By Daniel Darling
When I moved to Nashville in 2013 to begin a communications role at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I knew I’d be stepping into a new and completely different season of ministry.
This new journey into denominational leadership would take me away from the day-to-day duties of leading a church as its pastor, as I had done for the six years leading up to this major shift in ministry.
I was excited for this new opportunity to work alongside some brilliant colleagues and help equip the Church, but I wouldn’t be preaching to and shepherding the same people anymore.
In many ways, this step away was good for me. In the first couple of years, our family did something we hadn’t done in many years: attended church as a typical Christian family without the responsibility of leadership.
It was a new experience for us, an opportunity to receive ministry instead of give it. I also had a chance to observe and learn. But it didn’t take long for me to start miss preaching, teaching, and elder meetings.
A couple of years after this major transition, a pastor who I had respected for a while approached me about joining his staff on a part-time basis. I jumped at the chance.
I’ve been doing this now for four years and have enjoyed it. And along the way, I’ve learned quite a bit in this new experience as a bivocational pastor.
Here’s what I’ve found:
1. Pastors don’t often appreciate the sacrificial faithfulness of ordinary Christians.
When I pastored full time, I found myself constantly perplexed at the difficulty of coaxing people to get involved in the life of the church.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how difficult this can be for folks who work long hours and have young families. Now, this is, in some ways, my experience. I have a full-time job, various writing projects, and a growing family. There are many days I come home tired.
As pastors, we’re asking people to come and participate and work in their local churches on top of all of these responsibilities.
Because we’re in a pastoral bubble, we don’t often see this. We fail to appreciate the busy dad who comes to late-night meetings at church, the homeschool mom who volunteers to lead VBS, or the traveling executive—who despite working 60 hours a week at his or her current job—still finds time to volunteer in the youth ministry.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t urge our people to sacrifice—we should because Christ loves the church and our witness in the world demands it. But we should do it with a clearer understanding of people’s busy lives.
Now, I look at our so many faithful church members and marvel at their sacrifices on behalf of the gospel. There are movies they’re missing, projects at home they’re putting aside, and hours of sleep they’re foregoing to give back to Christ’s body.
2. Churches need to be wise in balancing our expectations of our people
If you’re on a church staff full time and it’s your job to eat, drink, and sleep the life of your ministry, you can easily live in a kind of bubble where you’re unaware of the busy lives of those you serve. It’s easy to adopt a cynical attitude about volunteers and the time they’re willing to give.
And it’s easy to be cavalier about adding church events to the calendar.
Every church has its own rhythm and flow, and the amount of activity to be held depends on the size of the church, along with other factors. The weekly gathering of God’s people on Sunday is non-negotiable, of course.
But outside of this, we should be wise at what other events we’re going to demand. We should narrow down the amount of “must-attend” events we schedule.
Good shepherds should prod their people to sacrifice, but with full empathy for the lives people in their congregations lead, careful to push them toward flourishing and not burning out. Good shepherds also encourage their people to have margin in their schedules.
3. Bivocational ministry is more difficult than it seems
I have a really good situation at my church with a pastor who is understanding of my schedule and puts me in a situation to best apply my gifts. But bivocational ministry can be difficult, especially for pastors who bear the full preaching and leading role in their churches.
I’m thinking of pastors of small churches and church planters who work full-time jobs, have families, and still must prepare sermons, deal with crises that arise, and cast vision for their congregations.
These are the real heroes, in my view.
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling) is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution.