Ask almost any minister if he or she is stretched too thin between the responsibilities of home and the office, and the answer is a resounding yes! Ask the same question of bivocational ministers, and the same answer will be given, only louder.
The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide. Most are in small churches that cannot afford to pay a full salary, much less benefits, to staff.
Ralph Kelly, a bivocational minister who works in Focus on the Family's Pastoral Ministries department and also pastors Good News Church (Church of Christ Holiness U.S.A.) in Colorado Springs, says there are definite challenges in juggling two jobs and a family.
"There are times when my jobs overlap. A member of the congregation will call me at the office and want to discuss an issue he or she is struggling with. Sometimes I can spend a few minutes with that person on the phone, and other times I have to ask if I can call back later or refer him or her to a lay person in the church who could offer counsel. When I'm at work, I have a responsibility to dedicate my time and energy to my job."
There are also issues with the care of the congregation and church facility. "There are no paid staff at our church," Ralph says. "If you name a role within the church, my wife and I have probably done it: cleaning, witnessing, leading music, calling on folks."
Ralph says one of the costs of being a bivocational minister is the toll taken on the family. To counteract that negative effect, Ralph and his wife have found ways to make family commitments their first priority.
"The key to keeping my family at the top of my list is my wife, Daisy," Ralph says. "If she wasn't as flexible and giving as she is, I wouldn't be able to succeed as a bivocational minister."
Daisy handles the family calendar, on which every person's activities are written. Ralph calls home to okay any work or church engagement with the family schedule. "We also set aside some family time, usually each week, that nothing can displace. Daisy and I work hard at staying in tune with our four children."
The evening meal in the Kelly household is a mandated family time. Of course, there are times when one of them has to miss it for an approved reason! "Dinnertime is when we can connect on lighter matters," Ralph says, "such as what's going on in our schedules, how a test went, etc. It's during our scheduled evening times that we get into deeper areas, such as our spiritual walks.
"Another thing Daisy and I have committed to, for us and for the health of our family, is a date night. Our dates are on Friday night and can be as uncomplicated as going down to the corner store for an ice cream cone. That one-on-one time is crucial to our relationship and ability to communicate."
Ralph says he is blessed because his children enjoy helping out around the church. Krystal, 17, directs the youth choir, and their son Ralph Jr., 10, plays the drums for worship services. "Our ministry time becomes family time for us," Ralph says. "Whether we're cleaning together or praying together, we're still together!" His other two children live and work in Pasadena, Calif. Nicole, 23, works for a daycare center run by her grandmother. Darnelle, 25, recently graduated from University of California at Berkeley and now works for Cal Tech.
"When I sensed the Lord calling me into ministry seven years ago, I immediately brought Daisy into the process. We sought his will together. And when the call was confirmed in our hearts, we approached the children and told them we'd have to make some adjustments in our family routine. But at the same time, we told them that family was still the No.1 priority for me, and that the Lord would enable me to honor that while taking on new ministry commitments. And he has!"
Post Script: After four years of hard work, Daisy and Ralph just received their bachelors degrees in religious studies from United Theological Bible Seminary in Colorado Springs.
Ralph's Balancing Act
There is one question that pastors do not like to talk about much. In fact, some don’t believe it is even theologically valid to ask it. Should I change careers?
The autumn months can take a tremendous toll on ministry families. If your family's schedule has you spinning, learn how to catch your breath.