A few days ago, I posted a short statement of Facebook about being a bi-vocational pastor. But I’d like to give a more complete answer. In doing so, I have two groups in mind: 1) those who may be thinking of becoming bi-vocational, and 2) those who are partnered one way or another with FCMC such as our supporters, prayer partners, and those who engage with us in discipleship, mission and worship.
This is what I wrote.
“I have found it personally satisfying to be back in the world of engineering while serving as a pastor on nights and weekends. It is tremendously satisfying to work at providing for my family with a day job – and its good work. At the same time, I am finding a fresh level of steadiness and confidence in ministry. That has been surprising!”
That’s a short statement, and short answers can be misleading. On FB, I try to keep it positive and that, too, can be misleading. But it is true. On the whole, my experience has been mostly positive – but it has stretched me. And there are some things I miss about full time pastoral ministry. So in the interest of more complete disclosure, I want to add a few things.
First, there really isn’t enough time in the day to do it all. My day job is engineering. Rebooting my engineering career carried with it pressure to learn how to do some things all over again. Also, I am trying to build a career in such a way that I can carry with me no matter where the Lord leads. In my case, I am learning structural engineering and plan to sit for a Professional Engineer Exam in the spring. As a registered PE, I could earn a living designing foundations, framing, and tie-down plans for homes just about anywhere in the US. (And, thanks to telecommuting, I might be able to work for the same company the whole time.) But doing this, means I have to find time to study. My new career is taking up about nine hours a day, five days a week, plus commuting. It is also entry level engineering. So, while it is enough to see us through, my skills and responsibilities will need to grow so that income will grow.
That said, it is very good job for ministry. While I am able to build relationships with a few co-workers, the job is mainly a “sit-by-yourself-and-produce-designs job. Because I sit and work I leave work with energy for relationships. And my job allows me to use the lunch breaks for ministry, too. I build new relationships, meet with a mentor, and meet with a few men for discipleship. Another benefit – and this really is a benefit – is that I have less flexibility. That has forced some discipline for my visits and appointments. Overall, that’s resulted in firmer boundaries that are easier to enforce. People respect my time more naturally than they once did. There is less wasted time in my schedule.
But the absence of time also means less time for reading, writing, continuing education, and administration. The last one isn’t too much of a problem. The FCMC stewards and I are working on that together. But the first three have become much more limited. I would like to sit down to work on this blog at least two hours a week – but sometimes that’s a hard to find. And I need to read. My habit now is to read fifteen minutes before falling asleep. You can cover a lot with a routine of fifteen minutes a night, but I fondly recall digging into books and ideas over extended reading times. Finally, I dearly miss the conferences and training. God worked on my heart at training events. Inspirational worship, great teaching, and connecting with other church leaders was simply super! Alternatives for that are hard to come by. To take advantage, I would need more vacation time or study leave… That is now two weeks.
And one more thing. Since become bivocational, I am not able to be with people like I want to be. Over the last few weeks, people I love have been in need of pastoral care. I couldn’t drop everything and go. My employers are pretty flexible and supportive, but they expect me to be productive and working everyday. But because of my work, my church is understanding. (I got very little grace for that when I was in the traditional pastoral role). And, because we are so focused on discipleship, my people are better equipped and motivated than any group I’ve ever worked with to provide spiritual care and support for one another – and for others. As a pastor, that gives me great joy.
So, on the whole, it has been a win. But like any transition, there have been some losses. Consider the costs. For me, the costs of traditional church ministry right now are too high. And I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to take the bi-vocational route.
If you are considering bivocational ministry, I highly recommend Hugh Halter’s book, BiVo. Also, if you are a seminary student, I highly recommend thinking through what bi-vocational ministry would look like for you.