In the last 7 years of ministry, I have learned a lot. I would like to say that I learned these lessons because I was thoughtful and carefully planned each intricate detail to happen just right; but the reality is that most of the stuff I have learned, I have done so through trial and error- more error than anything. Through this system of trial and error, I have made so many mistakes that I have wondered at times if I would ever get anything right. It is in these failures that my identity as a student pastor emerged- an identity rising out of the ashes of the chaos that often characterizes my ministry. It is through these same ashes that I feel God has called me to share my experiences as a bi-vocational student pastor with others who are in similar situations. In the next few weeks, I hope to highlight what I have identified as 6 major themes or truths in the bi-vocational world. I hope these become a source of help for any bi-vocational student pastor who knows the constant struggle of the world where you are only part-time by title and pay.
So, you have been called to be a student pastor. When I think of the enormity of that calling, I often think of the scene in the Disney Classic, Aladdin, where the genie is describing to Aladdin what his life is like. The genie makes the statement that he has “phenomenal cosmic power- itty bitty living space.” If you have been in bi-vocational ministry for any length of time, you know that sums it up- a phenomenal calling on our lives- itty bitty fraction of time to get it done. In fact we could sit here and talk for hours about how little time we have to get anything done in our ministry. It’s that call, however, that drives us to give up our only free time on weekends, work 40+ hour jobs each week only to come home and put in 20-30+ more hours per week at home, church, and events with our students. It’s that call that forces us out of bed on Saturday to go lead a mission project when all we really want to do is sleep in for one Saturday in the year. Well, it’s this same call that I want to focus our attention on in this first installment. As bi-vocational student pastors, we need to understand and embrace our call.
This is a struggle for me- in fact all 6 of these are struggles for me, that’s kind of why I’m writing this. This may be the first time that I am my own audience. My struggle lies in the fact that I want to be in full time ministry, but God has not revealed many details of His ultimate plan for me. I am perfectly happy at City View and there is no doubt that God has me with this great group of students for a reason, it is this very situation where I am learning to embrace my call. Because of my desire to be full time, I do my best to run City View Student Ministries like a full time student ministry. Something wasn’t right though. I was constantly feeling like I was failing. We had a surge in students a couple of years into my ministry and we ballooned up to around 30, but since then I haven’t been able to push much past that number- I felt like a failure. Why weren’t we drawing more people in? What am I doing wrong? I eventually realized that my passion for being a full-time guy was getting in the way of my call. My call isn’t about numbers. My call is about ministering to a small church in the inner city who has very little means and resources, but has a heart for the lost of our community. I may never pastor a student ministry of 100 or even 50, but I might- only if God calls me to it. The day I stopped struggling on a regular basis, is the day I realized and embraced my call to minister to inner city kids in Knoxville and stop worrying about the numbers.
What is your call? Is God calling you to lead a certain demographic of student like He did me? Is He calling you to be a minister to a group of students who might get lost in the crowd of bigger churches? Pray and ask God what He has called you to do and then fulfill that call to the best of your ability. Your call is the only thing you need to fulfill. God has placed all of us where we should be, to accomplish a work that He will bless and use. Don’t waste precious time and energy trying to make your student ministry like others. Understand and embrace YOUR call for YOUR ministry and God will do wonders with it.
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach