Many bivocational ministers face a major challenge trying to meet the expectations of the congregation.
Most churches have a job description for the pastor, and most pastors do not get into trouble because they do not fulfill that job description.
They get in trouble when they do not meet the unwritten job descriptions that exist in every church. If a church has 50 people, there may be 50 different expectations placed on the pastor.
Many churches are now transitioning from having a fully funded pastor to a bivocational pastor. Such transitions often fail because of unrealistic expectations placed on the pastor.
While the church may be paying a bivocational salary, some within the congregation still have the expectations they had when their pastor was fully funded, which may not have been realistic even then.
Some churches have many unrealistic expectations for their bivocational pastors. Here are three of the most common:
1. Expecting the pastor to run to the hospital or home every time someone gets sick.
If the pastor has an outside job, he or she may not be available to dash to the hospital. When I was pastoring our church, we used a program called the “deacon family ministry” plan, which assigned every family in our church to one of our deacons.
That deacon became the primary contact person for those families. I was called in more critical situations, but often our deacons would be called and would visit people long before I was able to due to my work schedule. This is in line with something for which I’ve long advocated.
We have to get away from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model in our churches.
This is a more biblical understanding of how we are to care for one another (see Ephesians 4).
It requires training of both the leaders and the congregation, but when it is done right, it works very well, and even more so in bivocational churches.
2. Requiring the pastor to speak two or three times a week.
Many bivocational churches still expect their pastors to preach Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and at midweek services.
Those evening services may only have four or five people show up, but because they were well attended in the 1950s, the church still expects it.
That is seldom a good use of the pastor’s time. Not only does he or she have to speak each of those times, but also each of those messages requires preparation time, which may be five to 10 hours each.
If lay people cannot lead the Sunday evening and midweek service, it may be time to give them a proper burial.
Again, when I was pastoring, I preached Sunday morning and evening but refused a midweek service.
3. Refusing to give the pastor more than a week or two of vacation each year.
I served as a bivocational pastor for 20 years. It’s hard work that takes a lot out of the minister and his or her family.
I always advocated for a church to give their pastor four weeks of vacation right from the beginning.
Most churches will give two weeks and pay a supply preacher $150 or less while the pastor is gone.
Giving the pastor two more weeks will cost the church $300 or less. That is a minimal cost to the church but provides the pastor and family a huge blessing.
Most churches budget a set amount each year for the pastor’s salary, so does it really matter whether that includes the pastor being there 48 weeks or 50 weeks? If a church cannot afford $300 to bless their pastor in this way, they probably need to decide if it is viable that they remain open.
While I’m upsetting people, I might as well go all the way! Give your bivocational pastor a three-month paid sabbatical every seven years. I just heard jaws hit the floor.
I made this statement in a workshop I was leading a few years ago; an older woman spoke up and said they all worked for a living and didn’t get three months off with pay.
I responded that none of them was on call 24/7/365 and responsible for the eternal souls of those they served either. She left the workshop.
That paid sabbatical may be the best investment you will make in your church.
I am convinced that many pastors leave after five to seven years, not because they feel led to, but because they are just tired.
They resign from the church, rest for a while and then begin to look for another place in which to serve.
If they had that sabbatical, they could refresh themselves and their families and return to a church that had loved on them in this way.
Virtually every study shows that growing, healthy churches are led by long-term pastors, and this may be a way to keep your pastor for a long time.
I can assure you that if you expect your bivocational pastor to keep plugging away, he or she will eventually wear out and have to leave just to protect themselves.
I encourage bivocational churches to invite someone, such as a judicatory leader or a church consultant, to lead a discussion on how a congregation and bivocational pastor can set some realistic expectations for each other.
It may be one of the healthiest things your church can do.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.