The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

The treasurer reported that everything looked good. Giving was slightly exceeding our budgeted needs and financial obligations. Immediately, there were smiles all around the room. Everyone relaxed, happy to know that we didn’t have to worry and stress about our church’s budget this time. Everyone, that is, except me. We knew it was going to happen. The grant money that fully funded my position would not last indefinitely. Our small church wasn’t in decline. In fact, we were seeing growth and our participants were generous and sacrificial givers, many of them going well beyond a traditional tithe. Nevertheless, we knew that significant financial changes were inevitable. A few months before, I had volunteered to essentially become “bivocational.” I had a few other projects that I wanted to pursue and I was willing to see if they could generate some income to cover the resulting shortfall. It seemed like a win-win situation. The church was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The unintended consequence of that shift was that what began as a challenge for our entire congregation essentially became my problem to solve alone. It was no longer a case of “This is our challenge. We’ll solve it together.” Instead, it was assumed that I had it covered. I was now responsible for making up the difference between our current level of giving and my intended salary. I reduced my work hours accordingly and the church continued with minimal disruption to our regular worship schedule. While it is easy to count the cost of financial adjustments that result in a loss of materials, programs, or staff positions,...
Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

While searching for a particular volume in my library, another book caught my attention. The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, is an inspiring autobiographical account of what it means to be called to pastoral ministry and to live out that vocation in a unique community. This book has inspired me to reaffirm my calling with fresh perspective. While Peterson is known to many primarily for his popular Bible translation called The Message, his most significant contribution to my world has been his writings about pastoral work.  Years ago I read three of Peterson’s books about pastoral ministry:  Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work, The Contemplative Pastor, and Under the Unpredictable Plant.  In a church world that looks to the pastor to be the CEO, a chaplain-on-demand, or an ecclesial entrepreneur, Peterson reminds ministers and churches that a pastor is more like a spiritual director, a “soul friend” who walks alongside others pointing out what God is doing in their life. In a fast paced world, where a competitive consumerist culture has invaded the church, pastors are often expected to be an idealistic combination of captivating motivational speaker, savvy executive/administrator, and extraordinary counselor.  But the call to be a pastor is unique.  There is no other vocation like it. Veteran pastor Hardy Clemons reminds us that the church is to be “more family than corporation.”  Clemons reminds pastors and churches of their peculiar mission: Our goal is to minister: it is not to show a profit, amass a larger financial corpus or grow bigger for our own security. The ultimate goals are to accept God’s grace, share the good...
The Health Care Crisis in Churches

The Health Care Crisis in Churches

I don’t know when it began, but the move to shift the cost of benefits from churches to ministers has unfolded at an alarming rate. The driver of all of this is rapidly escalating health care cost, namely health insurance. What was once a staple benefit for most employees is quickly eroding in the American workplace. The US Congress is fully aware of the problem, which is why a few years back they passed the bi-partisan Affordable Care Act. The ACA provides the opportunity to purchase health care benefits for millions of previously uninsured adults and children. President-elect Trump has promised to repeal the ACA his first day in office. Latest reports indicate that it will, in fact, be repealed; but the repeal will be delayed for some years until they can figure out what to do in its place. Meanwhile, far too many ministers are left twisting in the wind wondering how they will provide health care for themselves and their families. Last month I asked some churches to share with me just how they went about providing these benefits. Of the 42 churches that responded, the results were all over the spectrum of possibilities from churches that still offer full family coverage for all ministers to one church that noted ‘we just decided to get out of the insurance business’. Inequities abound. Influencing where a church is on the spectrum are a myriad of forces. Primary among them are shrinking church finances. While loathe to cut missions, church programs and salaries, and while required to pay property and casualty insurance as well as utility and building costs;...
Confessions of a Middle-Aged Pastor

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Pastor

Thirty seven years ago this past month I was called to my first church staff position at the age of 18.  Thinking about those early beginnings has led me to reminisce about the peculiarity of my calling and my pastoral journey. Now, at age 55, I am a middle-aged pastor. My how time flies! Middle-aged is an extremely relative term. A recent article in The Huffington Post defines middle-aged as beginning at age 35 and ending around age 58. In that case, I am upper middle-aged. Regardless of the definition, I suppose I am complimented by the term “middle-aged” because I have reached that central season of life with exceptionally good health, with my sanity intact, and I still enjoy attempting to fulfill my calling. However, it does occur to me that the way I see life and faith and church through the lenses of a middle-aged pastor is rather unique.  I am neither a militant traditionalist nor a rabid post-denominationalist.  I am not a hard-core fundamentalist or a soft-hearted liberal.  I reject these kinds of labels as highly unnecessary and mostly inaccurate.  My aim is to emulate the attitudes and actions of Jesus, whose mindset and mission cannot be contained or described by any one label. In the rural context of my home church, I “felt the call” to ministry at age sixteen and preached my first sermon two weeks later.  Since that time there have been hurdles and a few monumental challenges along the way, but overall I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve alongside some good folks in some great places. If nothing else,...
“Do You C.A.R.E. Enough?”

“Do You C.A.R.E. Enough?”

Since 1944, Hallmark greeting cards have been advertised with the famous tagline, “When you care enough to send the very best.”  Whether encouraging soldiers overseas, cheering up the sick, celebrating the graduate, or expressing your love to the one you’ve chosen to spend your life with, Hallmark promises to help you to be the kind of friend or parent or spouse that you truly want to be… when you care enough to send the very best. What about the kind of church staff team member that you truly want to be?  I don’t think I’ve seen a card for that in the Hallmark store.  Not yet, anyway.  Give it time. Until then, there are other ways you can be intentional to C.A.R.E. enough; to take the time and the energy to do the things that deepen relationships and build the kind of trust that is foundational to everything else that you do as a team. Celebrate How do you celebrate as a staff? In the Genesis creation account, God stopped at the end of each day, looked at what he had done and said, “It is good.”  How many times in ministry do you finish one undertaking or event only to jump right in to the next?  We need the same rhythm in our work that God gave to creation.  To celebrate along the way.  To remind one another that ministry is not a destination, it’s a journey to be enjoyed together. Whether it’s the birthday of a staff team member, sharing the stories of the 7th grade campout, or finding a volunteer to lead the kitchen crew, there’s...
Dr. Randy Ashcraft and Dr. Don Harvey to Join CHC

Dr. Randy Ashcraft and Dr. Don Harvey to Join CHC

Two prominent pastors join the Center for Healthy Churches Consulting Network The Center for Healthy Churches is pleased to announce two new additions to its consulting network. The CHC Consulting Network is comprised of men and women who have a proven track record of success in local churches and a deep love for ministry and the church. The network model allows CHC to make use of an individual’s available time and passion for building up congregational and clergy health. Dr. Randy Ashcraft will join CHC as a Congregational Consultant after an impressive career as pastor, intentional interim pastor, and denominational leader. Most recently, Randy served as Pastor in Residence for the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He has also served as a Leadership Coach for CHC since it’s inception. Currently, Randy is the intentional interim pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk VA. He has significant experience in leadership transitions, congregational visioning and conflict transformation. In thinking about working with CHC, Randy says: “I am honored to become part of the Center for Healthy Churches consulting team. I have deep respect for the integrity, skill, and vision the Center offers to congregations, pastoral leaders, and judicatories through an outstanding and talented team of consultants.  In this season of change, transitions, and rising anxiety in congregational life, I value the opportunity to ‘come alongside’  faithful leaders who are committed to discovering new and invigorating pathways towards health and growth.” Dr. Don Harvey has had extensive experience as a pastor in Virginia and North Carolina, an intentional interim pastor, and as a congregational consultant with the Center for Congregational Health....