How do I develop balance as a bivocational pastor?

Balance is nearly impossible to achieve and maintain as a bivocational pastor. However, if you are bivocational, you are not alone. I am a bivocational pastor.

Bivocational pastors are found in rural poor settings as well as urban settings and church plants. Thirty to forty percent of pastors may be bivocational. Even the apostle Paul was probably bivocational. We call him a "tentmaker." According to Barclay, rabbis were expected to have a trade.

A colleague is a bivocational pastor. I asked him what three primary challenges existed for him to find balance. His answer indicated that balance was never fully achieved. He mentioned three issues: (1) time with family, (2) guilt for not covering congregation at all times and (3) exhaustion. I agree.

Time with Family

Most pastors already work longer hours than unions would allow without overtime pay. The national average tends to be in the 50-60 hours per week range for a pastor. It certainly can be more if we are bivocational. Family members may feel they are in competition with God for our time. We can help this situation by blocking off time for a "family appointment" at least once each week. This time does not have to be expensive or intense. It can be fun together. As much as we may fear the struggle to spend time with family, we should fear even more the results of not spending some quality time with our family. Good time management skills are essential to keep family time for our family.

Coverage for the Congregation

My wife reminds me that the Reformation affirmed two things: There is a God and I am not Him. Sometimes a congregation can be like a child demanding attention. It may be very important for the pastor to cover certain situations. However, it may help laity and staff to develop skills and discover gifts by providing their own coverage in some circumstances. I urge you to surround yourself with trusted men and women who are gifted enough to minister in congregational life. Arranging for coverage by others will be good for your congregation and for your family and for yourself.


Recent news articles have documented that Americans are operating on "tired." Sleep deprivation is a common problem. Perhaps you know from personal experience that we tend to answer more critically, be less sensitive and less creative when we are tired. Anger is closer to the surface when we are too tired to figure out another solution. Daniel Spaite, M.D., says in his book, Time Bomb in the Church, "Exhaustion is the short fuse that speeds up some form of eruption" (p. 44). A good night of sleep can be very healing.

Balance is difficult work, but to survive as a bivocational pastor, it is necessary to plan time with family, involve laity and find rest for body and soul.