How to Not Be Bitter in Bi-Vocational Ministry
When my husband, Chip, graduated from seminary, we had been living in Tennessee for four years.
We are from the same small town in Northeast Texas, and I desperately wanted to go home.
In the time that we’d been living out of state, we’d had two babies, earned two Master’s degrees, and flipped two houses.
I was tired, and I missed my Mimi.
Chip was offered a job at a very large church in Tennessee as the Minister of Discipleship to Small Groups of Students Ages 14-14.5 or something like that.
But he felt called to preach and I wanted to be close to family, so we moved back to our home town.
He took a part-time position as the pastor to a congregation of 27.
And life was exhausting.
Partially because life is exhausting.
But also because being in bi-vocational ministry can be really tough.
Because the whole truth of it is this: there is no such thing as a part-time senior pastor.
Pastoring is a full-time occupation regardless of how many members you have or how much money you make.
You cannot love people and shepherd them in 20 hours a week.
It is an all-consuming call to lead and minister all the time.
In fact, now that he is the senior pastor at a much larger church, there are a lot of aspects of his job that are much easier because he’s on a team with several full-time staff members.
So it’s easy to see why so many bi-vocational pastors get totally burned out.
They are passionate about their calling to pastor, but the church finances can’t support them fully.
So in addition to having the weight of a congregation on their shoulders, they also have another job that pays the bills.
So they’re working two jobs and one of them is saving lost people from going to hell.
And as the wife of a bi-vocational pastor, you see all the stress he’s under, and you feel stressed too.
He’s got all the stress of trying to care for the current members of the church, do outreach to bring in new members, manage the finances, preach 2-4 times a week, etc. etc.
Plus you both have the normal stress of married life – finances, kids, relationship, home maintenance, etc. etc.
And if he’s working bi-vocationally, his second job often isn’t enough to make ends meet, so you might be working outside of the home too.
Bi-vocational ministry can quickly turn into a recipe for disaster if you aren’t careful.
So how can you help prevent bi-vocational burnout?
Here are five ways for pastors (and their wives!) to keep from growing bitter in bi-vocational ministry.
Maybe you don’t need to remind you to pray because you are constantly praying about your situation.
But before you skip right over this one, let’s examine some specific ways to pray.
I know when my husband was a bi-vocational minister, my prayers were often very selfish.
I’d pray for the church to grow so that I could quit my job and stay home with my babies.
My heart was not in the right place.
Your first priority should be your own heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart for everything that you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
So pray for your own heart.
Pray that God will help you to remember your calling to ministry (even if you just feel called to support your husband – you were called).
Ask God to help you to not get burned out even though you are in a really difficult season.
Ask for strength and endurance.
He will grant you what you need.
Your second priority should be your husband.
If you are stressed, he is too.
Even if he’s not telling you.
So pray for God to strengthen him and give him wisdom as he leads.
Your next priority should be your family.
Pray that the difficulties you are facing in ministry are not hurting your kids.
Pray that your kids are being nourished and cared for in your church.
Ask God to provide people in your church that love your kids fiercely.
God has answered this one for me in spades.
Even in our little church of 27, there was a woman that loved our kids and invested in them and in us, as parents.
Your next priority should be the church.
Pray that God will grow it and use it to reach the lost.
Pray for volunteers to help or money to be donated for that building project or attendance to go up or whatever your church needs to be a bright light in your community.
What is your priority at the church right now?
There really are a ton of options, but trying to do all the things at once is just going to end up burning your husband out.
Sit down with him and help him to pick a priority and focus on it.
Help him to make a plan for how to grow the church or lead start a discipleship program or begin the healing process with a hurt congregation or whatever.
Work together to figure out where you want the church to be in 5 years and work backward from there to start moving in that direction.
3. Ask for Help
As a bi-vocational pastor, it often feels like everything that needs to be done at the church is on the pastor to do.
And often it is.
But that is something that can be changed.
And honestly, it should be changed for the benefit of the church.
Even if your husband is amazing at doing all the things, what would happen if he was called to another church?
The church would be in absolute chaos trying to figure out how to do everything.
So help your husband to figure out which tasks would take the most stress off of him.
Except Sunday morning preaching. He’s stuck with that!
And then pray for God to send someone to learn to perform those duties.
Can someone else be in charge of paying bills?
Could someone else be in charge of mailing cards to visitors?
Could someone else lead youth on Wednesdays?
After praying about it, go and ask specific people to do specific things and take some time to train them.
4. Shift Your View
When my husband was a bi-vocational pastor working two other jobs besides the church, he would often lament, “I wish I could just focus all my time at the church!”
And during that time, I worked at an alternative school teaching English to high schoolers who “weren’t a good fit” for traditional school.
I would go into work with the worst attitude and then have the worst day.
God slowly shifted our thinking and our ministry exploded.
You can read more about my transformation while I was waiting on God here.
Don’t be like us.
God has chosen you for the task you are doing.
He has gifted you specifically and placed you deliberately.
Don’t be an idiot and blow it by wishing you were in a different situation.
Creator of all the universe.
If he placed you in the situation you are in, He wants you there.
Bloom where you’re planted.
Shift your focus from
hating disliking your secular job to viewing it as an extension of your ministry.
When I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started viewing my students as children needing to know Jesus, my days were instantly better.
God put me in a rough school with rough students right down the street from our church.
I started inviting them to church, and our Wednesday night youth ministry grew.
My husband shifted his focus on Wednesday nights. He let a deacon lead prayer meeting for the 5 people that showed up for Wednesday night prayer meeting, and he spent his time with the youth and worship team.
We saw God do amazing things in those lives.
Kids that would have never come to our church, came and accepted Jesus as their savior because I was teaching them English during the day.
And as much as I wanted to be home baking cookies and playing at the park with my own kids, that wasn’t was I was called to do in that season.
So stop thinking about your job as simply a way to support your ministry.
Find a way to incorporate your ministry into your job.
After all, according to Christianity Today, one-third of American pastors are bi-vocational. That means one-third of American pastors have an amazing opportunity to reach people that full-time pastors don’t have.
Tell your co-workers about Jesus.
Invite them to church.
Host a Bible study in your home.
Have a morning devotional with the people in your office.
Change the atmosphere where you are working.
5. Take a Break
When you are working in bi-vocational ministry, there is a never-ending to-do list.
Knowing that makes it really easy to just never stop.
But that’s really bad for you.
Help your husband to rest.
Plan a trip together.
Go to a conference, take a vacation, take a stay-cation.
Take a Saturday hike.
Take a Sunday nap.
Even God rested.
And if it’s good enough for the Lord of all the earth, it is good enough for me.
Build in rest time instead of waiting until you crash.
If your husband is anything like mine, he loves ministry.
He may not think he needs a break from it, so you might have to be creative in how you approach it.
It always works for me when I say that I need a break with him.
I then ask him how I can help him get his tasks done so that we can take a break together.
And whether that break is just a date night or a quick overnight trip or a full-blown vacation varies based on our life at the time.
Sometimes a simple date night at home can be so refreshing!
Listen, it’s easy to be bitter in bi-vocational ministry.
It’s easy to think of all the ways life would be easier with a full-time ministry position.
And in a lot of ways, it would.
Your reach can be so much greater than a full-time pastor.
God has placed you in a position to reach people that may not ever be reached otherwise.
Don’t wish it away.
One of my biggest regrets in life is that I wasted so much of my teaching career wishing to be home with my kids.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love that I get to be home with them now and that God answered my prayer.
But we homeschool (even though I hate it), so my reach is pretty small in my community.
I was given six years of opportunity in hundreds of kids’ lives.
I don’t get anywhere near that now.
So as you think about this season of your ministry, remember to pray, to get focused, to ask other’s for help, to shift your focus, and to take a break, and you will thrive in this bi-vocational life.
How have you found to avoid bitterness in bi-vocational ministry? Tell us in the comments!
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