Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bivocational Pastors Must Learn to Delegate

There are an increasing number of pastors experiencing burn-out. Bob Wells has done extensive research on the health of American clergy. In a 2002 article in Pulpit and Pew, Wells concluded that "doctrinal and theological differences aside, North American churches have in common not only the Cross and a love of Christ, but also a pastorate whose health is fast becoming cause for concern." Pastors are not as healthy as they should be. This lack of health contributes to the higher burn-out rates currently being experienced by pastors.

Though all pastors are prone to burn-out, bivocational pastors, who work outside jobs in addition to serving churches, are even more likely than fully-funded pastors to experience burn-out. Bivocational pastors seldom have as many resources at their disposal to help them recover from burn-out, so it is particularly important that they avoid this syndrome altogether. One of the best ways for bivocational pastors to avoid burn-out is for them to delegate some of their duties to others. It is simply not possible for a bivocational pastor to work full-time at the church and also work a full-time secular job without paying the price physically and emotionally. As bivocational pastors learn to share the burdens of ministry with an entire team, they will no longer feel as overwhelmed. Building pastoral leadership teams can help pastors avoid feeling burned out.

Delegation will be a challenge for some bivocational pastors to practice. The very fact that bivocational pastors are willing to work two jobs to follow the call of God demonstrates their work ethic. They are the kind of people who get the job done, even if it means they must do it themselves. But this type A personality can be as much a curse as a blessing if not channeled in healthy ways.

Delegation is not just about passing off a list of tasks to others. Delegation means giving up control and sharing leadership with others. While some pastors may fear this, delegation actually helps pastors be more effective because it helps them see the blind spots in ministry which they have missed on their own. Raising up effective pastoral leadership teams makes the entire church more effective than what any individual leader, no matter how gifted, can do on his or her own.

Delegating menial tasks may be easier to do, but for delegation to really help, pastors must also be willing to delegate some of the preaching and pastoral care duties. Because these are two of the most time-consuming and emotionally-draining aspects of ministry, a failure to delegate a portion of these duties will result in pastors still not having time to rest. Alexander Strauch has written a number of excellent books to help pastors train deacons and elders in their churches to share the load of ministry. Strauch notes that "it is a highly significant but often overlooked fact that our Lord did not appoint one man to lead His church. He personally appointed and trained twelve men." These were not twelve men who helped with menial tasks but men Jesus sent out to preach, teach, and address the needs of people. Pastors need to follow the example of Jesus and recruit help in their preaching and pastoral care efforts. As pastors learn to give away part of their ministry to others, they will have less stress. Less stress will help them avoid burn-out and stay in their ministry positions longer.

When pastors are unhealthy, they tend to change churches more frequently in an attempt to relieve stress and/or rediscover joy in ministry. But if the pastors' work habits are the real problem, then they take those problems with them to the next church and experience those same difficulties all over again. As the pastors build relationships with others in the church, those relationships serve as bulwarks against loneliness, depression, and a dangerous "I can do it all myself" attitude. As the pastors become healthier, the churches become healthier. When churches become healthier, then pastors do not feel as overwhelmed. A pattern of health for both pastors and churches emerges when pastoral longevity is increased.

Pastoral burn-out is a real issue in modern church life, but it is an issue that can be addressed. It was this issue that prompted me to write my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. This book focuses on helping pastors learn to train up multiple leaders so they can delegate some of their preaching and pastoral care duties to them. It is my prayer that this book will help pastors avoid burn-out and have long and happy ministries in their churches.


  1. I personally do not know any pastors that fear sharing responsibility. What does get overlooked is the fact that it is difficult to get the church body to do the things that need done. Pastors do not get burned out because they want all the control and responsibility. They get burned out because all the work load is left to them whether they want it or not.

  2. Mark,
    Thanks for your thoughts. There are many bivocational pastors who are not afraid to give away responsibility, but after years of serving as a Director of Missions, I can attest that there are also many who are. I can't even count the number of times a pastor has burned out and left the field and when I met with the church to help them look for a new pastor, they tell me the stories of how they offerred to do the bulliten, or clean the church, or visit the nursing home, but the pastor said he would do it. Though some lay people may lack the commitment to help, many lay people want to help the church be stronger. Pastors who use those who are willing, tend to find more people who become even more willing. God never intended the pastor to do it all alone. Thanks for your efforts and may God continue to lead you in your service to Him.

  3. I like this.