking advice from others about situations we are facing, we should be very careful about advice we receive from those who stand to gain something from our actions.
Verse 12 - Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided to set sail from there, hoping somehow to reach Phoenix . . . and to winter there.
  • An example of how the ship owner and captain's judgment was clouded by their desire for personal gain was their declaration that Fair Havens was unsuitable to winter in.
  • Though Phoenix was indeed a larger city and therefore had more to do, there was nothing wrong with Fair Haven at all.
  • Notice that the "majority" decided to sail on, even though that was clearly the wrong choice.
  • Though we love democracy because of the freedom it gives us, we must never forget that the majority can be wrong. They were clearly wrong in this instance.
  • We need wise Spirit filled leaders to guide us.
Verse 13 - When a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they had achieved their purpose; they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.
  • As soon as the wind seemed gentle, they proudly thought they had been right and Paul had been wrong.
  • They took off for what they perceived as a better place.
  • We often grasp at straws in an effort to prove ourselves right when we are so clearly wrong!
Verse 14 - But not long afterwards, a fierce wind called the "northeaster" rushed down from the island.
  • That part of the Mediterranean was known for terrible storms called "northeasters."
  • During the winter months such storms could come out of nowhere and last for days.
  • That is exactly what happened as soon as they began to follow the bad advice from the ship owner and captain.
Verse 15 - Since the ship was caught and was unable to head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.
  • The ship got caught up in the storm and there was no way to steer it back to safety.
  • They had to just ride the storm out and hope for the best.
  • Sometimes we get caught up in situations that we had never planned to be in.
  • At such times in life, we have to pray a lot and hang on. The storm will eventually pass.
Verses 18-19 - Because we were being severely battered by the storm, they began to jettison the cargo. On the third day, they threw the ship's gear overboard.
  • The sailors realized the ship was about to go down, so they threw over the cargo.
  • Remember, one of the reasons they took the risk of traveling in the stormy season was because they thought they could make a lot of money.
  • That did not work out well at all. Instead they lost a lot of money.
  • Then they threw the ship's gear (tackling) overboard. That actually made no sense at all because they would be unable to guide the ship once the storm finally ended.
  • When we follow bad advice and get into a mess, we often end up experiencing the very pain we were trying to avoid.
  • Bad advice will never profit us.
  • Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we get rid of the very things in life we need in order to get back to where we need to be in life.
Verse 20 - For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging; finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing.
  • The storm lasted for a long time.
  • At one point, they began to lose hope of ever being saved from the situation.
  • When we pass through the storms of life, they seem to go on and on and on.
  • Sometimes we begin to despair and think that there is no hope for life to be normal again.
Verses 22-25 - Now I urge you to take courage . . . For this night an angel . . . stood by me, saying, Don't be afraid. You must stand before Caesar. God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you. . . . I believe God.
  • Paul tells the group to take courage because God was at work.
  • God had sent an angel to give Paul a supernatural message.
  • God wanted Paul to stand before Caesar and no storm could keep God's plan from being fulfilled.
  • God had chosen, by His grace, to save the lives of all the other people on the ship because they were with Paul.
  • When it seems like the storm is going to destroy us we must take courage in our faith.
  • God is still at work around us and His plan will not be stopped.
  • Can we believe God in the midst of the storm?
Verse 39 - When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could.
  • When that long stormy night was finally over, they were not sure where they were, but it looked like a good place to stop.
  • They had thrown the tackle overboard so there was little they could do to steer the ship, so they decided to run it aground and get to shore any way they could.
  • It is ironic that a journey that began with such hope and expectation has now become such a fight for survival that they no longer care about profit or prestige; they just want to get safely to land even if they lose everything.
  • Sometimes real life is like that!
Verses 43-44 - The centurion ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and get to land. The rest were to follow . . . on debris from the ship. In this way, all got safely to land. 
  • The centurion gives orders for everyone to get to land, and every one of them safely made it.
  • Considering the severity of the storm, it is amazing that not a single person lost their life.
  • It often seems that the storms in life will destroy us. But if we trust in the Lord and hang in there, we will get through them.
  • Sometimes we have to "winter" in a place but if we hang in there, we will make it.
Conclusion:
  • Life should be filled with hope and expectation.
  • Sometimes we go through storms in life that cause our hopes and dreams to not be fulfilled the way we expected.
  • In the midst of the storm, we must not doubt God's plan because He is always working.
  • We need to hang in there, trust the Lord and listen to godly advice.
  • God will get us safely through the storms.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Precious Memories

The boxes were all packed, the car was loaded and we were about to begin one of the most painful journeys of our lives. My wife and I were about to take our two oldest children to college and leave them over 1000 miles from home. That was the scene last week as we made our way from Vermont to South Carolina. Our daughter is a junior in college there and our son is a freshman at another college about an hour away.

On the one hand, the trip was an enjoyable experience as we shared happy memories from the past and talked about their hopes for the future. On the other hand, the trip grew harder by the mile as we realized we would soon be leaving two people whom we have loved since birth in a far away state. As we traveled, my son revealed that one of his favorite memories was playing legos with me when he was about 6 years old. I had been in a serious automobile accident and was bedridden for several weeks. My son would come each night and play legos, or army men, or practice his spelling words with me. For years that had been one of my own precious memories but I never knew it had meant so much to him. I was blessed as I drove down the road listening to him talk about those times together.

Two days later we squeezed all his stuff into a dorm room he would share with two other guys and wished him farewell. I did my best not to cry in front of his roommates, and did make it to the car before the tears began to roll freely. Less than 48 hours later we took my daughter's stuff to her dorm and managed to fit it all into another dorm room an hour away. Saying goodbye was just as hard, even though this was her third year of college. I confess I did not make it to the car before I cried after leaving her.

Our kids both choose good schools. They are well adjusted happy young adults. We will see them both again at Thanksgiving. They have bright and glorious futures ahead of them. Why did it hurt so much to leave them? It hurts because we love them so much and will miss their company each day.

As parents we have done what we can to teach our children to be responsible, mature, compassionate and spiritual young adults. But at some point, we must release our young adult children into the world and let them soar. That is what we did last week and though it was a painful moment of release, we know our children are safe in the arms of God and He will take them to new heights as they enter this new phase in their lives.

Katie and Taylor, never doubt that mommy and daddy love you!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bivocational Ministry Is Normal


The New Testament demonstrates that bivocational ministry was normal for the church during the New Testament era. Many twenty-first century church attendees do not understand that New Testament churches were often led by bivocational pastors. This misunderstanding of church history has created unrealistic expectations for bivocational pastors in the present. If bivocational pastors are going to lead their churches effectively, they will first have to educate their congregations to understand that it is normal to have pastors who work additional jobs and are unable to be involved personally in every aspect of the churches they serve.

The most well known New Testament example of bivocational ministry is the Apostle Paul. Ron Rice, a bivocational pastor and denominational leader within the Colorado Baptist Convention, points out that "Paul shifted back and forth into the secular workforce at various times in his ministry career." This makes him an excellent example of both fully-funded and bivocational ministry.

Luke records one of Paul's bivocational experiences in Acts 18:1-4: "After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks." This passage indicates that Paul was a tentmaker. This was not just something that Paul did before he went into the ministry, but a vocation he was involved in while he was also in the process of ministry. The word for "tentmaker" (skenopoios) used here actually refers to leather working. When Paul came to minister in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, who practiced the same trade. They apparently entered into some kind of business arrangement and worked together in their trade. Paul worked his trade during the week and then on the Sabbath he would go to the synagogue to persuade people to become followers of Jesus.

Paul's efforts to persuade people to become followers of Jesus in the synagogue were not just casual conversations he was having with individuals after the synagogue gathering. Darrell Bock, an expert on the book of Acts, points out that the word reasoned comes from the Greek word dialegomia, which "refers to either giving a discourse or to debating, depending on the context. Its combination with the next verb suggests debate in the synagogue." Each Sabbath, Paul was having intense debates which were designed to convince people of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. This would have required much thought and preparation. Paul found time for this preparation in addition to working in his trade as a tentmaker. Bivocational pastors must be good stewards of their time in order to prepare sermons and also work at their secular jobs. Bivocational ministry was normal in the New Testament era.

Bivocational ministry was also normal in North America until fairly recently. The term was not used because almost every pastor was bivocational. This was simply how ministers survived in the early days of American life. The transition away from bivocational ministry came as a result of the desire of churches to have a more educated clergy. James Greene explains that "in an attempt to raise the educational level of our ministerial leadership, churches and denominations in this country established a number of colleges and seminaries. Professionalism came with education." Many churches now falsely believe that a professionally trained and fully-funded clergy has always been a significant part of church life from the New Testament era until now. History simply proves that idea to be incorrect. Bivocational pastors need to teach their churches a correct New Testament theology of church leadership and a correct history of church leadership in North American church life. As bivocational pastors help their congregations understand how normal bivocational ministry is, some of the unrealistic stresses the congregation puts on the pastor will ease.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. To learn more about bivocational ministry and how lay people can help bivocational pastors become more effective, purchase the book at Crossbooks.com or at Amazon.com or Barnesandnobles.com.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bivocational Ministry is Not Negative

In 1986 I got my first paid position on a church staff as an intern in the children's ministry department of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. At that time the church had over 24,000 members with more than 4000 people in worship on Sunday mornings. It was a fantastic experience and I am thankful for all that I learned while in that mega-church. Both of my younger brothers are still active members in that congregation, which has since grown even more in the years since I served there.

Though I enjoyed my time in that church, somewhere along the way I realized I wanted to do more than manage programs in a large church. I wanted to impact individual lives. Following that calling, I moved to Vermont in 1993 and became the pastor of a small church with less than 25 people in worship on Sunday mornings. It was perhaps the hardest job I have ever held, not because of the people, but because of the situation. The building was in need of significant repairs. The community was small and had little resources. The church had been in decline for some time and there had been quiet talk behind the scenes of closing the doors. It was so much easier in a big church with a big budget, great facilities and lots of volunteers. The small church was much more of a challenge.

After nearly 9 years in that church, the congregation had returned to health. The buildings had been renovated; additional property had been bought and paid for. Attendance at the worship services was approaching 90 on a typical day and would exceed 100 on special days. I considered it a great success, but soon learned that many people could not believe I had thrown away my career to serve such a small congregation.

Though I have moved on from that church to another one, I remain in Vermont serving small churches. I remain bivocational, serving both as the administrator for my denomination in Vermont and as the bivocational pastor of a growing congregation in central Vermont. I view bivocational ministry as a wonderful experience, not a negative one. Though bivocational ministry has its challenges, it always had great rewards.

I feel for bivocational pastors because they face not only the additional pressure of working a second job to support their ministry; they also must frequently deal with a perceived second-class status in ministry. Over time, this perception of bivocational ministry being second-class has resulted in a negative social stigma being attached to the concept of bivocational ministry. Some pastors feel a sense of inadequacy when serving in bivocational roles. They may not even want to think of themselves as bivocational because of the perceived stigma attached to the term. I have heard many pastors declare that they are not bivocational, they just work a second job. They deny the reality of what they are because somewhere along the way someone told them that being bivocational was negative. I want to challenge that notion and proclaim to everyone that being bivocational is not a bad thing.

Due to a lack of understanding, people will occasionally refer to bivocational pastors as part-time pastors, a misnomer because all pastors are on call twenty-four hours a day. Therefore, there are no actual part-time pastors. There are a number of full-time pastors who are only being partially compensated for their work and therefore have to seek additional employment in order to support their families. Do not insult a bivocational pastor by referring to him as part-time. He deserves more respect than that from the people he serves and from his fully-funded peers.

Though some people may misunderstand this special calling to bivocational ministry, it is a calling that the early church knew well. The Apostle Paul was bivocational. Down through the centuries there have always been bivocational ministers. Sometimes the percentage of bivocational pastors has been higher, and sometimes lower. This has resulted in many waves of bivocational ministry ebbing and flowing as the situation dictated. The wave of bivocationalism that is currently sweeping North America is a combination of a general weakening economy, a lack of stewardship commitment within the churches and a new understanding of the importance of bivocational ministry.

Small churches need good pastors. Many of those pastors will likely be bivocational. Those bivocational leaders must train the people in the church to assist them in ministry so that they will not burn out. I felt so strongly about this that I wrote a book called, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The book was published by Crossbooks, a division of Lifeway. Though it is only one tool that might be used to help address this growing need in North America, I believe it is a tool that can be very effective. I hope to develop other tools in the future that might help pastors in small churches be as effective as possible in building the Kingdom of God. We must value and appreciate the pastors of our small churches. If we cannot pay them the money they deserve, let us at least pay them the respect they deserve.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Too Whiny To Witness


If you have been following my blog the last few days then you know I have been writing about the trip that my oldest son and I took up Mt. Mansfield last week. If you have not read those blogs yet, take a minute and read them here (blog 1, blog 2, blog 3) and that will help you understand this post better.

We hiked up the Cliff Trail to the top of Mt. Mansfield. That trail is rated Quad D, which stands for difficult times four! Though I love to walk, taking a stroll on the dirt roads around my home was hardly preparation for climbing up the hardest trail to the top of the tallest peak in Vermont. But I did it anyway because my son wanted to and since he was going away to college, we wanted one last father/son bonding experience.

Being a pastor, I decided to take a Gideon's New Testament with me to the top of the mountain. I am not sure exactly what I thought I would do with it, but I had read an article about a "missionary" on the Appalachian Trail who gave out New Testaments to hikers. Many of those hikers would read the New Testament on long lonely nights in their tents while hiking and would come to faith in Christ. I guess in the back of my mind I thought I do some kind of trail witnessing to those I passed by.
Needless to say, I was so busy trying to stay on my feet and keep moving up the mountain, that I never pulled that New Testament out of my pack until we got all the way to the top. And though I did read it that evening and again the next morning, my legs hurt so badly and my back was aching so much that I never did share the Gospel with any of the many people I passed along the way or any of the other hikers who stayed in the same cabin that we did that night. Honestly, I was too busy whining to myself about how much I hurt to witness to others about Christ.

Now that the experience is behind me, I am realizing just how big a failure that was. What if Christ had decided the cross was too heavy to carry all the way to Calvary? What if Christ had decided He was too tired to take a beating with a cat-of-nine tails? What if Christ said He had a headache and just could not deal with that crown of thorns? I am so grateful Christ did not do that. Despite His pain and His agony, He went all the way to the end and completed His mission so that we could be saved from sin and its consequences. Thank you Jesus for not being as whiny as I was when You went up Your mountain for me!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Almost Home


Today I spent thirteen hours in the car! My wife and I are driving our two oldest kids from Vermont to South Carolina where they are enrolled in two different colleges. While sitting in traffic that was completely stopped on the highway because of an accident up the road, I began to think a little more fondly of my two day hike last week up Mt. Mansfield, which is the highest peak in Vermont. I have already written two blogs about that hike, so if you missed them, you might want to read THIS ONE FIRST and then read THIS ONE SECOND so you will know the context for the rest of this post.

Last week, after spending the night on a mountain in a rustic cabin with some other hikers, my son and I walked down the mountain the next day. The path down the mountain is normally a mixture of rock steps and dirt paths, but because of a heavy rainstorm the night before, that morning it was more like a river running down the side of the mountain. Since there was no other path to take, we trudged through the river and down the mountain all morning long. Though it was not quite as exhausting as going up the day before, we were still tired from our previous exertions and were moving fairly slowly. We had to be very careful where we stepped to keep from slipping on wet rocks, which was emotionally exhausting as well. After nearly three hours of making our way down the mountain under those difficult conditions, I came to a place where I was not sure I could keep going. I began looking around for a big rock to sit on for the rest of the day! Suddenly I heard a car in the distance and looked up from my despair and could just barely see a yellow line through the trees and realized I was almost at the road. That meant I was almost down the mountain! I fixed my eyes on that little strip of yellow barely visible through the trees and suddenly I found new energy and quickened my pace and completed the hike.



I think I felt the same way today, when after all those hours in the car, I finally saw that Welcome to Virginia sign that I was looking for. It meant I was almost at the end of today's journey and even though I was tired and have further travels tomorrow, I knew that once my eyes had seen that sign, I could make it the rest of the way.


My feelings about both my long hike last week and my long drive today remind me of Hebrews 12:2 – "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus understood that He had to endure the pain of the cross in order to help us reach the end of life's journey and make it into eternity with Him. He kept His eyes fixed on the goal and we rewarded by being able to sit at the right hand of God's throne. We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and that will carry us all the way into eternity with Him. Sometimes we get tired and exhausted, but once glimpse of Jesus seems to re-energize us and keep us going until we can finally enter that eternal rest. The next time we are tired and feel like quitting, we must look up, fix our eyes and Jesus and remember that we are almost home.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting Back on the Right Path


Last week my oldest son Taylor and I hiked up Mt. Mansfield, which is Vermont's highest peak. It was both a difficult and a rewarding experience as we scrambled up and down rocks for two days. We intended to travel up the Hasleton Trail, which is considered a moderate trail and not very difficult. However, almost immediately after we entered the woods we got on the wrong path and ended up going up a 4 D (as in difficult times four!) trail. We misunderstood the blaze signals and once we got on the wrong path we did not even realize what we had done for nearly three hours.

What we did know was that what we thought was a supposed to be a moderate trail just kept getting harder and harder. At one point I was thinking that if that was a moderate trail, I could not imagine what the difficult one must have looked like. Neither my son nor I realized we were on the wrong trail until we came out near the top of the mountain over a mile away from where we should have been. What a surprise to discover we had been on the wrong trail the entire day without realizing!

When we eventually intersected with the right trail near the top of the mountain, we were able to use our map and some blaze markings left by others to help us get back on the right track. Once we got back on the right path and understood which blaze markings we were supposed to be following, it was much easier to stay on the right path and move forward much faster.

As I have reflected on our experience, I find many parallels to real life. It is easy to get on the wrong road in life without even realizing it. One simple mistake and suddenly we are miles from where we intended to be and are not even sure how we got there. Sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what path we are even on. When life gets more and more complicated and increasingly difficult with each passing week, we suddenly realize that something is wrong with the direction we are headed in life. That can be a painful and embarrassing realization for many of us.

Fortunately, for most of us, at some point we make it to some type of crossroads in life and realize where we went wrong. At that point, we have the opportunity to get back on the right path. In real life, our map is the Bible. The Bible contains timeless principles for healthy and happy living. In real life, the blaze markings we follow are the encouragement and support of other Christians who have gone before us. They share their experiences and life stories with us and help us find direction in our own lives. Following the teachings of the Bible and the receiving encouragement from other Christians will help us correct our mistakes and begin to head in the right direction once again.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When We Are Climbing Mountains, We Just Have to Keep Going


Last week my oldest son Taylor and I hiked up Mt. Mansfield, which is Vermont's highest peak. It was something that Taylor has wanted to do for quite a while but we had just not gotten to it yet. Now that he has graduated high school and will be leaving for college next week, we realized we needed to make the hike before the opportunity passed. So we filled our backpacks with two days worth of food, hitched our sleeping bags to the packs and started up the mountain.

I am 43 years old, 25 pounds overweight and my right leg is wired, screwed and pinned together with a rod running up the interior of my leg bone due to a serious automobile accident I was in over a decade ago. Though I love to walk each morning, there is a big difference between taking a walk on familiar roads around my home and climbing the tallest mountain in our rugged state! Needless to say, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

There were a number of times during the journey that I was not sure I was going to make it. At one point we were scrambling over jagged rocks over 3000 feet up the mountain. One spot we had to climb through was so tight we had to take our backpacks off and squeeze them through before we could wedge ourselves through the hole. I did wonder at one point if I was going to die on that mountain. But I kept telling myself to just keep going. I told myself over and over again "do not stop, do not stop, even though it is so much harder than I thought it would be and my leg hurts really bad, just keep going." I knew that if I ever stopped, I might not get moving again. I kept focused on my goal, which was to reach the top of the mountain with my son and spend the night in a rustic cabin maintained by the Green Mountain Trail Club.

I am happy to report that we made it to top of the mountain and then over the ridge to the cabin where we stayed through the night with 6 other hikers during one of the most horrific thunder storms I have ever witnessed. Then we hiked down the next day with the runoff from the thunderstorm making the path a virtual waterfall that we had to hike through for hours. It was a once in a lifetime experience with my son and I am so glad I got to do it with him. And I admit that I am secretly hoping my younger son will prefer a Caribbean cruise for his last father/son bonding event before going to college in two years!!!

I learned a number of things during that hike, which I will be blogging about all this week. But the first thing I learned is that when we have a goal in mind, we must stay focused on it and keep moving toward it. We may experience pain along the way, but we must keep going. We may have some tight spots to squeeze through, but we must keep going. We may have some unexpected delays along the way, but we must keep going. If we hope to achieve our goals in life, we must learn to just keep going until we have climbed all the mountains in our path.

This truth about pressing onward toward the goal is true in father/son bonding experiences but it is also true in all other areas of life. I am reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, "Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus." Let us press onward today toward the goal, which is the heavenly call of Jesus Christ. If we make knowing Christ the chief goal in our lives and just keep going, we will climb all the mountains we need to and life will be good.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Almost Persuaded!


A sermon based on Acts 25-26 and preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on August 8, 2010.

Acts 25:23 - So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city.
  • Agrippa was the King of the neighboring province. He and his wife came into the auditorium in a great show of their importance. Though in reality, they were not nearly as important as they wanted people to thing.
  • Worldly people are always trying to show how important they are.
  • Christians can fall into this trap too if we are not careful.
  • Christians should be seeking to show how important Jesus is.
Acts 26:1 - Agrippa said to Paul, "It is permitted for you to speak for yourself."
  • The King decided to permit Paul to speak. This is almost funny because if Paul had not been allowed to speak, what would have been the point of all the people showing up to listen.
  • Sadly, sometimes people gather in a group and have no intention of listening to anyone. Their minds are closed and they have already decided what they believe.
Acts 26:2 - I consider myself fortunate that today I am going to make a defense about everything I am accused of by the Jews.
  • Paul is in jail. People are trying to assassinate him. His very life is in jeopardy.
  • But Paul considers himself fortunate because his situation gives him the opportunity to share his faith in Christ with others.
  • This shows Paul's depth of faith and his focus on the Gospel.
  • How often do we miss opportunities to share our faith because we are too busy whining about our situation?
  • The word "defense" is the Greek word "apologia."
  • This word does not really mean the same thing as our English word "defense."
  • "Apologia" means something more like the word "explanation" than the word "defense."
  • Paul was trying to explain why he was motivated to follow Jesus even at great cost.
  • How often do we explain to others why we are motivated to follow Christ?
  • Do we even know in our own minds why we are motivated to follow Christ?
  • We may need to do some internal "apologia" in our own minds in order to be able to better explain our faith to others.
Acts 26:4 - All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem.
  • Part of Paul's explanation of his motivation to follow Jesus began when Paul was still a youth.
  • Though Paul was not a Christian as a youth, he did learn valuable concepts about God that helped him when he got older.
  • It is very important for parents to bring their children to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and other Christian training times so they can learn valuable principles about God.
  • Though no parent should attempt to force their child to become a Christian, they should give them the tools they need to make an informed choice about Christ.
  • It is often the stories we learned in Sunday School as a child that carry us through difficult times in our lives.
  • Those stories often form the basis for our values as we move into adulthood.
  • As our culture has abandoned Sunday School, we have lost our bearings on right and wrong.
Acts 26:6 - And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.
  • Paul's motivation for serving Jesus even when it cost him something was the hope, peace, joy and purpose that the Gospel of Christ gave him.
  • If we know Jesus, we know hope, peace, joy and purpose.
  • If we have no Jesus, we have no hope, peace, joy or purpose.
Acts 26:24 - As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, "You're out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!"
  • Festus, a government official, heard Paul's motivation and decided Paul was crazy.
  • People who do not know Jesus often think those who do are crazy.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18 - For to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God's power.
  • Clearly Festus had not yet found the joy, hope, peace and purpose that Paul had and so it must have seemed crazy to him that Paul would follow his faith right into prison.
  • Festus managed to only keep his job for two years and then died under mysterious circumstances.
Acts 26:25 - But Paul replied, "I'm not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I'm speaking words of truth and good judgment.
  • Paul did not let Festus bully him into silence.
  • We must not let those who oppose Christ intimidate us into silence.
  • Paul knew he was speaking the truth and knew he was the one with good judgment.
  • We know that our message is the truth so we should boldly proclaim it to everyone.
  • It is only when we understand the truth that we can have good judgment.
  • If we do not know the truth, we will base our decisions on ignorance or falsehood or both.
  • We cannot build successful lives on anything other than truth.
  • Seek the truth, and it starts with Jesus!
Acts 26:27 - King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe."
  • Paul realized that Festus was a lost cause so he decided to speak to King Agrippa instead.
  • Sometimes we have to make hard choices about who to continue to invest our time and energy in when we witness.
  • When people reject the Gospel, instead of becoming argumentative, we should just find someone who is more receptive.
  • In time, maybe the argumentative person will have a change of heart, but we will never be able to argue them into believing.
  • Paul asked King Agrippa if he believed the prophets.
  • The Jews referred to the Old Testament as "the prophets." It was the only Bible they had since the New Testament was still being written.
  • Paul was essentially asking if the king believed the Bible. Paul was sure the king did believe the Bible even though the king was not yet a Christian.
  • Simply believing the Bible does not make a person a Christian.
  • James 2:19 – ". . . The demons also believe—and they shudder."
  • To become a Christian a person must repent (turn away) of their sin and trust in Christ's death on the cross as the payment for their sin and commit to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.
  • Many people have a vague belief in the Bible but have never experienced life transforming faith in Christ.
  • Agrippa had such a vague belief, but Paul wanted him to have to much more.
Acts 26:28 - Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?"
  • King Agrippa realized that Paul is trying to persuade him to become a Christian.
  • It was good that Paul was up front with King Agrippa about this and that the King was up front with Paul.
  • Talking in spiritual circles seldom accomplishes much. We should communicate our Christian message clearly and honestly.
Acts 26:29 - "I wish before God," replied Paul, "that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am, except for these chains."
  • Paul was truthful to Agrippa and admitted that he did indeed want Agrippa to discover the same faith Paul had found.
  • Paul wanted not just Agrippa, but everyone listening (even Festus) to become a Christian.
  • Sharing Jesus with others was important to Paul. It should be important to us.
  • Paul hoped others could avoid the chains he had to wear.
  • Paul wanted others to be spared the hardships he had experienced.
  • One reason for witnessing to others about Jesus is to help spare them from the pain that a life without Christ naturally causes.
Conclusion:
  • We should be focused on sharing Jesus.
  • We should be able to explain our faith.
  • We should bring our children/grandchildren to Sunday School and church so they can learn about Jesus.
  • We must not let non-Christians intimidate us into silence but should clearly and boldly proclaim our faith to anyone willing to listen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dealing with Pastoral Burn-Out

Regardless of whether pastors are young adults just starting out in ministry or senior adults with a lifetime of experience, a significant issue that many bivocational pastors face is burn-out. Pastors burn-out when they become emotionally drained by the stress of serving a church full time and working an additional full time job.

While larger churches often have access to resources to help their pastors return to health, smaller churches rarely have that capability. Pastoral burn-out is a serious obstacle for smaller churches to overcome. When bivocational pastors begin to burn-out, they usually end up leaving the churches they serve.

Since burn-out happens more often in small churches that can only afford bivocational pastors, small churches often go long periods of time without adequate pastoral leadership. These frequent gaps in pastoral leadership often cause small churches to struggle constantly to achieve health. This becomes a vicious cycle that small churches often cannot find their way out of.

The solution is to help bivocational pastors become more effective in delegating some of their pastoral duties to others so they will not become exhausted and leave. This is especially important to young pastors who often have families that can be adversely affected by constantly moving from one church to another.

As pastors are assisted in learning how to delegate some pastoral duties to others, they will have more energy to devote to ministry and will find greater fulfillment in their ministries. These pastors will also be able to remain in their churches longer, resulting in healthier churches and healthier pastors.

A number of practical tools are available to train bivocational pastors to delegate some of their pastoral duties to others. One of those resources is my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. Dennis Bickers has also written three books that help bivocational pastors deal with the unique pressures of working two jobs. Pastors might consider joining the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network, which is a group of pastors who encourage each other in their ministries. Why continue to struggle when help is available?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Challenges of Being a Pastor as a Young Adult


Tom graduated seminary full of passion and enthusiasm. Even though he was still a young adult, he knew he could use his faith to make a difference in the world. He and his young wife were so excited when a small church near his hometown called him as pastor. Their commitment to making a significant difference in their community through their church caused them to throw themselves into as many activities as they could. Like many small churches, Tom's church was not able to fully-fund his salary, so he worked a second job at a local business to help support his family. At first the excitement of it all kept Tom energized and passionate about his new role as the pastor of a small church. But as time went by, the pressure of raising a family, caring for the needs of the church and working a second job to help pay for it began to have a negative impact in Tom's life.

As the pressure began to build, Tom began to lose his excitement and energy for ministry. He tried to pray more in order to regain his passion, but he was often so exhausted that he would fall asleep during his prayer time. His wife tried to help all that she could, but with two small children at home and her part-time Internet business, her time also had great demands on it.

Tom began to have anxiety attacks. His blood pressure rose to unhealthy levels. His wife would often gently remind him of how long it had been since he had been home for dinner with the family. Finally, four years into what Tom thought was going to be a lifelong adventure, Tom resigned from the church and moved his family to a larger community where he took a full time job teaching at the local community college. When friends and family asked Tom if he was ever going to re-enter the ministry, he would respond that he did not want to talk about it.

Every year godly pastors such as Tom, who serve small churches that are unable to fully support their salary, leave the ministry. Some of these pastors will eventually re-enter the ministry, but many will never return to a calling they once found so fulfilling. Such pastors are often referred to as bivocational pastors because they have two vocations, one that is ministry oriented and another that is outside the church. While there are many reasons why bivocational pastors may leave the ministry, a significant one is that they simply burn-out. The pressures of working secular jobs and carrying on the duties of leading churches become too great for some bivocational pastors to bear. When these pastors leave the ministry, the churches are deprived of their experience, their passion, and their unique gifts and talents. Churches cannot afford to continue to lose so many good leaders.

But there is hope. Practical materials have been developed to help young pastors like Tom remain in the ministry and change their world through their passion and faith. One resource is Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. Another resource is to join groups on Facebook such as Bivocational Pastors Global Association or Smaller Church Pastors. The church needs the passion that young pastors bring to ministry but churches increasingly have a difficult time paying the salaries that young pastors need to properly care for their families. More and more young pastors are going to have to face the reality of bivocational ministry. Bivocational ministry can be scary, but it can also be effective if young adults use all the resources at their disposal.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bivocationalism and Young Adults


Young adults flocked to mega-churches in the late 1990's. But the impersonal nature of such churches did not meet their long term spiritual needs. Now those same young adults are beginning to migrate to smaller churches as they seek an authentic sense of community. Because those smaller churches have modest budgets, it is often necessary for pastors of those small churches to work another job in addition to serving their church. But working two jobs leaves those pastors in danger of burnout if some of their pastoral duties are not delegated to others. Young adults are increasingly interested in serving in leadership roles in churches. Perhaps the future of the bivocational church includes recruiting young adults to be part of their leadership team?

Leadership teams working in partnership with pastors can truly make pastors healthier and ministry more effective. I have written a book called Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, which provides concise and effective guidance for small-church congregations and pastors looking to build and strengthen their leadership teams. Using New Testament church leadership principles, this book offers lessons, exercises, and worksheets to train lay people to help their pastors. Six fun, easy-to-use, and successfully tested training sessions show pastors how to confidently empower lay people. By learning to work together on leadership teams, lay leaders and pastors alike can more effectively share the Gospel with their community and can assure the maximum long-term health of their church.

Other leaders have said this about Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church:

"In every generation a new fresh voice emerges to sound the call in regard to vital truths that keep the modern church focused. Dr. Terry Dorsett stands on the shoulders of writers and practitioners who have been the voices in the past for an understanding and practice of bivocationalism in Christian ministry and missions. Terry's unique contribution to this subject is in providing practical handles for implementing a successful multiple leadership approach for bivocational churches. I commend the reading and implementing of this valuable tool." Dr. George Garner, Rural and Bivocational/Small Church Missional Strategist, North American Mission Board, SBC, Alpharetta, Georgia

"Bivocational ministers face tremendous pressures as they try to balance various demands on their time. For some the pressure becomes too much and they leave the ministry or they see their family life negatively affected. Terry Dorsett provides another solution. In this book he challenges bivocational ministers to form ministry teams that can give ownership of the ministry to a wider body of believers. Terry does more than just challenge his readers to develop teams; he provides the practical tools every bivocational minister will need to do that. I have not seen a better resource that pastors can use to equip their lay leaders to do effective ministry."
Dennis Bickers, Area Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky and author of three books on bivocational ministry

"Bivocational ministry is tough. Dr. Terry Dorsett gets it and writes an easily read book to help in this often overwhelming endeavor. The first half of the book gives an excellent overview of the bivocational pastor with his challenges and opportunities. The beauty of this book is found in the later part of the book which will help the bivocational pastor train existing leadership to assume some of the duties of the pastorate in a shared manner. I highly recommend this to any bivocational pastor."
Steve Nerger, Director of Church Planting for the Baptist Convention of New England and former National Missionary for Bivocational Ministry for the North American Mission Board, SBC and the author of a book on bivocational church planting