The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

I wrote this for the Center for Healthy Churches. It was also picked up by, which was kind of cool.

It was inspired by some things I learned as a part of the pilot program for CBF’s Ministerial Excellence Initiative.

The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

The treasurer reported that everything looked good. Giving was slightly exceeding our budgeted needs and financial obligations. Immediately, there were smiles all around the room. Everyone relaxed, happy to know that we didn’t have to worry and stress about our church’s budget this time. Everyone, that is, except me.

We knew it was going to happen. The grant money that fully funded my position would not last indefinitely. Our small church wasn’t in decline. In fact, we were seeing growth and our participants were generous and sacrificial givers, many of them going well beyond a traditional tithe. Nevertheless, we knew that significant financial changes were inevitable. A few months before, I had volunteered to essentially become “bivocational.” I had a few other projects that I wanted to pursue and I was willing to see if they could generate some income to cover the resulting shortfall. It seemed like a win-win situation. The church was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The unintended consequence of that shift was that what began as a challenge for our entire congregation essentially became my problem to solve alone. It was no longer a case of “This is our challenge. We’ll solve it together.” Instead, it was assumed that I had it covered. I was now responsible for making up the difference between our current level of giving and my intended salary. I reduced my work hours accordingly and the church continued with minimal disruption to our regular worship schedule.

While it is easy to count the cost of financial adjustments that result in a loss of materials, programs, or staff positions, it is harder to see measures that are essentially seen as a “tightening of the belt.” Those measures can be largely invisible. Like many things, we frequently fail to count the emotional impact of the decisions we make.

Bivocational ministry is frequently seen as a perfect solution for churches struggling to survive in what may become a post-denominational culture. There are many benefits to having a minster in the workforce outside of the church. Not only does it ease the financial burden of the church, but it allows the minister to be more deeply engaged in the community. It also requires laypeople to rise to new challenges and discover their own spiritual gifts. The minister can be seen as more relatable, a fellow participant in the workforce. In spite of these perceived benefits, we tend to underestimate the impact of financial stress and working multiple jobs on professional ministers.

Working on multiple projects at once can be enjoyable and appealing in many ways. Personally, shifting focus periodically over a variety of projects works well for my brain. I suspect that many people in professional ministry enjoy the ability to engage in a wide variety of tasks. We are frequently called to be counselors, teachers, writers, designers, administrators, and janitors all in the same day. Pastoral ministry is rarely boring.

On the other hand, financial stress has a unique way of short-circuiting my emotional energy. When I feel the press of debt or the uncertainty of the next paycheck, it is nearly impossible to center myself or gather the emotional energy necessary to truly minister to others or open myself up to the holy opportunities that may present themselves in the course of the day.

Bivocational ministry is a great way to meet the financial needs of the church in a changing and uncertain future, but it is not the perfect solution for every situation. There will always be a price to be paid. Sometimes the cost is obvious – diminished services, limited availability, and things that “fall through the cracks.” Other costs can be largely invisible to the church but may have a significant impact on the personal life and effectiveness of the minister.

In an environment where the burden of income is increasingly seen as the pastor’s problem and not the congregation’s responsibility, it is vital that we create new and innovative support structures for those called to ministry.

The Foreigner

Another theatre project. This time, I’m directing Larry Shue’s The Foreigner for Gulfport Little Theatre. I love project like this because you can do a little bit of everything. Here’s my poster for the show:

Below is the “before and after” shot of the set. The top image is my original concept design made in Sketchup. The bottom is the finished set. I’m very pleased with the result. I had lots of help with both the construction and the decorating, but I love seeing something from my brain brought to life.

Lastly, the local TV stations are pretty good about supporting the Arts. Here’s some coverage we got on one of the local news shows:

I Like My Echo Chamber

We’ve heard a lot lately about how we have filtered our social media feeds to hear only what we want to hear. We have created echo chambers for ourselves and that’s bad.

I say not so fast. That depends on your echo.

My criteria is simple – is this person a jerk? Do they substitute snark and sarcasm for intelligent thought? Do they view cruelty as just another brand of humor? If their public discourse generally belittles others, then I try to have minimal contact with them.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time cultivating my Facebook feed and social media contacts. I’m long past accepting every friend request that comes my way just because we come from the same home town or spent a few hours together on a project. I’ve unfriended many folks, both Christian and atheist, conservative and liberal. I have “unfollowed” a great many more, mostly because the social cost of unfriending them is too high (as in, “You may be family, but I still don’t have to listen to your crap.”). There are several more that deserve to get the boot and probably will the next time I’m feeling feisty and motivated.

Along with many other people today, I grieve an election that didn’t go the way I would have liked. In fact, it probably went sideways for me months ago when civil discourse was replaced with anger and fear. HOWEVER, my social media feed remains largely respectful, kind, and in many ways still hopeful. Almost no one is gloating. Many people are expressing deep, raw feelings of hurt, but I mostly see people reaching out to comfort and support them. Why? Because that’s what I have created. This is the kind of echo chamber I want for myself. I like what these people have to say and surrounding myself with them makes me a better person.

My echo chamber tends to support the Gospel over Christian politics, integrity over winning, discourse over hyperbole, patriotism over nationalism, and compassion over fear and anger. If I have to give those things up in order to experience “diversity,” then no thanks.

So, here’s what I have to say to my echo chamber:

  • The most frequent command in the Bible? “Fear not.” I don’t know how this will turn out, but I know how it will end.
  • If one of my friends needs someone to do their wedding, regardless of who they want to marry, then I’m open to being asked.
  • If you need a Christian community that will accept you for who you are and yet genuinely seeks to wrestle with and understand what it means to follow Christ, then I know such a place.
  • If you need someone to go to the bathroom with you, walk with you, or generally help you feel less afraid, feel free to ask me.
  • There is a shortage of racial and religious diversity in my life. This has less to do with my echo chamber and more to do with the fact that I’m an introverted homebody.
  • I’m human, which means I’m mostly a self-absorbed screw-up. If you have the same view of yourself, then we have something in common from which a dialogue can grow, regardless of the topic.
  • I love my country, but I’m not always proud of my country.
  • I like to be relaxed and frequently irreverent, but I want to continually call myself to a higher standard of compassion and respect for others. This becomes particularly difficult at Walmart sometimes.

Through it all, I’m glad I have my echo chamber. You’re good people.
(And for those who remain asshats but I have not yet unfollowed, that day may still come.)

Who’s Your Scrum Master?

Originally Posted at the Center For Healthy Churches Blog:

The game of rugby uses an iconic formation called a Scrum, players with arms linked around one another in a tight formation, working in concert to move the ball a few feet forward against an opposing group from the other team. From a spectator’s view, it looks like an unruly knot of violent pushing and shoving with no real goal. In reality, the actions of the scrum are governed by strict rules of conduct and the participants are specially trained players with specific roles. Those requirements not only maintain the competitive fairness of the situation, but protect the players from serious injury. While we see only their hunched forms in a large tangle of bodies, the players are doing what they do best – responding to an ever-moving ball in a tightly controlled situation with a very specific goal in mind.

Similarly, the field of software development adopted the use of the word scrum to describe project development teams and their methods. A project scrum focuses a team of highly skilled professionals on a goal-oriented outcome which may continue to change and shift as the project develops. This is a relatively new method of project management. Traditional project management principles center on the development of a long-range plan which includes a detailed, clearly defined finished product, and which attempted to identify every change and pitfall that could occur along the way. That sort of plan usually leads to confusion and frustration, as project goals and external circumstances begin to shift as soon as the project begins. By contrast, a scrum attempts to remain nimble, responding to new goals and requirements as they come in, and focusing on specific short-term goals to move the project along towards the finished project.

There are many roles involved in a scrum project, but one of the most challenging and nuanced is the role of the scrum master. In a role that falls into the “more art than science” category, the scrum master takes on the gentle but firm role of servant leadership and communicator-in-chief.  A scrum master does not set the requirements of the finished product and they do not lead the team in the details of implementation. Instead, the scrum master is tasked with maintaining the broad vision for the future while removing the impediments that might threaten the work of the development team.

When I was more active in professional project management, I used to say that I stood in the gap between those that knew what they wanted and those that could get it done. The best gift I could give to a development team was to say “Tell me what you need to make this happen and I’ll get it and then get out of your way.” On the other end of the project, I could go to the primary stakeholder or client and say “Here’s what you need to know in straightforward, non-technical language. How does that match your vision and what has changed?” It’s a soft skillset, not necessarily rigid with lists and tasks, but nimble and responsive, able to find solutions with more finesse and positive results. That kind of leadership deals with people and relationships over schedules and tools.

Does your church have a five year plan? A ten year plan? What good is it? Most plans like that are created to satisfy an underlying fear that “we need to be doing something.” They are developed, filed, and promptly forgotten or overrun by circumstances. Do you know what your ministry setting will look like in one year, much less five or ten? Can you predict the disruptions of a loss in personnel, a change in the community, shifts in political climate, or natural disasters?

Instead, ask yourself – who do you want to be? Skip the juvenile and overly simplistic answers and do the really hard work of discovering what God is dreaming about the future of your church. Create a vision of the future that has passion. People want to be a part of something passionate and meaningful. Then, allow your church to organize itself around that vision. Let people bring their own gifts that can move you step by step towards that future.

We are not following a map, but a compass. We can rarely see beyond the next few steps of our journey, so it doesn’t make sense to plan further than that. Instead, we have a general direction pointing us like a compass needle. Rely on those leaders among you who can function as scrum masters. Allow them to stand in the gap, continually pointing us towards our future and communicating. Let them remove the challenges that stand between the people that know how to get things done and their immediate goals. Finally, let them continue to keep us nimble, responding to the shifting landscapes in which we worship and serve.

Who’s your scrum master? If you need guidance along the journey, call us at The Center for Healthy Churches. We’ve got a host of scrum masters waiting to help you.

All The World Is a Stage

jay_doorNot really. In this case, my whole world was a stage for about 3 months. Particularly, Gulfport Little Theatre’s stage and its production of Mel Brook’s The Producers.

An awesome opportunity for me in my community theater life, I got to play Max Bialystock, one of the title roles. I even went so far as to shave my face, grow my hair out into a combover, and dye it black. I’m glad to be starting to look like myself again.





Latest Crackpot Scheme – Learn By Going

I’ve had the idea for immersive learning experiences for a while now, birthed mainly from my frustration that all of the cool internships, alternative spring breaks, and similar learning experiences seem to go to college students. There’s some faulty logic out there where people think that you should stop learning or trying new things after a certain age. Poppycock, I say.

Luckily, I’m at a place where I can give this a try, and my church is willing to give me enough rope to hang myself.

Learn By Going

Because There Aren’t Enough Opinions Out There Already

So, from Friday on, I was pretty much “off the grid” and all the headlines blew up. It’s been interesting catching up.

Usually, I like flying under the radar and being inconspicuous. I don’t do bumper stickers, yard signs, tattoos, or green / blue / red / rainbow Facebook profile pics. Now that I am once again serving in professional ministry, I sometimes feel pressure (from myself) to have an “official opinion” about stuff. So, here’s mine:

I decided a long time ago that God does not call me to be the morality police to this world. I think we are specifically called to (1) love God, (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves, (3) make disciples, and (4) announce the presence of God with those who need to hear it. We were never given the job of being prophets, proclaiming the ways in which we think others violate our understanding of God’s laws. That’s hubris. Plain and simple.

Instead, I am called to do things like love others and seek mercy and justice. That kind of sucks, because that’s a lot harder to do than telling other people that I think they are full of crap.

I choose to try to give others my love and respect to my fullest potential. I choose not to seek ways in which I tell others how they are violating God’s laws when I fail to meet God’s standards of excellence on a regular basis by merely existing.

I choose Love. I choose Love no matter whom you choose to marry. I choose Love because Love was given to me unconditionally and I have no choice but to respond accordingly (Which again, kind of sucks, because I’m not that good at it).

One day, I will have to face the creator of the universe and answer for the way I have conducted my life. It won’t be pretty. Like Job, I may have to face the crushing power of the infinite and declare that “I have uttered what I did not understand.”

But also like Job, I hope that I will be affirmed for questioning things that seemed unjust and unfair in this life. Because if God looks at me in the end and says “I didn’t want you to choose Love. I wanted you to judge the world and hold it accountable to rigid legalism and poorly understood ancient writings,” then I’m going to have to say “Well, that’s some bullcrap, right there.”

About The Mississippi Flag


Today, I added my name to the following letter regarding the Mississippi state flag.

To: The Clarion-Ledger Editorial Board
Date: June 24, 2015

We are each Baptist pastors in Mississippi. We recognize all forms of racism as sin, and we acknowledge the sin of racism in our own hearts, in our Baptist churches, and in the people of this good but wounded state. We lament the violence and the bloodshed and also the everyday dehumanization that are the result of this vicious sin, and as the prophet Jeremiah said of Rachel, we “refuse to be consoled” so long as our brothers and sisters face any degradation.

As we seek the peace and the well-being of this good, but fractured state, we call upon Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislature to act immediately to change our state flag.

The current flag contains a powerful symbolic reminder of a war, waged by our own ancestors to maintain a system of chattel slavery. It evokes a history of Jim Crow subjugation of black people. It has been flown as a sign of defiance of integration, and we believe that such defiance is sinful.

In our own baptisms we promised to turn from sin and renounce evil, so as pastors we also call upon all believing Christians in Mississippi to make their voices heard and to stand up to evil. We all know that we inherit a legacy of looking away while evil has been perpetuated in our midst. Now is the time to turn away from this symbol, to open our eyes and mouths, and to speak up for what is right and true.

May our words and deeds unite with our most important state symbols to express the hospitality of our good state, creating a place of welcome for all people.

Rusty Edwards, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg
Jay Lynn, Pastor of St. Martin Baptist Fellowship in Gulfport
Bert Montgomery, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville
Chuck Strong, Pastor of Olive Branch Fellowship in Olive Branch
Gabe Swann, Pastor of Church Arise in Decatur
Stan Wilson, Pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton

When given the opportunity to add my name, I didn’t hesitate, but it was not a decision made in haste and without thought. Beyond incorporating a time of recognition and remembrance of the massacre in Charleston in our Sunday worship, I was hoping for an authentic and appropriate opportunity to express my thoughts. I felt as though there was little I could add to the noise already surrounding the issue. Having taken a public stand in my capacity as a pastor, it became appropriate for me to explain my thoughts on the issue.

I’m not a huge fan of political correctness in its extreme. The hubris of the internet age has allowed all of us to become indignant with a hair trigger over any perceived slight. I recently ran afoul of someone who took offense at my use of the word “unchurched” to describe those who had no long-term relationship with a faith community. That struck me as a ridiculous argument, especially after I stated that I would be happy to use a different word if they could supply one. They didn’t. All language has limitations, and we can’t walk on eggshells, constantly worried that any small group of individuals may take offense at what we say.

That’s not what this is about.

This is about a flag that should represent the entire population of a state and yet contains a symbol that has been used to intimidate and belittle nearly half of that same population.

“But that flag has nothing to do with slavery.”
“This is about honoring history and the sacrifice of confederate soldiers.”
“If anyone used this flag for hateful acts, then they stole it and twisted its purpose.”

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because the confederate battle flag has come to be associated with hate and oppression and, like it or not, you can’t reclaim it. You may be proud of your Southern heritage and see nothing objectionable in that flag, but that symbol has been taken from you. Without your consent, that symbol has been adopted by an entire segment of society that actively hates people different from themselves. This cannot be undone.

Symbols change. Do you think early Christians looked at a Roman torture device like the cross and said, “Hey, that looks cool. Let’s use that for our symbol.” Time has turned that symbol of torture into one of Grace and Hope. It’s now something else entirely.

The swastika was a positive symbol denoting luck and well-being for thousands of years until it became associated with Nazism. Now, it is illegal to display a swastika in many countries because of its association with hatred and destruction. It doesn’t matter what it originally represented. That meaning is lost for most of us in the Western World.

Let the confederate flag fly over Civil War memorials. We should honor anyone who gives their life in defense of others and their ideals. We should not seek to gloss over history, regardless of who “won.”

I don’t care if Amazon continues to sell products designed with that flag. People should have the right to decorate their lives however they wish. If that symbol has a different meaning to them and they are willing to allow others to make assumptions about their character as a result, then that’s their issue.

However, I do care very much that a state government that represents its residents should strive to actually represent all of those citizens. It doesn’t matter what the confederate flag means to you. What matters is that, for a significant number of people in this state, it represents hatred and discrimination. When a symbol ceases to represent all of its constituents, it’s time to look for a new symbol.

Mississippi needs a new flag.