Frustrations of a 30YR Old/Millenial Pastor/Coach Stay At Home/Work Dad

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This is part 2 of a post about being a bivocational pastor in a small rural town.  To catch part one click here.

Right at the end of the Track season a lady in our church had her leg amputated at a hospital 2 hours away.  It would have been a 6 hour round trip to get to her and the family was adamant I be there.  Every fiber in my being wanted to go.  However, I couldn’t find 6 hours of free time.  It killed me.  I felt horrible.  In the end some dear saints from our church made the drive to be with her and all was well.  But this story perfectly sums up the frustrations and challenges of my current life.

Most pastors struggle with feelings of inadequacy but us bi-vocational pastors feel super inadequate.  There are frustrations and limitations all around and jobs left half done.  But as I have sought to be as faithful as possible to my calling, I have found each frustration is also an opportunity.  That is the case in the following 5 areas.

Frustration 1: The absolute absence of an 8-5 workday.  Most pastors didn’t do 8-5 when the professional clergy model was popular but there were days when they could pull it off.  There are never days that I could do it.  Track practice starts at 3 everyday.  Fridays are reserved for Track Meets.  The church regularly schedules events on Saturdays and Sundays are, well, Sundays.  During the afternoons my kids need naps and I badly need them to take those naps so I have to be at home for 2 hours while they sleep.  Weeknights are filled with events at the school, in the community or meetings at the church.  I desperately want an 8-5 workday.  I would love it but it is impossible.

The Opportunity: The absence of a “workday” or “workweek” has forced me to rethink a clergy’s job description.  I think one of the weaknesses of the professional clergy model was that it segmented the vocation of the clergy into work time and off time.  I still guard my Sabbath days and I take vacations but they are not “off the clock” times.  The Sabbath days and vacations are every bit a part of my job description as is preaching on Sunday morning.  I am still every bit as much a pastor when I am home reading a book or while I am coaching Cross Country or attending a city council meeting.

Put more practically, the absence of a “workday” means I spend less time worrying about how many hours I “ministered” and focus more on making every moment count for my calling.  The upside of this is I don’t feel guilty (or I shouldn’t) when I don’t “work” 40 hours in one week.  The downside is that I have to think about how I spend even my free time and I definitely have to constantly be asking myself how I am fulfilling my calling at any given moment.

Frustration 2: Pastoral calling suffers.  I think pastoral calling is important but I can’t find time to do it. especially when I am coaching and definitely now that I have 2 kids.  Carting one kid around is difficult enough but taking 2 is near impossible.  My daughter goes to daycare at least once a week and I try to cram as many homes in as possible during that day but more often than not something else comes up and I have to put that person’s house on the list for next week.

The Opportunity:  I think as creatively as possible when it comes to connecting with people.  I send emails, write cards, make phone calls and attend evening community events that I know church people are going too.  I have had meetings in my living room while the kids were sleeping.  And I keep regular office hours every morning so my kids can play in the next room or on the floor of my office while I meet with people.  And usually when someone is the hospital I can find a way to get there if I work hard enough at it.

Frustration #3:  I have no real social life.  Let’s face it, there are not many social events in a small town for a young person.  Everything closes by 8pm and the nearest movie theater, Starbucks and upscale restaurants are a half hour away.  Also, having a master’s degree makes me different from most people my age in town.  In fact my closest friend is 60 miles away and the next ones after that are 170 miles away.

Opportunity:  I am not sure if there is an opportunity here other than taking advantage of clergy conferences, making the 60 mile drive to see my friend at least once a month (some months he comes here) and using Facebook, Twitter, email etc. to stay in touch with as many friends as possible.  I also invite friends to come visit me in my town but few take me up on that offer.

Frustration #4: Student loans.  You read it right yesterday, I pay $500/mo in student loans.  Yes that is overpaying by a few hundred dollars but that over-payment is so worth it, it is almost necessary.

Opportunity: Live by faith and hope.  The reality is I am lucky to be able to overpay them and though I hate sending that money off, I do it knowing that the debt was worthwhile because without it, I wouldn’t have the life I have.  My education was invaluable and it has helped me more than I ever could have known.  Still, I hate those dumb payments.

Frustration #5: Exhausted Sunday mornings.  I know every pastor deals with those Sundays out of the year where they have zero energy but I have more of them.  They increase during the sports’ seasons where many meets happen on Saturdays.  The next day it is everything I can do to get out of bed, go to church, smile at people and give an energized sermon.

Opportunity: God is never exhausted.  I am incredibly inadequate and very limited.  But the one who called me is not.  Even on the Sundays when I have no energy, God is still fully present.  Even on those Sundays when the congregation is half asleep and I have a pillow under the pulpit for when that last person nods off, God is still fully active in our lives and in the world.  My low energy Sundays remind me of that truth.

Therefore, I would actually count these frustrations as blessings because they remind me that the fate of the world (and the church) do not rest on my shoulders.  Instead, I am called to be as faithful as I can be with the details of my situation.  I seek to use every moment to plant tiny, little Kingdom seeds, resting in the hope that God will make them grow.  And certainly God has and does and will continue too.

Confessions of 30yr Old/Millenial Pastor/Coach Stay at Home/Work Dad

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Over the weekend I ran across a number of articles and blogs about bi-vocational ministry, especially as it relates to a rural, small church and its declining (or non existing) budgets.  Since I am a bi-vocational pastor in a rural, small church that doesn’t have or need a budget, I thought I would weigh in.

The challenges affecting the traditional* job descriptions and salaries of professional clergy are many.  There is the declining church membership and declining percentage of giving per church member (source).  There is also the upcoming (or all ready here) clergy shortage (source).  Then there are greater theological and ethical concerns which my friend Marissa brings to bear here.  Outside the church there is the decline of the middle class and the vast changes in the 21st century work force, which you can read a little about here.  There is also the crisis of higher education (source).  Lastly there is the reemerging factor of the working mother (or put more politically correct, the double income family).

To try to tackle all of these issues in one blog or article would be a weary task and one for which I don’t have time.  However, all these issues and more certainly come to bear in my own biography.  So my goal today and tomorrow is to throw my narrative into the mix and use the hard date of my life to offer clarity, advice, predictions but most of all compassion.

As my unnecessarily clunky title suggests, I am a 30 year old bi-vocational pastor and father.  I pastor a church of about 90 people where only about 45 show up on any given Sunday.  My church is in a rural small town in Eastern Oregon.  It is a fairly impoverished town with 10 percent of teenagers homeless at any given time.  My wife works full time for a university in a town 20 miles away and we can only afford daycare once a week.  Our families live nowhere near us so my 6 month old son and 2 year old daughter accompany me everywhere.  The church lets me live in a rather large parsonage that nevertheless is aged and has many structural problems.  They also throw in a cash salary and a modest spending account.  I receive no benefits because my wife gets them through her job.  In addition to being a pastor I am also paid a fairly decent salary for coaching the local High School’s Cross Country and Track teams.

My wife and I came out of college and seminary okay with just $30,000 in student loans.  We pay $500 a month on them and hope to have them paid off by 2020.

With that basic biographical information in mind, I want to say that I love my life.  I am doing what God called me to do and I am doing it where God called me to do it.  I am doing what I spent 8 years in higher education to do and I have felt nothing but confirmed in my calling since I got here.

There are some great blessings in my current life.  There are also severe limitations and unique challenges that I will tackle tomorrow.  But today I want to count off some of the blessings.

1) My local congregation is incredibly understanding.  I have friends who are pasturing other churches and they are not so lucky.  One congregation told their pastor that if he took another job in order to pay the bills they would reduce his all ready meager salary, which ironically would mean he would have to take a full time job over a part time one and give the church even fewer hours.  My church couldn’t be more different.  They arranged for me to be a coach before I got to town.  They helped my wife find a job.  They have never once complained about me missing ministry work because I have been tied up in family or coaching duties.  They are an incredible blessing.

2) My wife’s job doesn’t just pay the bills but helps her keep her sanity.  My wife grew up in a suburban town and has had a bit of trouble adjusting to such a rural setting.  However, she is one of those wonderful women who is called to be a working mom.  Not only does her job save the church $1000/mo (which is a fifth of the annual budget), but her job gives her friends, a sense of purpose, professional development and that coveted sanity.

3) I love coaching.  Being a coach is an extension of my calling.  In fact, whenever bi-vocational ministry came up in seminary I fretted because I thought I didn’t have another vocation.  So it was quite miraculous when God opened up the opportunity to use my distance running knowledge in town.  When I get to teach teenagers how to train hard, eat right and treat their bodies well, I am not just doing a second job.  I am shepherding them into a better way of life.  Also, the connections with kids and parents in the community have been invaluable and helped me pastor my own church flock a bit better.

4) I would be a pastor for free.  When my church board hired me they guaranteed me I wouldn’t starve to death.  And that was really all I needed.  In fact I didn’t really take the financial package into account.  I was more worried about whether God wanted me here and I figured if God wanted me here the rest would fall into place.  And it has.  God hasn’t let us starve and we have more than we need.

5) The ladies who babysit my kids have become surrogate grandparents.  I can’t say enough about the women who have stepped up to watch our children while I coach and pastor.  The conversations with them and the ability to speak godly peace and truth into their lives would not happen without my kids.  To be sure, they also speak a fair amount of godly peace and truth into my life as well.

So my life is choatic but not overwhelming, challenging but not impossible, difficult but quite enjoyable and I thank God for such a high calling and the means to carry it out.  However, I do think the church needs to rethink the professional clergy model and tomorrow I aim to do just that.  Click on back then!

*Note: I use the word traditional here very loosely.  What we understand to be the traditional salary and description of a professional clergy is only about 50 years old.  In a 2,000 year old tradition that isn't long.