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.