A bivocational pastor for many years, Rev. Bill Sawyer shares about finding balance.
In 2016, Rev. Bill Sawyer was selected as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the Global Ministry Center, Church of the Nazarene (Lenexa, Kansas). Bill has an extensive background both as a pastor and as an executive in the corporate world. Before coming to the GMC, Bill served as vice-president for financial services at TransUnion while also serving as senior pastor of Santa Ana (California) Church of the Nazarene. HT sat down with Bill for 10 Questions.
Q1: How did your work in the corporate world influence your work as a pastor?
Bill: Both jobs intersected in many ways. Because of my corporate responsibilities, most of my direct pastoral work took place on the weekends; however, like my church members, I had opportunities to intentionally live out my faith in a secular workplace each week. I believe, as holiness people, our lives should stand out. Even though I could not minister in my weekday workplace the same way I did on Sunday mornings, God used this experience to remind me that there should be no difference in my faith on any given day or in changing environments. Consequently, there were many times when I was able to provide pastoral care in the workplace through colleagues asking for prayer or asking me questions, especially when they were going through difficult times.
Q2: How did your church respond to your bivocational schedule?
Bill: I feel that in churches (including my last assignment before coming to the GMC) where I was bi-vocational, laypeople stepped up more! They empathized with the fact that I was working hard in my secular job and was trying to be a witness for Christ while also trying to shepherd the church. In the same way that I would pray for them when they shared an important upcoming work meeting or a scheduling challenge, they prayed for me. They began to see that I had scheduling and workplace challenges just like them, and they saw that I worked hard to be as accessible as I could be as their pastor while also seeking to do a good job and be a good witness at my other place of employment.
On a practical level, my working outside the church in an area with a high cost of living (California) allowed the church to have more resources for a wider variety of ministries than if the local church was only compensating me. Our church took advantage of this in regard to sponsoring new works, creating more discipleship opportunities, and expanding our presence in the community. The laypeople of the congregation knew that they would have to be intentional about their involvement, and they responded to that.
Q3: Was your job seen as a competitor with the ministries of the local church?
Bill: It was not, but that was because we communicated clearly about the advantages of having a bivocational pastor. My pastoral role was not viewed as “second-rate” just because I shared work time between the church and the company. This balance became an opportunity to mentor other business people in the congregation in regard to time and money management, which increased my credibility among those I served in the congregation.
Q4: What adjustments did you go through as a minister working in a “secular” environment?
Bill: As in any workplace, there were ethical challenges, but in the early 2000s, when media attention was focused upon major business scandals, my faith was seen as a positive contribution to the workplace. Sometimes I was treated unfairly or even left out of things because of my faith and my approach. I didn’t drink, for instance, so some saw that as a hindrance. However, in the long run, I became an executive in the company precisely because people were watching how I responded during difficult times or times when I was treated unfairly. I believe that the Holy Spirit used those times to bear witness in a way that was appreciated in the long run.
In addition, we as Christians are called to work in a way that honors God above all else, and that translates into the kind of work ethic and integrity that companies need and appreciate in the long run.
Q5: Did your work during the week provide extra connections during teaching and preaching times?
Bill: Actually, I rarely used a “work illustration” in my sermons, but I was able to demonstrate that we don’t have to check our Christian faith at the doors of our companies. I think God used this to connect with people in my congregation. Most of my church members knew the potential pitfalls of the corporate world, and they knew I was facing the same kinds of challenges to be who God called me to be as a Christian, to keep my life focused upon Scripture, and to be an influence for Christ.
That is the same approach that I want to have here at the GMC. Though this is a Christian denominational headquarters, there are areas of business that are part of my responsibility. I want to demonstrate Christlikeness in these kinds of business decisions. I can bear witness more intentionally and specifically here at the GMC, of course, but the overall principle of working in a Christlike way remains.
Q6: What fun fact would our readers and your co-workers be surprised to know about you?
Bill: I was an extremely shy kid, who really did not like to interact socially much at all!
Q7: What music do you listen to?
Bill: Contemporary Christian music and hymns. I play piano, so I have a fondness for hymns.
Q8: Do you have a favorite vacation destination?
Bill: Well, we have eight children, so with ten of us, our favorite destination is pretty much anywhere we can get to by car.
Q9: Which authors do you read the most?
Bill: I really like older books, especially classic books on prayer and spiritual disciplines: E.M. Bounds, G.R. Beasley-Murray, Oswald Chambers, and H. Orton Wiley. My wife jokes that I like books that don’t have flashy covers since they are older and have no need to sell more! I am currently completing a Ph.D., so I also have some required reading at this stage that I am working through.
Q10: How has the transition from California to Kansas been for you and your family?
Bill: We have eight kids whose ages range from six to 29 years. My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years. The adjustment has been easy, even for my kids. My family and I love it here, we know many people in this area, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve the Church of the Nazarene at the GMC.
NOTE: This interview was conducted by the managing editor of Holiness Today and has been edited for space.
Holiness Today, May/Jun 2018.