The Bi-Vocational Pastor: Learning to Let Go

As I was jotting down notes and points to make in this blog post, I came to the conclusion that even if no one else finds this series of posts to be helpful, it has at the very least been extremely beneficial for me. I say this because writing about the bi-vocational pastor has forced me to step back and take an honest assessment of the way I have been doing ministry. It has encouraged me to identify areas of weakness and needed growth. And this has not only come via my own self-assessment, but through the honest feedback of my family and friends. Having said that, it is no secret that a major problem I have always struggled with (among many) is my insistence on doing things on my own. Not in the sense that it has to be done my way, but that I have a hard time letting go of responsibilities. I guess you could call it the prototypical “if you want something done right, then do it yourself” attitude. It’s not that I think others are incapable, but more of an attitude that if I know something needs to be done, I just do it or put it on my list of things to do. However, this has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. For instance, I decided after seeing my brake pads changed only once, I could do it on my own from that moment on without any assistance. To make a long story short, when I took off my calipers, I also detached the brake line, releasing brake fluid all over my garage floor and allowing air to get into the brake line (For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a huge no-no. The air must then be “bled” out of the brake line, and that must be done by a mechanic or someone with much fancier tools than I will ever own). Needless to say, my insistence on doing it myself got me into quite a mess.

The fact is, this is how I’ve been my entire life, even in ministry. As I see needs in the church, whether it be a certain ministry of the church or a building issue, I typically put them on my own “to do” list and carry on about my business. In my last post I wrote about the importance of time management. Sometimes, however, the problem is not simply that we are not managing our time well, it is that we have too much on our plates altogether. And many times (at least in my own situation anyway), this is often because we never stop to ask for help. To be quite honest, this is where I have often found myself, and as I have come to find, it is not healthy for me or the people I serve. Here’s why:

1) As bi-vocational pastors, we already have quite a load on our plates. We not only have the many various aspects of ministry requiring our time and attention, but our job and family as well. Our people know this and they understand this. While we may often feel like we are obligated to do everything, our people know and understand that we simply can’t. By taking on too many tasks and overburdening ourselves, we are taking much needed attention away from other areas that demand a great deal of attention (our own family, sermon preparation, counseling, etc.), failing to give any of those areas the attention they deserve.

2) By hanging on to all of these responsibilities, we are not fostering growth in our people. As pastors, we often feel that as overseers of the church, we have a responsibility to orchestrate everything that goes on in the church. But that is not oversight, that’s overburdening ourselves and failing to empower others. While we are certainly responsible for the various ministries and activities of the church, if we are properly training and empowering our people, we can do more overseeing instead of so much overworking.

3) Trying to do it all on our own is not biblical. Although Jesus, being God, is fully capable of making himself known without our help, he trained his disciples and sent them into the world to do ministry. Paul worked in the same manner in that he trained disciples for ministry and then empowered them with the responsibility to do so (see Timothy and Titus). In Exodus 18 Moses realizes that through the advice of his father-in-law that the burden of judging every dispute of the people of Israel and along with teaching them the statues of God is simply too much for him to handle alone. He then appoints able men to help him carry this burden.

The lesson we (or at least I) must learn, then, is to trust. We must trust that God is working in our people. God has called them and will use them for his glory. We must train them properly and then empower them to serve. We must trust that God is working in us. He has called us to this position and will use us to train our people well and help them grow. And finally, trust in the fact that we cannot do it all. We are not perfect, and like Moses, we are not capable of bearing the entire burden on our own, at least not effectively. If we want to empower our people and see them grow, and if we want to ensure that we are effective in our own ministry context, we must learn to share responsibilities and let go of some of the load.

* A very special thank you to my own father-in-law and fellow elder, Larry Stanley, for his words of wisdom in helping me assess the way I approach ministry.

Robie Day serves as pastor at Grace Brethren Chapel in Piketon, OH, and also serves as the vice president of the Southern Ohio Pastors Coalition. He is a graduate of Shawnee State University (BA), Ohio State University (MA), and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MA).

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