In 2015, more than 38% of pastors in the U.S. were bi-vocational.
Tim Diehl defines a bi-vocational pastor as a person who serves as a pastor in a church and also carries one or more other jobs in order to supplement his or her salary. This isn’t a new phenomenon. The apostle Paul swung between bi-vocational ministry (he was a tentmaker) and full-time ministry.
While there are some advantages to bi-vocational ministry, one of the biggest challenges is pace. How does a leader work in the marketplace . . . often in a full-time capacity . . . pastor a church at the same time, and yet have any hope to find space for rest and rejuvenation?
The answer is, rhythms. Specifically, work/rest rhythms. Let me briefly talk about four:
Rhythm 1: Daily
“And then there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” ~ Gen.1:5. Each segment of God’s creative burst of energy was followed by a pause. This sequence is repeated five additional times at the start of the book of Genesis. At the very beginning of creation, we are introduced to a daily rhythm of work and rest.
Rhythm 2: Weekly:
This second rhythm has to do with taking a day off each week. We Christians call it Sabbath. After completing the work of creation, God rested on the 7th day. He didn’t rest due to exhaustion. He rested to set an example for us ambitious humanoids.
A weekly day off serves as a reset button. It reminds us every week that our life’s calling belongs to God, not to us. You may be protesting, “how can I get a full day off when I’m working two or more jobs?” More on that in a minute.
These first two rhythms—daily and weekly—are foundational. If bi-vocational pastors ignore these, these next two rhythms won’t help as much. Here’s a third rhythm:
Rhythm 3: Quarterly
Every 90 days, encourage your bi-vocational staff (and yourself if you’re bi-vocational) to get out of their zip code and take a day away or part of a day for relaxation, reflection, recreation, and rest. When I practice this third rhythm, I want to be away from my house, because my house often talks to me (projects) when I try to implement this rhythm at home.
Rhythm 4: Annual
Disconnecting from work for a real vacation is not wasted time or selfish behavior. It’s not a luxury. It’s essential! Learning how to play actually helps us be more productive at work.
If you or your teammates are bi-vocational, you’ll need to get creative with these rhythms, especially the first two:
Daily – Keep in mind that most normal human beings lose a huge amount of their productivity after eight hours of work in a day. If you’re bi-vocational, your days will likely exceed the eight-hour amount. So you’ll have to work harder than most to clock out at a reasonable time. I understand with pastoral ministry there are some nights that require your presence—just don’t let it become every night.
Weekly – Immediately after graduating from college, I started in a bi-vocational role as a youth pastor. I worked 40 hours a week in the marketplace while serving as a youth pastor in a small rural church. The idea of pastors taking a regular day off was not talked about much in those days, so my work-rest rhythm during those two years was really messed up. And with my marketplace schedule, a full day off every week was problematic.
Perhaps you can relate if you’re serving in a bi-vocational capacity. If you are, it might be next to impossible to get a full day off every week. So try stringing two-to-three nights in a row where you’re off. Take these evenings to catch your breath. Or you could try doing a Friday from 5:00 pm to Saturday noon. Get creative with this second rhythm.
If you’re a lead pastor with bi-vocational staff, collaborate with them to create a sensible and sustainable schedule. If they work nine-to-five in the marketplace, set reasonable expectations for the work they do for the church. Grant them permission to inform you when you’re giving them more work than they can realistically handle.
You may be wondering, “why should I work at helping my bi-vocational staff with developing these rhythms?” “Why should I as a bi-vocational pastor work at this myself?” Because you and your bi-vocational team cannot escape the negative consequences of living life out of rhythm for very long. It will catch up to all of you. Fatigue, anxiety, and depression will knock on the door, often suddenly, when you consistently live on the edge of exhaustion. And, you’ll have a revolving door of staff if you fail to pay attention to the principle . . . and power . . . of these four healthy rhythms.
Rooting and praying for you,