Friday, November 11, 2011

Dealing With Burn Out Among Bivocational Pastors

These ideas were developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and are based on a seminar he leads for bivocational pastors and for lay people in churches served by bivocational pastors.

Though all pastors are prone to burn out, bivocational pastors typically face this threat with fewer resources from their local church or denomination. Since bivocational pastors are seldom able to attend clergy meetings, they often have not heard information on how they can to avoid burn out.

1.     One way to help bivocational 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.
Bivocational ministry is actually NORMAL for the church – Acts 18:1-4, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9
Many younger pastors, especially church planters, are embracing bivocational ministry for missional reasons instead of economic ones.

2.     A second way to help bivocational pastors avoid burn out is to help them learn the art of delegation.

Pastors and lay leaders need to understand that shared leadership is NORMAL in the church – Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2
God NEVER intended for the pastor to do all the ministry on his own!
It is very unhealthy for both the pastor and the church when the pastor does it all.
Pastors and lay leaders must be taught 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.
Some pastors do not delegate because they either think the lay people will not do ministry or that the lay people are not trained adequately to do ministry. But lay people will help if trained.
One of the primary duties of pastors to train people in the local church for ministry. – 2 Timothy 2:1-2

3.     A third way to help bivocational pastors avoid burn out is for them to have a Sabbath on a regular basis.

God set the example of working for six days and then taking one day to rest. Genesis 2:2-3
Bivocational pastors and the churches they serve, must understand that the pastor needs a day off each week if they want him to be around long term.
Delegating small tasks to others will help relieve some of the pressure from a bivocational pastor.
However, if he really wants to avoid burn out, he must also be willing to delegate some high level ministry duties to others.
Since preaching and visitation are two of the most time consuming aspects of ministry, bivocational pastors should train others to help them with these two ministries.
Lay people can and will help with these ministries if trained adequately.
If lay people resist learning how to assist in these ministries, pastors should remind them that the Holy Spirit will empower them.
Letting a lay person preach every 6-8 weeks gives a pastor a much needed break and develops the lay people’s spiritual lives.
The same is true for visitation.

4.     How should pastors go about building a leadership team?

While announcements from the pulpit or in the church bulletin may stir up some interest, pastors should personally recruit 2-3 men whom they think can be trained to assist them in ministry.
Once the small group has been selected, pastors will need to meet with them for a minimum of six weeks (longer is better!) to train them in how to do pastoral care and preach a basic sermon.
Classroom training alone will not be sufficient. After 2-3 weeks of learning in a classroom environment, pastors must take the students on some visits.
At first the students will observe, 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 the pastor being only a silent observer.
Likewise, the students will need to preach a sample sermon or two 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.
Pastors should look for ways to use these lay people REGULARLY for pulpit supply and visitation.
Nothing is more discouraging than to be trained for something and then not get to use that training.

5.     What resources are available to help pastors train leadership teams?

Seminary Extension courses offered through the Southern Baptist Convention based in Nashville.
Numerous on line resources from a variety of sources.
The skills and experience of retired pastors.
The book, Developing Leadership Teams in the BivocationalChurch, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.
Whatever resources are used, the key is to make sure the students learn practical skills that they can actually use and not just theoretical concepts.

Burn out among all pastors, but especially bivocational ones, is a growing concern in America.
Pastors can avoid burn out best by creating leadership teams to assist them in the ministry.
There are many resources out there, we should use whichever ones work best in our context, but we must make sure they are practical.


  1. Thank you for your commitment to helping pastors who serve churches while working additional jobs.

  2. Thanks, I'm always happy to serve those who serve others.

  3. Years ago most churches were served by bivocational pastors. They grew and ministered wonderfully. We are coming back to that model of ministry and your wise words are good advice to those of us involved in this service.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  4. Terry,
    Thanks for your kind words. Yes, historically bivocational ministry was "normal" for almost all pastors. Then we decided that we needed fancy degrees, and then expected to be paid well for earning those degrees. We clergy became "too good" to work "real" jobs. But God has a way of bringing His truth back to the top and that is what we are seeing happen now.

  5. Hartness SamushongaJanuary 6, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    Hi Terry.

    Thanks for this great forum. I am a bivocational pastor & I think degrees that help develop the minister in their ministry are beneficial. I also sincerely believe that there is a place for both bivocational & non-bivocational pastors due to personal preferences and other ministry and or economic dynamics. Although I do not personally get paid from the ministry, I think ministers that are on the ministry payroll should be "paid well" for their work.

  6. Hartness,
    Thanks for your input. I agree that there should be a place for both bivocational and fully funded pastors. And both should feel good about their calling and be considered equal in the eyes of God and the church.