Friday, November 23, 2012

Training Leaders in Bivocational Churches

Last Saturday I drove to Boston where I led a workshop on bivocational ministry for the annual training conference for United Methodist churches across New England and New York. My workshop was attended by both bivocational pastors and lay people who want to help their churches become more effective.

I started the workshop by asking, “What keeps small churches and churches led by bivocational pastors from being as Kingdom minded as they would like to be?” We had a great discussion about the challenges that small congregations face, but eventually we all agreed that if a small church had the right focus and right plan, there was no reason at all for them to be as Kingdom minded as they wanted to be.

However, we also determined finding the right focus and the right plan was a challenge because most pastors in small churches are already so busy that they just do not have the time to do more. We also concluded that a significant number of pastors of those pastors were already on the edge of burn out.

Though all pastors are prone to burn out, bivocational pastors and pastors from single staff churches typically face this threat with fewer resources from their local church and denomination and sometimes with less information on how to avoid burn out.

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

A second way to help 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. (See 1 Timothy 5:17.) There are people who are called to do ministry who may not be called to be pastors and when we tap into those people, then the leadership in small churches will leap forward. 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. Pastors must remember that one of the primary duties of pastors is to train people in the local church to do ministry.  (See 2 Timothy 2:1-2).

A third way to help 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. Though it can be hard to make time for a day off, delegating small tasks to others will help relieve some of the pressure from a bivocational pastor. However, if the pastor 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 Spirit will empower them. Letting a lay person preach several times a year gives the pastor a much needed break and develops the lay people’s spiritual lives. The same is true for visitation.

While it may sound good to recruit a team to help the pastor lead, how should pastors go about building this leadership team? While announcements from the pulpit or in the church bulletin may stir up some interest, it is unlikely to produce the leaders needed. Instead, pastors should personally recruit 2-3 people whom they train 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. It is interesting how some students will feel more comfortable preaching in the home church and others will feel more at easy preaching to strangers. This is because we all have different personalities, which is why part of our training must include various situations. After each preaching experience, students will need feedback on how to improve their sermons. After the initial training is complete, 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.

There are a variety of different types of resources available to help pastors train leadership teams. Many denominations have training resources. Many retired pastors are happy to assist, and they have far more time on their hands than a bivocational pastors does. Dave Jacobs, a ministry coach and former Vineyard pastor, has a great website called Dennis Bickers, a key leader in the American Baptist Convention in Indiana, also has a great website at Many of my readers are familiar with the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a
division of Lifeway. This is a resource that I wrote specifically to help bivocational pastors train leadership teams. It is currently being used by over 3,500 churches across North America. It can be ordered from,, at any Lifeway Christian Bookstore, or directly from my own office. You can also find helpful articles at my website: Whichever resource is used, the key is to make sure the students learn practical skills that they can actually use.

I concluded my workshop by pointing out that burn out is a growing concern for all pastors, but especially single staff and bivocational ones. Pastors can avoid burn out best by creating leadership teams to assist them in the ministry. While any assistance from the team is helpful, to gain maximum advantage, pastors need people to help them with some of the visitation and preaching ministries. There are many resources out there, we should use whichever ones work best in our context, but we must make sure they are practical.

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