Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Bi-Vocational Pastor – “I am NOT a part-time pastor.”

“I am a bi/multi-vocational pastor.”

“What’s that?”

“It means I have other callings I live out in addition to being a pastor.”

“So you’re a part-time pastor then….”

I swear every time I try to explain what I do to people, the conversation always ends up here.  It is true; I am only paid part-time and I don’t spend 40+ hours a week doing stuff for my congregations (well, at least most of the time). Again, the conclusion is always based in the economic, as I asserted in my last post.  I’m part-time out of necessity, since the congregations I serve can only afford to pay me “X” amount of dollars out of their limited resources.

I think the notion of a “part-time” pastor is problematic in today’s context.  Congregations operate from a scarcity mindset – they’re making due with less, which often leads to the church doing less.  There’s not a pastor around to lead and ensure all those things that would normally get done, do indeed get done.  There’s not a pastor around to do all those things that make church run.  In a part-time paradigm, the pastor’s relationship with the congregation is largely negotiated on transactional terms – an agreement of goods and services rendered.  In his book, The Relational Pastor, Andy Root names this idea of pastor as “priest, keeper and manager of divine things and the religious life.” (29) The part-time pastor then, is someone who has been contracted and hired to manage as many aspects of the church’s life and ministry as the finances will allow.  The reality for the church community is that they may have to take on some of the responsibilities the pastor typically did.  However, there is little to no conversation about the congregation’s ownership of the communal life and mission of the church.  It never discerns its place within the larger context it serves, nor what God might be calling them to as  on their own terms as Christian community.  The congregation never explores its identity and apart from the pastor.

The notion of “part-time” pastor, without this discernment of identity and mission, actually hinders the congregation’s hearing of God’s call to be church.  It also creates an unhealthy longing for a future borne out of fear of survival and shame-based failure.  Congregations bend in on themselves, preoccupied with their scarcity, fixated on trying to maintain a nostalgic, outdated model of church that simply cannot be recovered.  They dream of the day when someday they’ll be able to afford a full-time pastor, and once again, they’ll really be a fully functioning and contributing church.

Bi-vocational pastors are not part-time pastors.  They offer a gift to the church and congregations borne out of  the theological grounding of a singular vocational identity formed in baptism, lived out in multiple vocational roles.  In baptism we have been raised up from death into a new identity, free to live into the spirit-given gifts and relationships in which God calls us to participate in.  There’s nothing “part-time” about that vision of life – in fact, it’s a pretty full plate!

That is the heart of bi-vocational pastors and their ministry.  There are distinct advantages over a “part-time” pastor model.

The congregation forms an identity, vision, and mission independent of the pastor.  I think there’s a tendency that still exists for congregations to form their identity and ministry dependent on the pastor.  The congregation, therefore, usually ends up adopting and assimilating to the identity and interests of the pastor, not the community’s (both Christian and surrounding context).

It is possible that congregations calling part-time pastors do have a sense of identity and mission that they own 100%.  However, I do think congregations looking for a bi-vocational pastor do ask a set of completely different questions that congregations who seek part-time pastors ask.

The part-time pastor congregation asks:
What will the pastor be able to do?
Will the pastor be able to meet our needs with their limited time?
What things do we have to eliminate or compromise since there won’t be a pastor around as much?
What do we have to do to (growth) in order to get back to a full-time pastor?

The bi-vocational pastor congregation asks:
What role will the pastor play within our congregation and ministry?
What does the pastor offer to our community with their presence?
What is the focus of our communal life and mission to the surrounding context?
How do we utilize our existing resources in a way that is responsible and accountable to our identity and mission?

These set of questions differ in that congregations see bi-vocational pastors as a resource and tool for the congregation’s mission, rather than standard and measure of it.   A part-time pastor’s effectiveness will always be measured by growth and the amount of time spent focused on the congregation and congregational tasks.  Bi-vocational pastors’ effectiveness is measured by the engagement of the congregation’s people.  The bi-vocational pastor serves as an advisor, helping congregations assess the present context, the church’s identity rooted in scripture, tradition, and calling, and the integrity of its ministry in in living and communicating gospel to the world.

Such an understanding of the pastor leads to the understanding that the pastor’s calling is a calling to witness and serve the world, not just to tend to the religious community.  The pastor’s calling is first and foremost a Christian calling to discipleship, and must always be thought of this way.  It is distinct from other callings, but in character is no different from the call to vocation for any Christian called to discipleship.  Bi-vocational pastors, due to their multiple roles and activity, embody Christian discipleship, and communicate it to others through their identity and action.  They serve within the community of faith as pastor in the traditional sense, yet they serve just as all others are called – out in the world.

My faith is an identity that shapes how I live authentically in the world – as a pastor, husband, friend, uncle, wrestling coach, and Navy chaplain.  My faith isn’t something apart from my life – it’s deeply integrated with it.  I don’t believe that individuals who live out more traditional models of pastor don’t believe the same; however, I do think bi-vocational pastors are more explicit and public in living out faith in this way, and serve as a better example to our communities of faith.  Part-time pastors are not around as much due to reasons of scarcity, and therefore their time away from church is thought of as disconnected from faith.  Bi-vocational pastors are not around as much due to an identity and understanding of their multiple expression of calling; their time is communicated publicly as integrated with faith.

Having a bi-vocational pastor is a missional act by the congregation.  In my experience, the congregations I serve “share” me with the U.S. Navy and the wrestlers I coach.  As a part of the congregations, I become an agent of gospel with them.  The time I spend in those other roles is an extension of their mission to the community around them.  As I minister to military service members and as I mentor and coach my wrestlers, I am an extension of the congregations’ concern and desire to minister to these same communities, witnessing to Christ’s love and grace in a pluralistic setting.  That is by definition what God’s mission for the church is.

Relationships with God and neighbor are shared directly in community with each other, rather than being mediated by the pastor.  Again, the bi-vocational pastor is tool/resource and advisor to the congregation. The congregation has 100% ownership of its communal life and ministry.  Therefore, a pastor isn’t needed to mediate relationships between people, or even with God.  Prayer, education, and ministry can be organized and led by the laity.  The bi-vocational pastor provides guidance and resources to carry those things out.  This is not to say this can’t happen in part-time pastor settings, but usually the mindset is that the congregation is “making due” and therefore usually removes and eliminates religious practices and ministry because of the pastor’s limited time.  The pastor is around less to mediate the relationships, therefore, the relationships (and ministry of the church) tend to suffer.

The bi-vocational pastor’s relationship with the congregation isn’t a transaction of goods and services, but is rooted in vocational identity and communal roles.  In my congregations, there are definitely moments where I put in hours that are “full-time.”  When funerals happen, is an example of that.  However, that is my role within the congregation – I provide care and plan worship that helps people and the community deal with the reality of death and make sense of God’s promises in the midst of it.  There are also moments where I don’t work the hours that match my financial compensation.

As a bi-vocational pastor, I see my role as “full-time” in that I am fully present as the pastor they have called to a specific role in their congregations.  My relationship with the congregations I serve isn’t based on a transaction of goods and services.  If you asked them, I believe most people in my congregations would tell you I’m fulfilling their expectations as pastor – as defined by a distinct role and identity.  This communicates, I believe, that I am fully present relationally versus only partially invested.

There are many other reasons bi-vocational pastoral models are beneficial to congregations.  I will conclude with this final thought: if we shed the typical economic mindset when talking about pastors and congregations, I think a good case can be made that all pastors – regardless of their working status – should be thought of as bi-vocational.  What would it mean if a congregation paid a pastor full-time, but encouraged or even required that their pastor spent 10% of their time living out another expression of their Christian vocation (coach, writer, musician, etc.)?  What would it mean if a congregation paid a pastor full-time, but actually agreed to consider shifting aspects of its communal life (worship, education) and ministry so that the pastor could honor their role as husband and father; wife and mother; partner and parent? (Translation: this does not mean increasing vacation time, an economic decision)

What would it mean for a congregation’s spiritual health and discipleship as the church to think of the pastor as a bi-vocational pastor?

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Monday Morning Preacher (2/23): “Stumbling Blocks”

Text: Matthew 18:15-35.

There are a couple themes to take away from this past week.  The first one is from the text:   Whether 77 or 490 times (seventy times seven) or 150,000 years worth of labor wages, the point is that God’s grace and forgiveness are limitless.  That’s pretty darn good news; gospel you might even say.

But extend that to those “other people” – you know, people who just simply are always offending others, who like to be jerks, who are the reasons we have conflict resolution and grievance policies in the church constitution and bylaws….maybe there should be a limit.  It’s for the good of the community, for relationships, and for them and ourselves.  Sign me up for that boundary workshop training!

While it’s certainly appropriate to set standards for behavior, Jesus is clear on his standards for forgiveness and grace – no limit.  To impose any limit would be to place a stumbling block (see Matthew 18:6) that well, God isn’t a big fan of.

And that’s the question before us: What stumbling blocks do we as church have in place – intentional or unintentional – that keep people from experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness?  What stumbling blocks have we put up that prevent those who Jesus is gathering to himself and to his church from being a part of the church unconditionally?  

That’s the problem I think….more often than not, we think of those “other people” as the stumbling blocks that screw up our notion of church.  And there’s some truth to that statement. The truth is though, that in light of sin, we’re all stumbling blocks of some way – making church something that God never intended it to be.

Grace and forgiveness are the standards of the kingdom of heaven, and the standard of the church.  That means no limits, to terms, no membership class required, we just come…..the community of broken stumbling blocks that Jesus loves and forgives.

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Weekend Word (2/19)

Good luck this weekend, last of the regular season!  I don’t have anything profound for you, as we’re trying to get up to northern VA for the state tournament this weekend.  I do have this for you: “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had not opportunity to show it.  Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  IN any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ~Phil. 4:10-13
 
I’m sure at the end of the season, concerns are there – your own, coaches, parents, etc.  Perhaps putting aside those concerns and remembering the simply truth of that last statement: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Be content in who you are as a person and a wrestler, both strengths and weaknesses, and maybe the strength of Christ free you to be that person and wrestler!
I write these devotionals for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team.  They are currently ranked #17 in NCAA Division I.

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Monday Morning Preacher (2/16): “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

On Sunday, our text was Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration.  The basic idea is that Jesus’ divinity is displayed in full….for readers of Matthew, if you had any doubts who Jesus was to this point, you can put those to rest!

The other story that accompanied this text was the story where Peter scolds Jesus for saying that he must suffer, be crucified, and die.  Jesus scolds Peter right back, and give us the classical verses that I think Christian and non-Christian have heard in some form or another:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple, let them deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow me.”  “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life in my  name will find it.”

Question is: what does this all mean?

There are a lot of answers out there….figure out what your cross is to bear, give away a worldly life for a salvation in a spiritual one, and so forth.  I guess there is a greater question to be considered:

Who do you say that I am?

This question comes about 14 verses earlier….after asking Jesus who people are saying the Son of Man is, he asks them a very personal question: Who do you say that I am?  Who is Jesus….to you?

This is a challenging question because it calls us into the place of vulnerability, honesty, and relationship.  This question is a relational one – who is God to you?  It calls you beyond correct, but impersonal answers like “Lord and Savior; Son of God, etc.”  It calls you to consider your life and what Jesus means to you.

I think that is an important question for you all to consider this week.  When we talk about the cross or losing our lives or Transfiguration, it only truly makes sense when we consider who Jesus is in relationship.  We are above all reminded that Christian faith is a way of life in which we are invited into the relational life with God and neighbor.

That’s the question before you today: “Who do you say that Jesus is?”  Such a deeply personal question…..one that shapes your relationships with family, friends, coworkers; one that shapes how you live in the world honestly and authentically.

So I’d invite you to consider your own personal story…..a time when Jesus became more than just a name on Sundays, the second article of the Creed. Remember when Jesus invited you into this relational life of faith with him, and it changed you personally.

Share your story by commenting here or through email: pastor.adfuller@gmail.com.  I promise to keep full-confidentiality through out!

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Weekend Word (12 February 2015)

A little food for thought: Did you know that there are only 5 weeks left of the season? It’s only 5 weeks to the NCAA National Tournament!  If you think about it, it’s not really not a whole lot of time.  And it’ll fly by faster than you think.

A shortage of time can often put us into panic; we think we simply do not have enough time.  But maybe the real issue is that we have too many things racing through our minds, or a couple things that just seem way to large.  These things occupy our minds and a sense of resignation and frustration set in, and it takes away from our focus and confidence.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is getting ready to leave the disciple and ascend into Heaven, post-resurrection.  It throws the disciples into a panic – what will we do now?  And Jesus assures them with these words “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Matt. 28:20b  
 
Christ is with you in these next 5 weeks.  This is the same Jesus who said, “Cast your burdens unto me.”  As the Psalmist says, “Cast your burdens unto the LORD, and God will sustain you.” ~Ps. 55:22
Christ is with you to the end of the ages……5 weeks is plenty of time.  As you cast those things burdening your mind these days, may God reveal to you in such a way that provides focuses your efforts and mind, that provides the confidence you need for the final push!
I write these devotionals for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, currently ranked #17 in the nation in NCAA Division I.

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“I Am A Bi-Vocational Pastor” – What the heck is that?

I am a Bi-vocational pastor.

“What the heck is that?”  

That’s the sentiment that most people have been giving me, as I’ve decided to change all my social media and networking resources to reflect this.  In fact, I’m going to self-identify as this from now on, I decided.  This isn’t an officially recognized thing in my church denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or a new job, as some have believed with their responses of “Congrats on the new job!”  In fact, the term isn’t even a new thing or concept; it’s been around for awhile.

“Bi-Vocational” has traditionally been understood as a pastor who has another job in addition their job as a pastor.  Sometimes the jobs compliment each other; most of the time they don’t.  It’s popular among evangelical church planters and some denominations even recognize it as a roster in their church.  There are tons of blogs and articles on a “bi-vocational” model being advantageous or disadvantageous; but my concern is that most of the reasons given are usually based on economy, particularly financial.

For evangelicals, this makes sense within their theological framework of a growth-focused ecclesiology.  In an age where resources for ministry are more scarce than ever, paying a pastor full-time usually comes at the expense of money being available for ministry.  So you find pastors who can work two or more jobs……because 1.2 + 1/2 = 1, which means the bills get paid, and the church benefits so it can grow.

But for me, bi-vocational pastor models are much more than that.  In fact, I am probably “multi-vocational” – I’m a pastor to two small parishes.  I’m a Chaplain in the Navy Reserves.  I’m a volunteer wrestling coach at a local HS.  I’m serving as an unofficial chaplain to a college wrestling team.  So, I hang out with people who don’t go to church and don’t even really believe in religious life, for that matter.  I do funerals for wrestling coaches and invite wrestlers to church potlucks.  I get made fun of because my wrestlers think I’m a catholic priest.  My churches get frustrated with me because they forget it’s not in my job description to be in my office, just waiting for them to come with their problems.  However, I don’t think what this means is that I have too many jobs to juggle…..rather, it’s really just one vocation being lived out and expressed in different ways.  Each role informs the others, and ultimately informs who I am as a child of God and a follower of Christ. In fact, I don’t even get paid for some of these vocations. Economy isn’t the sole basis that drives my pastoral identity; rather, most of them are theological. It is these theological reasons I think need to be explored if a case is to be made for bi-vocational pastors.

For me, bi-vocational pastors are needed because we need people who can minister to people in a pluralistic, diverse setting.  We need people who can share gospel and grace with the world when people don’t hold on to denominational identities, much less a Christian one.  There is a lot to understand about how long-standing pastoral and congregational models may not be effective in reaching certain demographics of people in the world.  For me, I think that needs to be explored.  I feel I can explore that because right now, that is who I am – a “bi-vocational pastor.”  It’s how I understand all the things we talk about as church and people of God: discipleship, vocation, mission, evangelism, church, stewardship, witness, and all those other “churchy” words and concepts.  Most important, It’s how I understand and hear gospel in my life as well.

So from time to time, I hope to share my experiences with you as a “bi-vocational” pastor.  I want to share with you how things like evangelism and mission and theology all fit into this way of being pastor.  I guess I don’t so much want to convince you that my way is the “right way,” (Ok, maybe I do a little!) but rather I want to start a dialogue, a conversation.  It’s one I think we need to start having as we look at our church communities and realize if we don’t start asking questions about if the integrity of who we are and what we share is being maintained by how we live it out, we will indeed fade away into irrelevancy.

So I hope you’ll engage the conversation in the days, weeks, and months to come.  I’m still learning.  And really, I could learn a lot from you all as well…..as we try to figure this whole faith in the 21st Century thing out together.

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Monday Morning Preacher (2/9/14): “When compassion gets the best of you.”

The text yesterday was Matthew 14:13-33. I’ll just save you a little time – it’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (or more than 5,000, if you note they did count the women and children) and the story of Jesus walking on the water.

You might know these two stories: Jesus feeds the crowd with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and all are filled and there’s a ton left over; the disciples are caught in a storm, and Jesus walks out to them across the water.  Peter, one of the disciples, tries to walk on the water to Jesus….and he does for awhile.  But then he notices all the other stuff going on around him, and starts to sink.  Good thing Jesus is there….because he saves Peter, brings him back to the boat, and gets in with the disciples.  The storms then reside.

Two great stories, both meaningful in many ways to those of us who trust in Jesus for faith.

But I say them as this: two stories involving crisis: one, there’s a food shortage and two, there’s threatening storms.  But why do things become a crisis in our lives?  When does it happen?  I think, it’s when our feelings get the best of us: our fears, our anxiety, our uncertainty, our hate.  We give into those, and we tend to act out of those fears.  When those feelings get the best of us, then it affects our actions.

I wonder though, what does it mean for the feeling of compassion to get the best of us?  It seems to get the best of Jesus in both stories….and when Jesus acts, something happens.  A miracle happens.  The crisis subsides…..not so much in the way that Jesus makes them magically disappear, but through his compassion acts in such a way to see that we have more than enough, the storms do pass, that we were walking on water all along in the first place.  Jesus’ compassion gets the best of him….and perhaps it gets the best of us as well.  And I wonder, what would happen in our lives if compassion did get the best of us rather than fear, hate, judgment, pride, a sense of entitlement…….

That’s the challenge this week: let compassion get the best of you when a “crisis” comes.  See what happens.  And maybe take a minute to share that with people……either on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even in the comment section of this blog.

What happens when compassion gets the best of you?

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