Is Bivocational Ministry a Sin?

bivo ministryToday, I am going to give you a “behind the scenes” look at the life and thought process of a bivocational pastor. This category of minister is becoming more common, because we are seeing a fundamental change in the landscape of pastoral ministry. The economy is changing in a way so that many churches are not able to pay their pastor a full-time wage so they must seek employment outside of the church to support their family. It is nothing new, of course, because we know that missionaries have been doing this very thing for hundreds of years. Traditionally, we see this type of ministry done in a church with a smaller membership. The reason for this is obvious; a lack of funding. I am a bivocational pastor, and I know many of them. I don’t often hear complaints about living this lifestyle from the clergy themselves. It is necessary and most are happy to do it (albeit tired) if it means being able to give more to the church, and support their family.

Bivocational ministry can be a great blessing to the Kingdom of God. Through this method, pastors can directly interact with people in the workplace that they may not normally get to minister to. Clergy then can be immersed missionaries in all environments, and embed themselves in just about any context. These are positive aspects to this lifestyle.

Are there any negatives to living this way? Well…unfortunately there are downfalls. Pastors get tired, and as much as we can say that they need to be solely sustained by their calling, it does not negate the fact that our physical bodies and emotional capacities wear down over time. Members will sometimes become frustrated with their leader because the church may not be growing by a massive amount. Meanwhile, the minister is giving every ounce of energy they possess to two (or more) vocations and it can feel like running on a never-ending treadmill. While the pastor is at their day job, there may even be a person who needs them laying in a hospital bed, and their family is becoming frustrated because they have not yet had a visit. Often the answer is to demand more and more from the leader instead of stepping up to the plate.

Clergy that choose to live this life accept the fact that they must adapt to the needs of their position. Sometimes they drop the ball, or forget an important detail. There are times they want to say “no” because they just want one free night to themselves. At the same time, love and the desire for the broken to be healed compels them. It animates their dry bones. Changed lives ignite energy.

I have spoken with pastors who become very frustrated, because people have told them that they need to be more focused on the church and that they should quit their job and “trust God more” for finances. I would argue that this pastor should ask that wonderful parishioner to quit their job so they can volunteer at the church full-time, and see what they say. I digress. The fact is, there are many Christians who would never admit it, but by their actions, would consider bivocational ministry a sin. “Sin” of course being that which inconveniences them. What we forget is that every Christian is called to be a minister. Every believer is a missionary in their context.

Now, before I get angry emails and comments, I want to make it very clear, that I am very blessed to have a congregation that understands the costs and rewards of a pastor that is bivocational. I appreciate the fact that I can live this life with their support and encouragement.

Scripture tells us that even the Apostle Paul was a minister who worked a second job. He had an incredible passion for the Gospel. He did what God called Him to do. He looked forward and didn’t dwell in the past.

Is bivocational ministry a sin? Of course not. Let’s stop treating it that way.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

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Sometimes the Journey IS the point…

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2 Strange Letters

There are 2 strange letters

on your word I see

Their placement on the front

Doesn’t make sense to me

I am pretty good at reading

But these 2 don’t fit

They don’t describe what I see

It’s the meaning I don’t get

The first letter I have seen

In books and other things

The second is also familiar

But confusion is what it brings

The word is badly changed

And it doesn’t reflect the truth

It doesn’t show how I see you

Whether aged or in your youth

These 2 strange letters

Throw everything off track

They mess up your description

And set the meaning back

Without these intruders

The definition wonderfully fits

They initially seem harmless

But shatter hearts to bits

The letters are “I” and “M”

But I remind you they don’t work

The accuser uses them untruthfully

To diminish the Master’s work

The word in question is “perfect”

And in its purest form

Is how I look at you daily

Through sunshine, snow, or storm

Don’t let the enemy convince you

That you are not good enough

And that God can’t possibly love you

With all of your broken stuff

While you may be human

And lacking in many things

You are perfect; you are loved

You are a child of the King

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The Fight

Ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the main event
A fight of the century
The bout worth every cent

In this corner, Daddy
Big, strong and wise
In the opposite; daughter
With the biggest blue eyes

This fight will put chills down your spine
It’s bound to be a thrill
Let’s listen to this verbal match
Lean in quietly and be still

The smallest one starts it off
Let’s hear her first swing
With a phrase she starts the brawl
Then Daddy steps into the ring

“I love you so much” she begins
We can almost hear the crowd roar
Their eyes stare each other down
She gets the very first score

“I love you more than you will ever know”
Daddy says with a smug grin
Then little lady fires back
The intense struggle is about to begin

“No, I love you times a million”
She says thinking she was going to win
But Daddy was ready for her joust
He cracks his knuckles, takes a breath, and leans in

“You are out matched little one
You don’t have a prayer
Mom and I asked God for you
We loved you before you even breathed air”

Daughter tried to fire back
But Daddy didn’t let her go
There was more that needed to be said
He was not nearly out of ammo

“I love you more than wide is wide
I love you farther than the planet Mars
I love you all the way to God and back
Way past the twinkling stars

Don’t try to defeat me in this
Because you have already lost
I would do anything for you
No matter what the cost

Sometimes mom and I can get mad
And raise our voices to correct
But never forget how much we love you
You are mine, despite whether or not you object

And with that final blow
The 4 year old accepted defeat
Not a thing could be said
As she stated at her little feet

Then, suddenly she looked up
with joyful tears in her eyes
She kissed Daddy on the cheek
And he realized this was all a guise

All she really wanted
Was to hear her Daddy say
That He loved her without conditions
And then she ran off to play.

 

-Landon DeCrastos

Life Expectancy | Part 1

Do you ever wonder why people are born with disabilities? If I were to be honest, I have these thoughts and I know many people have similar questions. One may wonder, “If God is good, then why are people born this way?”

I have many theories on things like this, but I imagine 90% of the theories I maintain would be nothing more than religious platitudes that seek only to push the issues aside and “Jesus” them away. In these conversations, it can be unhealthy to give canned “Sunday School” answers that are often spouted by people with the greatest intentions.

I do not really know why people are born with various ailments, malformations, and general physical obstacles, but I do know that so many times, people in these circumstances can bring the most inspirational value to the people around them. For instance, we may ask why Down syndrome exists, but if you have a family member with this genetic makeup, you know that people in this situation often love more deeply and enjoy life on a different level than others. I use these folks as an example because one could argue that many of them often have different hurdles to overcome.

People who are born physically or mentally “different” than your “average” person often do a lot to inspire the world around them. Now, don’t hear me saying (somehow) that I believe that people are born with disabilities, conditions, or ailments for our amusement or selfish gain. No, in fact the story in the Gospel of John comes to mind regarding the man who was born blind. The disciples asked Jesus why this man was born blind (thinking it was because of the sin of him or his parents). Jesus, however gave them a shocking answer. “This man was born blind so that the glory of God would be seen in him”, was the odd response. In this example the man was released from his life obstacle, but this also shows us that anyone’s story can be used for His glory!

My Uncle Jay was very much like this man described in John. Jay was born with cerebral palsy and early on his ability to walk was taken away. Despite this, Jay led a very active life. He worked, engaged socially with the world around him, and even dated from time to time. On top of this, he was a volunteer minister for a long time at his local church. He lived independently until several years ago when he entered into a nursing home.

We, as a family, knew that his life expectancy was much shorter than your average person, but when he finally passed away this year, he was just shy of 57 years old; which is far older than the doctor’s predicted.

Jay never complained about his lack of mobility or grumbled about his situation. He exhibited joy even when we knew he was tired and weary.

Funny story that turned into a lesson:  In Jay’s final moments, we stood around his bed battling with the decision to remove him from life support. We gathered as a family and said goodbye as we cried together and shared stories of our life with him. The hospital wanted to give us our necessary privacy, and respectfully drown out any background noise of beeping monitors and nurses socializing so they turned on the radio. The music started playing and we weren’t really paying much attention to the words, but my ears perked up as the radio began to play “another one bites the dust” at the same time my uncle struggled to take his last breath. I brought this to the attention of the rounding doctor and the music was turned off. We had a little laugh about that, and it reminded us that there was going to be joy just on the other side for Jay. We were happy and sad simultaneously.

My Dad decided to choose the music and turned on a Christian station via a radio app on his phone. The song that played was “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson. This song became our anthem throughout this hard time in our lives. It was also played at his funeral.

Here are some of the lyrics:

 In the eye of the storm

You remain in control

And in the middle of the war

You guard my soul

You alone are the anchor

When my sails are torn

Your love surrounds me

In the eye of the storm

In my next post, I will dive further in the concept of dying. I know this seems morbid, but it can be joyful as well… All I will tell you is, sometimes, we all just need a tour guide…

Stay tuned.

Faith Despite Life (Poem)

It can be so hard
Waiting in my boat
Being tossed by the waves
Barely able to float

The thunder roars
And the winds overwhelm
My fear overrides
With no captain at the helm

Suddenly I remembered
At the apex of my fright
I am supposed to live by truth
And not by sight

As a child of God
I learned to obey
And anticipate miracles
When I fervently pray

So I will bow my head
And do more than survive
With trust in my heart
As long as I am live

I make the choice today
To not worry about my strife
And live every day in faith
Despite what happens in life.

-Landon DeCrastos

Follow The Cloud (Repost)

SONY DSC

My son’s demanding shout came from the back seat…”TELL ME WHERE WE ARE GOING!!!” In my house, if we are doing something fun for the whole family, we keep it a secret from the children. This is not necessarily so we can have a giant reveal and see the look on their faces, but because of the incessant questions and whining that will inevitably occur from the time they are told our fun location to the time we arrive. My kids, when they know something fun is going to happen, tend to get really impatient.

Often we will tell them when we are in the car on our way to the exciting destination. This particular trip was not really that different. In this particular instance, we decided not to tell them until we were about 30 minutes away, due to the fact that it was going to be a two-hour excursion; which was equivalent to some CIA level torture in the minds of my offspring. As implied above, the little man who thinks he runs my house became irate with the fact that we did not let him in on the secret. So, like any good parent, we yelled back disciplinary threats in hopes the screaming would stop. It didn’t. In fact, he became so upset that he threw out a bluff. He said that he didn’t want to go anymore (with arms folded of course) and wanted to go back home. Of course we rolled our eyes and ignored it. We knew he would be elated when we arrived.

I can’t help but think of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. Over and over again, God had shown his power, faithfulness, and eagerness to accomplish His will through His people, but every time, His people slipped back into their own comfortable habits. In the journey that took place during this time, God gave them specific instructions regarding behavior and when to move after the Tabernacle was built. God would show up regularly in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, and these forms would fill the holiest place of the Tabernacle. Israel saw the result of His glory. God then instructed the people to get up and move their camp, only when God’s presence left. They were instructed to follow cloud and fire. They never knew when they were leaving, and they never knew where they were going. They just followed.

Despite the miracles and consistent provision God gave His people, they still felt the need to complain regularly. Whether it was food, water, sickness, worship, or legal disputes…they made a full time job out of whining about their circumstances. On more than one occasion, many even threatened to find their way back to Egypt. The only reason cited was the fact that Egypt made a mean cheeseburger (paraphrase) and they missed it. In many other cases, people even fell back into idolatry as if they were chomping at the bit to get back into these old habits.

I can accuse Israel of being selfish, impatient, and ignorant all day, but I have to look into the mirror. We tend to be like 4 year olds who do not know where they are going, when God calls us to follow. That is the temptation, at least. We want to know NOW, and if we are not informed then we begin to look back at our past as a comfortable and controllable existence. Faith is the concept of believing in that which we cannot see. We can accept that cognitively, but it is so hard to act as if it were true.

If we ask God, in honest times of prayer, to guide us we must be ready for uncertainty and discomfort. Also, we must be ready to move when He does instead of complain about our lack of knowledge, resources, abilities, and influence. Just follow.

The world is a dark place. It needs us to follow. It needs us to be uncertain but resolute. It needs us to be all in for Christ. What is stopping us?

-Landon DeCrastos

Out of Solitude

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life

A Message to the Irreparably Broken

a-message-to-the-irreparably-brokenI sat in front of a couple who were so newly married that their rings still lacked any scuff. They were struggling desperately with issues that were not resolved prior to their marriage.

The wife wrestled with insecurities, anger, and disconnectedness. The husband dealt with denial and an inability to relate to his new bride. He felt as if he was being compared to past boyfriends, despised because of his lack of understanding, and he was frustrated because he felt as if something was being hidden from him. Both of these individuals were broken, and at the end of their ropes.

They said things to each other that could not be taken back, and things had escalated to the point of possible divorce.

As a young pastor, these type of situations make me feel so inadequate. It, however is part of my job, and a calling I have accepted. During these type of conversations and tense moments, I have to pray and trust that God will give me the words to say and hope that some amount of educational memories make their way to my tongue as I speak. This situation was one I have dealt with in the past, but every marital difficulty is like a snowflake. None are exactly the same.

As I inwardly prayed for God to guide my thoughts and speech I looked the wife in the eyes. These eyes were red from weeping, and her mascara was ruined. When I looked into her eyes, I saw pain and a little girl hiding behind a rock. If you know me very well, you know that sometimes God gives me the ability to look into the eyes of someone I am talking to and, I feel, God gives me a mental picture to illustrate what they are feeling. Obviously it is impossible to fully know what the pain feels like, but it helps when knowing what to say to start digging deeper into understanding the core issues. This beautiful lady that sat before me was dealing with deep insecurities, fear, and anger and, as I mentioned I saw a little girl hiding behind a rock. As If she was once hurt and was afraid it would happen again.

At that moment, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask her a question. A question that would be very risky, and, if I was completely off base, would embarrass me and damage my credibility as their pastoral counselor. “How old were you?” I inquired. She stopped crying and looked at me as if I had uttered a gibberish language. “What?” she answered. “I said…how old were you. How old were you when it happened?” Her eyes became wide and the tears began to flow. The crying became more and more intense and finally, after a little recovery, she spoke. “I was 15”.

Internally, I was extremely surprised that I hit the wound. Then, I continued. “Who did it?” The tears came again and she told me that her boyfriend at the time was the culprit.

This lovely young woman was raped. This was the root of her pain. It had caused a domino effect of shame and she felt as if she was irreparably broken because of what happened. The husband also had past issues that needed to be addressed. I explained that these past hurts had to be confronted and we set up a plan to move forward to address the situation.

I wish I could say that this marriage was fully restored because of my eloquent words and deep wisdom. It wasn’t. Eventually the couple went separate ways, and after this break up, the healing began. It took a few years for this woman to find healing and a healthy relationship. She allowed God to work through her, and even though the past is not erased, she found that the brokenness in her heart was less painful.

She was right. Her heart was irreparably broken. God, however, gave her a new heart that is whole.

I thank God for speaking to me that day. This is the second time something like this has happened in this context.

If you feel like you are broken beyond repair, remember that God wants you to be whole. There is hope for the broken. I promise. Help is available whether you believe it right now or not.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos