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The bi-vocational pastor

By Sam S. Rainer III

I recently attended the funeral of a 95 year-old man. He was a bi-vocational minister. He paid the bills by working as an electrician. But his calling drove him to the tent revivals and churches.

Bi-vocational pastors serve outside the spotlight. In my denomination, however, approximately half of all pastors are bi-vocational. They are many, but they get only a fraction of attention given to pastors of larger churches. They receive little recognition, but they are the workhorses of churches that do much of the heavy lifting.

Though I now pastor full-time, I served for two years as a bi-vocational pastor of a tiny church in central Kentucky. We started with 6 people. It was my first pastorate, and I had no idea what I was doing. I drove two hours one-way to get there. My preaching was awful, and I had to lead music with a karaoke machine while my girlfriend (now wife) played an out-of-tune piano. The church was dying. The people were tired. The building was falling apart. And there was no air-conditioning.

I loved that church. Still do.

The people forgave my less-than-spectacular sermons. I encouraged them to reach outward. And, truly by the grace of God, the little church grew. Not to 500, 250 or even 100—more like 40. But we knew God was working. It was great.

God revealed much to me while I was their pastor. I know I learned more from them than they got out of my sermons. I’ve still got a long way to go, but let me share with you a few things I figured out during my short time as a bi-vocational pastor.

Ministry is not about ideals. I had several ideals, a big vision, and grand hopes for the little church. My plans were not wrong. But the people had heard it all before from other short-term pastors. I learned that before a church family follows the grand vision of a new pastor, you must first love them where they are.

Ministry means working alongside people. One of our first projects was to paint the church and install air-conditioning. If I hadn’t shown up with a paintbrush in hand on work day, then I would have lost the respect of the people. At the end of the work day, the folks gave me the honor of painting the church bell red—it was a big deal.

Ministry requires you to laugh at yourself. I made more mistakes than I had successes as a younger pastor. And the people knew it. You can laugh at yourself and help everyone feel comfortable. Or you can pretend and make everyone feel awkward (or angry).

Ministry means loving people deeply. I will never forget the gifts people gave me when I left the small church. The church was poor, but the people lavished love on us. I didn’t deserve it, but they gave anyway. The love between a church and pastor should be like nothing else. I pray they understand how much I loved them.

I wasn’t a great bi-vocational pastor (or even close), but there are many who have served faithfully for years. They love their churches. Their churches love them. And God’s kingdom is larger because of their faithfulness.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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