“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 2:3
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
The Clueless Pastor
I’ll never forget attending a conference in Washington two months into being a lead pastor. It was the annual conference that Pastor Wayne Taylor and Calvary Fellowship put on, this time at Warm Beach in Washington state. When me and my wife received the invitation for the conference I looked at Jen and said, “I need to get trained. We’re going to this conference!”
Because one of the conference speakers had to cancel last minute there were a few hours that needed to be filled during the conference schedule. Much to my dismay as an introvert, pastor Wayne decided that during the open times we would pass around a microphone and give each pastor the chance to stand up in front of the five or six-hundred people in attendance and request prayer for something specific in their lives or ministry.
I was really sweating it as the microphone was making its way to me. I didn’t even feel qualified to be standing with the other pastors having only been “official” for a couple months. Honestly, I even thought about trying to sit down and hope the mic would pass me without anyone noticing. But rather than lie, I decided to stand and just be open when my turn to speak came. So when I got the mic I simply said, “Hi. My name’s Kellen and I’m from Salmon, Idaho. I’m twenty-five years old. I’ve been a pastor for two months and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.” To my surprise the whole place broke out in spontaneous applause and laughter! After the laughter died down I added (while shaking mind you), “Please just pray for continued confidence in the Lord’s enablement.” And that’s what pastor Wayne prayed for me along with the other people.
“Confidence in the Lord’s enablement.” I now believe that prayer request was Spirit-born. I thought I was just being nervous. But looking back now I can see that is exactly what I should’ve been praying for then, and what I need to be continually relying upon and praying for now seven years into vocational ministry.
Real Ministry = Pressure
Ministry is intense. To be sure some seasons are more like a pressure-cooker than others, but ministry always brings with it heat and trials. One of the most challenging times of my life was when I was pastoring a Calvary Chapel in rural Idaho. During one particular season I was taking 20 credit hours from Calvary Chapel Bible College by correspondence, preaching Sunday mornings in Acts, leading the midweek study on Wednesday evenings in Genesis, teaching the new believer study on Tuesday nights, leading the leadership training class on Saturday mornings, doing all the administrative and counseling work for the church during the week, planning/leading worship and running the team rehearsal on Wednesday afternoons, learning how to be a pastor and a new dad at the same time, and working to stay fruitful and invested as a husband. Looking back at that time I know I should be dead. The only explanation for why my wife and I are still in the game is the supernatural enabling grace of the Holy Spirit!
Turning up the Heat
If that season of ministry was tough, church-planting was brutal. Working forty hours a week, commuting nearly an hour one way to start shifts which were at times as early as 4:30 am (harsh for a non morning-person), leading a men’s study on Tuesdays, a house church gathering on Wednesdays, preaching on Sundays, continuing to learn how to be a dad and stay invested as a husband, hear from God about location, vision, new leaders, and overall church-plant strategy were some of the many things I had to chip away at during our first year planting Refuge Church. I praise God for the original planting team of five other adults and our three kids that were there helping through this process in so many ways. With their help planting was brutal. Without their help I dare say it would’ve been impossible.
This month marks one year that I’ve been supported full-time by Refuge Church. I’m so thankful to be in this spot. I certainly don’t feel like I have any more time than I did when I was bi-vocational. But I can at least spread my time with greater flexibility so as to get things done. As I write this today I’m incredibly thankful for the unexpected but fast growth of our church. I’m thankful that we are planning our seventieth baptism since launching two years ago which will take place in March. I’m thankful for so many blessings of God that we’ve seen. But one of the things I’m most thankful for are the co-laborers God has raised up to assist me. God has given me seven other good men that are carrying the load of oversight. One of them has already been ordained as a pastor at Refuge Church. The six others are in our elder/pastor assessment and training process sharing the load with us.
As we wrap this post up I want to give encouragement to these men and others who are in shoes similar to theirs, and similar to those I’ve been in. I want to encourage the bi-vocational guys with a few things that the Spirit has spoken to me at different times to keep me going when the pressures of jobs, school, family, and ministry have seemed too much in different seasons. When the flames of trial are licking our face, we remember…
1. God is Sovereign
When you’re bi-vocational your tendency is to stress over the fact that you can’t get done what you want to get done because you don’t have enough time in the day. The enemy uses this dynamic to get us focused on “going full-time” so we can have more time. Satan uses this to get us frustrated and discontent. God’s sovereignty is the antidote to this unhealthy place of heart. Do what you do have time for to the best of your ability and entrust the rest to Jesus, the real pastor of the church. It is His harvest and work. He can give you more time, a different job, or turn the hearts of those you feel may be holding you back. If He isn’t doing those things than your job is to do what you can do faithfully and then rest in God’s sovereignty.
I recently heard a pastor say that though many preachers deliver beautiful and powerful messages on the sovereignty of God with their mouths, they preach a message of open-theism with their lives. They say God is sovereign but their stress and micro-management preach that they are sovereign. They say God is sovereign but their anger toward those not giving them their God-promised opportunity preach that those over them are sovereign. So, our wives and families hear us preach God’s sovereignty in the Bible study, but at home they know dad believes everything really depends on him. Rest in God’s sovereignty men.
2. God is Sanctifying You Today
This one can hurt. Instead of asking “When will this end?” every five seconds when our circumstances are hard we need to spend more time asking “What is this for?” God is more concerned about what He is doing in you through the instruments of life’s trials than He is concerned about what’s getting done through you. There is no such thing as wasted suffering and pain for God’s people. As hard as things can seem at times, if God is letting us go through trials it is because He intends to do something in us through them that will be more beneficial to us than it would have been had He let us skip the trial altogether.
3. God is Preparing you for Tomorrow
The lessons we learn through ministry pressure and suffering are not just about us, but they’re about those we will lead in the future. If you know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet as a poor and over-worked bi-vocational pastor, you will be a great comfort to those you counsel later in ministry who are struggling to make ends meet. If you learn how to trust God through working a job you don’t enjoy with difficult co-workers, you will be a better counselor to others in similar situations. When we suffer God is making us useable for future ministry opportunities. As Dustin Kensrue wrote, “As long as we live every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart.”
4. God has given you a mission field
God could have you in any job. He could have opened any opportunity He wanted for you. But He gave you the job you have. You are sent to your workplace every day as a missionary. Until and unless God’s purpose for you being in the mission field of your job is complete, you will stay there. How you stay there is up to you. Will you be there grudgingly and complaining? Or will you go to work every day with a sense of discovery praying toward fulfilling the purpose and touching the people Jesus has sent you to fulfill and bless?
5. Jesus is your Sabbath
The truth is that if you’re not satisfied in Jesus as a bi-vocational pastor then you won’t be satisfied in full-time ministry either. I’ve chased the carrot of ministry opportunities only to discover that nothing I attain, and no opportunity of service I receive ever satisfies my heart if that’s what I’m expecting it to do. I’ve had the chance to be involved with many types of ministry that most guys my age wait for years to enjoy. But you know what my heart says every time I get to fulfill a ministry dream? “Well, it’s still not Jesus.” Jesus is our Sabbath and our soul rest. We tell people no job, experience, or relationship will satisfy them and that the hole in their heart must be filled with Jesus to be healed, and then we treat ministry as our idol expecting it to do what only Jesus can. Let’s practice what we preach and be satisfied in Jesus alone.
To all my bi-vocational homies out there- Hang in there! We love you, and so does your God! God is stretching your capacity. He is making you an instrument of grace for future use. He is doing heart surgery in you so you can be spiritually healthy. He is sovereign and also your sabbath rest. Our goal isn’t to “go full-time.” Our goal is to fulfill whatever role Jesus has for us to play in spreading His kingdom, die faithful, and enter into the joy of our Master with the title of “faithful servants.” My prayer for you today is the prayer I requested for myself at that conference. I’m praying for you that today and for the rest of your days you will enjoy continued confidence in the Lord’s enablement to fulfill your ministry, faithful to the end.