Surviving Bivocational Ministry: 3 Essentials

For our From the Front Lines series, we asked several pastors to share the stories of their church plants. These pastors will be checking in online with regular updates on their churches and experiences, allowing readers a front-row seat to the ins and outs of church planting.

Madison Church: Update No. 4

This month, I started working full-time at the church I planted—Madison Church in Madison, Wisconsin—two years ago. It marks the first time since embarking on this church planting journey that I won’t be working bivocationally. It’s an exciting transition for my family and our church! I’ve spent almost three years working at a thriving Starbucks, most of that time being its manager. When I’m not making Pumpkin Spice Lattes, I’m the lead pastor of a new, growing church.

Between two jobs and having a family, I wondered early on if I could do bivocational living successfully. Over the past few years, it has been only through trial and error that I have found it possible to be successful in both roles. Success, though, includes sustainability. No one would say you successfully planted a church that was only open for six months, or that you did well at your job for a few months before getting fired. As bivocational leaders, we have to function at a high level for a long time.

All of what I’m going to share I learned firsthand. There was a time when I thought about quitting everything way more often than any healthy person ever should. It was common for me to be stressed out and frustrated. I needed to find balance. Fortunately, God strengthened me and my wife was gracious to me while I pioneered ways to do what I was called to do successfully and sustainably. Here is how I’ve done it:

1. Regular Rhythms of Rest

Having regular rhythms of rest has made me a healthy professional and pastor. I use one day each week to rest my mind, body and spirit. One day off each week is just one of many possible rhythms of rest: the weekly rhythm. There are daily rhythms, too. I begin and end each day in a restful state. Then there are monthly rhythms. When possible, I take a couple days off in a row from both ministry and the marketplace. There are also annual rhythms. A couple times each year, my family and I take a week off and leave Madison.

In order to get the most out of this time off, I think that you have to do the things that contribute to your overall health while avoiding the things that normally consume you. For me, this includes watching a TV series on Netflix and not reading emails. Because each job and calling is different, each rhythm will depend on the context you’re in. You may not get paid time off or have the same day off each week. Regardless, regular rhythms of rest are necessary for a sustainable and successful bivocational life.

2. Delegate Duties

Having regular rhythms of rest may seem just about impossible when you’re working two jobs and have a family, but it is perhaps the most important piece of advice I have to give. I know time is of the essence, and there is never enough of it when you’re working two jobs. That’s why I suggest doing what only you can do and delegating the rest. Being bivocational requires that you build teams and develop leaders in both spaces. For this to alleviate frustrations and not create more of them, you need to have clear expectations and hold people accountable.

A simple example of this is at Starbucks, where I created the employees’ schedules and someone else did the dishes. Both jobs affect the business, but one certainly more than the other. Employees know they are to wash dishes and that there will be repercussions if they don’t. This allows me to deal with more important and urgent issues. What are the ministry duties that can hurt or help your mission the most? Focus in on those things, and let someone else do something else. If you communicate clearly and act accordingly, this should maximize your time in both areas.

3. You’ve Got a Friend in Me

I value coaching and mentorship, and have been in those kinds of relationships since long before starting a church. While I highly recommend those relationships to anyone and everyone doing this kind of work, what I am writing about here isn’t either of those things. You need to have friends who in the same boat as you and talk with them regularly. They may not be the people you have over to watch the Packers’ game or text all day long, but there’s an important place for them in your life.

My friend Jake started a church in Las Vegas, Nevada, the same time we started ours in Madison. Our churches are about the same size. We have similar models and methods. He and I experience a lot of relatable situations and circumstances. We celebrate together, grieve with each other and encourage one another in a weekly phone call. Our conversations keep me centered when life is pulling me in every direction. It’s one of the most important relationships I have, and it has been imperative in being successful and sustainable in all my endeavors.

I want to close by adding that it’s important to perform well, because what happens in our lives outside of work will affect our lives inside work, which will come back to impact our lives outside of work. Each and every job will be different, but it’s up to us as leaders to lead ourselves to successful and sustainable livelihoods. If you’re stressed and frustrated, feeling renewed won’t happen overnight. It probably took months to get where you are now, so it’ll take at least weeks to get you where you want to be. However, I’m certain it will happen when you commit yourself to these practices.

Read more from Stephen Feith and Madison Church »

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