Finding Balance in Bivocational Ministry

Perhaps you are currently serving a local congregation as a bivocational pastor or multi-vocational pastor (as I once did), and you are reading this with all kinds of thoughts and feelings swirling through your heart and mind. Words like “success,” “stress,” “no margin,” and “never good enough,” which run into first cousins like “shame” and “church growth,” appear on the drop-down screen of your mind. Maybe as bivocational pastor, you’re reading this with guilt about the present state of expected results, whether those expectations are from internal or external pressures (or both). 

Bivocational pastors and church members with bivocational pastors have high expectations.

We live in a world swollen with sin and self-indulgence, and we are all held captive to the pressure of unbiblical measurements of what makes ministry and church successful. We know that we are not called to be a people of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). What if pastors and church members were to put fear-based expectations out of our minds? What if instead, we attempt a fresh perspective of balance for bivocational pastoral ministry?

Stepping Into Bivocational Ministry

There I was, minding my own business as a book representative for the Nazarene Publishing House (now The Foundry Publishing) when my district superintendent approached me about filling in at a local congregation as an interim pastor.

I accepted the position, and my family and I ended up staying and pastoring the church for over three years. I also worked two other jobs to make ends meet since the church was unable to pay a full-time salary. The congregation proved to be a loving and welcoming group. While this experience as a multi-vocational pastor was not always easy in terms of balance, the church’s understanding and cooperation in several key areas allowed a sense of steadiness and helped create a Spirit-led, positive experience of ministry.

The Church Bought In

These church members knew they could not rely on a full-time pastor to “do it all,” which is not a biblical picture of Christ’s Body. Instead, they bought in! We chose to work together. We decided to add several “prayer bands” to the rhythm of our body life. We adopted a “can do” attitude. We dreamed big, and we did it knowing that this was something we were doing together.

The expectation was that I would fulfill my calling as a pastor and that they would also take seriously their calling to be part of the ministry. We would help each other to forsake sin, pray, sing, teach, reach, love, and grow as God’s people. A congregation’s sense of responsibility in a multi-vocational pastoral environment helps to remove both internal and external pressures, allowing for a faithful and biblical ministry to unfold in the context of God’s perfect timing and will.

When we lay down our sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectations and buy in to the situation as it really is, the church can have a successful bivocational ministry.

The Prayer Meeting

The key to my sanity and balance during those years was the prayer meetings. The church hosted a well-attended “Power Hour” on Sunday nights and a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights with a band of adults that helped maintain a healthy balance. In our times of prayer, we were able to collectively agree that this whole thing belonged to God, and we were at His disposal for whatever He wanted to do in and through us! The prayer meetings gave me incredible rest, peace, and balance in the middle of a busy schedule.

Creating consistent times for meaningful shared experiences of prayer is crucial in all settings but especially in settings where the pastor is also involved in other responsibilities outside of the pastoral vocation.

Rest and Renewal

I, along with my family, learned to prioritize many other vital practices necessary for health and refreshment. My wife and I were intentional about having consistent date nights and also set aside time to stay in healthy physical shape, which included monitoring our diet and exercise. The extra time we spent focusing on our health made times of ministry more focused and energetic. We invested in our kids; kids know when you’re engaged. I found a trusted mentor and called him often.

Implementing these practices gave me, as a busy multi-vocational pastor, a sense of balance, while also providing a sense of comfort to our kids. Above all, I learned that I needed to read Scripture devotionally and not just as a way to prepare a sermon. Time is precious, and although these matters of personal health and balance take time that could be spent on “church work,” my wife and I found that we were at our best in church work when our priorities at home were properly aligned.

Ultimately, it is vitally important in a bivocational ministry not to be too hard on yourself! In the book Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan, 2014), author and pastor Tim Suttle reminds us of the importance of the call to return to a faithfulness that is beyond mere numbers.  Learning this has given me a fresh perspective that can help any minister relax and know that the Lord will help you find healthy balance if you put your trust in Him.

Matthew Zimmer is pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Holiness Today, May/June 2018

Please note: This article was originally published in 2018. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.