A few weeks ago someone asked me what my schedule was like, and I laughed out loud. Then I said, “It’s crazy.” Being bivocational means I am up between five and six o’clock most mornings and work nearly seven days a week with few exceptions. Vacations are few and far between, and I don’t know what a lunch meeting is anymore.
I’ve heard some people extol the glories of bivocational ministry, seemingly boasting about how they aren’t in ministry for the money. I have a few questions for those people, the first being, do you not have bills? But that’s a post for another day. The truth is, I don’t feel the glories of my bivocational life very often. I find myself torn, exhausted, and running on empty most of the time. My home is usually a mess, and my personal and family life are often neglected due to the demands of church and work life.
Recently a congregant was in the hospital, and I was unable to visit because I found out about it while I was at my other job, and by the time I got home, he had already been released. I’m grateful it was a short stay, but my inability to be present with him during that time left me feeling defeated.
Being a bivocational pastor is really hard. Most of us aren’t doing it by choice but by necessity, due to astronomical student loans, feeling called to a small parish, or needing to provide insurance for our families. Though most of us appreciate the ways that being in a job outside the church can help us engage the community, we are often still left feeling discouraged, tired, or inadequate. This is my fourth year of being bivocational, and it is still hard. I haven’t learned how to incorporate into my schedule a day off on a regular basis. On occasion, I still write sermons at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. I have not figured out how to train my dog to do the housework for me so I can come home to a kitchen without dirty dishes in the sink. However, I have learned a few things that help in the midst of the mayhem.
1. Physical health is important. The only way to manage a hectic schedule is to have the energy to do so. This means that, even though the schedule is crazy, eating right and exercising are not optional. When I exercise for even just twenty minutes, I feel as though I have given myself an extra hour or two in my day. I have the energy I need to juggle all the tasks that need to be done. Cutting out those twenty minutes for something else often seems enjoyable, but the enjoyment only lasts for a moment.
2. Do not compromise on bedtime. I know I am an adult, but going to bed at the same time every night, even if things aren’t finished, is the best way I care for myself. I know that, if nothing else is accomplished for my physical, mental, and spiritual health, I will at least get enough sleep each night.
3. Learn to say no. I would love to do everything, and I often worry about missing out on opportunities, but I have had to learn to say no. I have had to decline to attend weddings and conferences because I know that adding more obligations to an already hectic schedule isn’t helping me balance my time. When I do have a day off, it is Saturday, so I often have to say no to a lot of things that happen on Saturdays in order to have a Sabbath. Sabbath needs to take priority over other activities, even if those other activities are good.
4. Delegate. I pastor a church plant, so a few years ago, there was no one to delegate to, but now there is! There are talents and gifts present in my congregation that need to be used. This includes incorporating laity into the preaching schedule and delegating various event responsibilities to others. There are some things pastors need to do or attend themselves, and there are other things it’s okay to leave to a representative. Discern well, and learn to delegate.
5. Make time for spiritual development. I’ll admit, I’m not always great at this one, despite being a pastor. It seems that my personal spiritual development can often be the first to take a back seat when things get busy. Making space for prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, journaling, and other spiritual disciplines is vital to my own discipleship. I’ve learned to carry a small Bible with me, or to make sure there’s a Bible app on my phone. I also carry a journal and always have a book on my Kindle that can enhance my own growth. I miss the days when I could sit down with a cup of coffee and read chapters of Scripture at a leisurely pace, but I find that I can use my walk in the morning to listen to podcasts, or ten minutes in the car between appointments to meditate on a specific scripture. These times are helpful and meaningful to my growth and development as a disciple and a pastor.
6. Let go of the guilt. This is probably the most important and also the hardest to do. It is easy to feel guilty. Guilty that we aren’t present at church when we think we should be. Guilty that, while we are working at our other job, we are thinking of all the church responsibilities we need to accomplish. Guilty that we don’t have hours to meditate and pray. Guilty that we have dirty dishes in the sink. Guilty that we just can’t manage it all. Guilty that our families seem to suffer the most. But we cannot do everything, and luckily, we are not called to. We are simply called to be faithful and to serve Jesus with all that we are, where we are. We are called to serve to the best of our ability, and sometimes that means dirty dishes and hurried prayers. But we serve a God who takes our little, our scarcity, our strivings, our hurried prayers in the midst of traffic, and multiplies them into abundance.
I’m not perfect at this bivocational life. I stumble and fall more than I fly, but I am learning to see where God is at work in the midst of the mess, and I’m learning that, even in the mayhem, God takes my faithfulness and grows it into something beautiful for the kingdom.