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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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

Life Expectancy | Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about the concepts of death and life obstacles. People who are born into life obstacles, whether they are mental or physical, can provide a vast amount of life lessons. Even if they are not particularly mobile, we find that stories after their death provide deep insight to a life lived with vitality and purpose. As discussed in my story about my Uncle Jay, the life he led was one that made no excuses and had deep purpose. He cared about those around him and strived to minister to anyone in need.

As I write this today, we have a family friend who is probably only hours from meeting Jesus face to face. Cancer has taken over and eaten away at every fiber of her being. Last week she gave her life to the Lord and says she is ready for eternal rest. Her smile is contagious and her only concern is the supportive relationships she is leaving behind. I was honored to pray with her and those that surrounded the bed.

If you were to travel 30 minutes south, there is another man struggling to survive in a hospital room after his organs began to shut down due to an advanced infection. I was referred to him by another pastor friend, who heard about him from a couple in his church. This man does not have a pastor or church home. When you look at him, and speak about what the future may hold, there is deep fear in his eyes. I can’t imagine how that must feel because I have ever died nor been close to death.

In both cases, I have had the wonderful privilege of speaking with the individuals about spiritual matters, and what exists the beyond the spiritual horizon. As a pastor, I am there to provide a comforting word in a time of great fear and simply be present with family who are struggling to cope with a future they dare not try to imagine for fear that their thoughts will materialize into reality. They want their loved ones to be okay. In the instances that the relatives have come to terms with the inevitable, they simply want to know their loved ones are at peace, and free of suffering.

It is often interesting to hear the words and questions of a person who formerly had no association with God (as they would admit freely), and are now dealing with their own mortality. I find, in many cases, unbelief did not come because of stubbornness or a lack of evidence, but because of a deep wound inflicted on them by someone in their past who claimed belief. In the last days there is greater awareness and attention focused on divine possibilities. People seem to be finally done pretending they are in control, and are now surrendered to another universe of possible explanations. They are open and ready to hear more.

In these final moments of life, my role as a member of the clergy is not to lead them in a Bible study or help them lead a spiritually productive life…it is to be a tour guide. Men and women who are facing their own mortality want to know what it is like to experience their last breath so that they know what to expect the moment after. They want someone to describe life beyond the curtain. I get to provide insight about the promises God makes to them, and the descriptions His word supplies. From God’s perspective, death is only a change of address.

There is great comfort in knowing that a life can be changed; even in the last moments. The person may not become an active citizen, or reach hundreds of lives, but what I have realized is that they gain one of the most powerful gifts that a human can possess…

Peace.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

Grateful

My belly’s full of food

My heart is full of love

My family is all around me

And even more looking from above

I can’t thank God enough

For everything I possess

I deserve none of it

It is all by grace; I confess

Sure, these material things are great

And the money I earn is fine

But I honestly can’t say

That the any of the credit should be mine

I owe absolutely all I have

To the one who gives grace and hope

When I am standing on the mountain

Or at the end of my rope

I know I do not have much

In comparison to most

But, I can say I am content

Even though I cannot boast

I am truly grateful this year

For all the little things

And I pray that I will continue

To thank The Lord for what He brings.

-Landon DeCrastos

What Makes Me Cry (In a Good Way)

What Makes Me Cry (In a Good Way)

I know it has been a while since I have uploaded a new blog post. The reason for this is twofold:

  1. I promised myself a long time ago that I would no longer post blogs just to put content out into the universe. When I do, I find myself giving into the temptation to simply be recognized. Thus, I am taking the glory for myself and I am no good for God’s kingdom because I am saying things that no one needs to read and do not really help them deepen their spiritual life. I want my thoughts and advice to be life giving.

  1. My schedule has not permitted it. Lately, I have been very busy but yet so fulfilled in my ministry when it comes to the people I have been able to interact with and minister to. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day.

So, with this all being said, I have something that is stirring in my heart that has been emphasized over and over in recent conversations and events in my life.

First, a little background.

From time to time, when I preach, I get emotional. It is a fact of life. My church staff and leadership often give me a hard time about the fact that I cry and there are even a few occasions when my staff has purposefully planned a portion of the worship service SO I would cry (ok, so maybe that wasn’t the full reason but they certainly knew it would happen)! Other people have commented on this, and simply say they see the passion in me and they appreciate the show of emotion. Either way, it happens and I never really have been bashful about it.

There are many reasons I cry in the context of my ministry. When I dedicate a baby to the Lord, when someone asks Christ into their life, the times when people open up and reconcile with one another, when a marriage is restored, when a person needing healing is shown unconditional love and when a person in need is helped by generosity are only a few instances in which I have cried recently. I can even think of times when I have been preaching and God impresses something special on my heart to share aside from what was prepared. The feeling is overwhelming. These all have validity and the ability to conjure emotion, but I have realized there is one constant thread that connects all of these events. That thread is the concept of “legacy”.

I cry when I think about how a message will speak to someone and how the figurative “light bulb” will be illuminated in their mind, because of how it can move them along in their spiritual journey and toward a new future. I cry when I dedicate a baby to the Lord, because of the parents standing in front of me wanting to break a generational curse of bondage or even wanting to honor the heritage of worship in their own household by trusting God with the future of this baby. When a marriage makes a turnaround, I think about the story the couple can tell of how they trusted God to repair their shattered relationship. When people are helped through a tough spot in their life, I think about how they can later share their struggles and how God got them through it.

Legacy.

It is a powerful word that has the ability to affect us and future generations. I am not only speaking about genetic descendants. In fact, many people reading this today can testify about a friend or neighbor that spoke life displayed love in a dark time and changed their future trajectory.

I cry when I think about how God can change a situation and create a “butterfly effect” that can transform the world.

I cry because I know that no matter how talented and influential we are, Jesus can use us as agents of peace and grace.

Finally, I cry because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end, He will stand on the Earth (Job 19:25).

It’s okay to cry.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

I Struggle Too

I Struggle TooIf I were to be completely honest with you, I would say that this blog post is one of the hardest I have felt led to write. The reason is not because the topic is a difficult one to articulate or the fact that it is a particularly controversial stance on a “hot button” issue, but because of my heart attitude behind it.

As I get closer to Jesus, I have learned that God honors thoughtful response over angry outbursts. He values the offering of hope over a self-righteous decree of condemnation from my own personal soapbox. So, I want to write today out of love, grace, mercy, but firm resolve and I pray that God will be in my words. I want to talk about the concept of racism.

THE PROBLEM

I sat in a big leather chair in front of a woman who had cried so much that I was afraid she would become dehydrated. He husband had cheated on her. The adultery was getting to be too common in their marriage, and after multiple transgressions, he once again told her it “would never happen again”. This woman was broken, angry, and had practically given up on long term joy in her life. My heart filled with my own brand of anger when she told me the lies that were told and the sins that were committed. The man that she was married to made her feel inferior. He made her believe things about herself that were not true. He made her think this was all her fault. On top of this, over the period of several years, he had made sure that she was removed from opportunities, relationships, more education and much of the outside world as a method of domination and control. She prayed that God would help her and He did. She divorced him and years later, she married the man of her dreams. She also forgave her ex-husband.

The problem is, I really want to hate this man. The carnal part of my human existence wants to show him how wrong he is, and make him pay. I know, however, that a life lived controlled by God’s spirit compels us to seek a much higher level of conduct.

You see, if Christ lives in a person, has complete control, and has forgiven them…it is really hard to go on living with hatred towards another human being. That doesn’t mean that the temptation is not there, but there is a power that is greater in you than that which is in the world.

Racism, at its core, is a systematic desire for a group or groups to express their perceived superiority over others. Often times they will single out a particular community, and do what they can to separate them from society, tell them lies, and openly display their hate for them. In essence, there is not much difference between an adulterer and a racist individual. With that being said, there is a part of me that wants to treat someone who is racist with the same contempt as I would the adulterer. I can’t though. I can’t because I have no idea what type of lies that person has been told throughout their life, and I have to believe in my heart that they are eligible for restoration and love as much as I am. If Jesus cannot heal them, then His death on the cross was a waste of time. Sin is sin.

This doesn’t make the whole issue any less frustrating though. I have heard people who wear gold crosses around their necks say the most awful things about people of different races. This is confusing for many reasons.

So, here is my overall thought. There is no such thing as a Christian racist. I say this, because I have heard people getting upset at the Church for racist acts they have seen in media outlets. And, there have been people who have displayed racism in their lives who claim to be believers. Let me make this very clear. Not disagreeing with the Bible, going to church on occasion, and being raised in a semi-religious home does not  make someone a Christian. Nor does giving oneself the label of “good”. A Christian is someone who desires to be like Christ, associates themselves with His crucifixion and resurrection, allows God to transform them, allows the Holy Spirit to guide them, and who has accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers; all while bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. So, there is no such thing as a “Christian racist”. It cannot exist. Christianity and racism are like oil and water. Sure, there are people who have accepted Christ and who have had to repent of old habits that have arisen temporarily, but that leads to deep grieving and change.

THE HOPE

Jesus led by example, and when He wanted to emphasize a virtue, He displayed the virtue through His action. Look at the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. There were two main issues being addressed when we look deep into this story. The first issue was the sin (and thus the cure) in the life of the woman (who happened to be a Samaritan). Water was just the illustration. Jesus offered her a way out of her constant searching for love, fulfillment, and forgiveness. Jesus took care of all of that, and offered her abundance. The second issue pertained to race. This woman was astonished that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, not to mention offering her something to drink. This was unheard of, because of the deep racial divide. In other areas of scripture, the implication is that even the disciples accepted this divide as common. Jesus shatters this mentality, loved this woman, and contradicted the culture.

Hope exists, because there is a God who fashioned all of us from the same dust. This same God declared that we were made in His image. This is a foundational belief in the Judeo-Christian world view. Hope comes from the fact that God forgives and transforms human hearts. He forgives.

The old me wants to hate people that are full of racism and hatred. I have realized that this type of hate is the same brand of hate as those wielded by racist individuals; only in different packaging.

So, a Christian, if guided by the Holy Spirit would spend more time serving, loving, giving, feeding, clothing, proclaiming truth, and praying than complaining and allowing anger to fester and grow. In fact, Jesus did his ministry in the shadow of pagan statues, unholy temples, and hateful hearts. His mind and heart were focused on the people, and He knew the only true kingdom was not this way.

The heart of the Christian is occupied and Jesus does not need a roommate. Hate does not fit.

As followers of Jesus we are called to speak out against hatred of every kind. We are also called to serve those who are not following God.

I end all my blogs the same way…but today I mean it more deeply than I have in the past. With a broken heart yearning for reconciliation, I say it once again…

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

Filling My Daughter’s Tank

Filling My Daughter's TankFrom time to time, at my full time day job, I have to work a shift that necessitates that I work until 8pm. Obviously, no one would consider this to be an ideal shift, but I have found that there are some benefits to working these hours. When I work this time span, I start at 11am. This means that, in theory, I could sleep in and enjoy a longer morning before heading into my workload for the day. I have kids, though. So, this naturally lends itself to chaos and an early wake time regardless.

Last week, I had a late day and had the opportunity to spend time with my daughter. My son was at school and my wife decided to go on a walk with her friend. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she chose to play with baby dolls and make shadow puppets. We had a great time, and there was a lot of laughter and smiles from both of us. It was so fun, and she led the play time as if she had been planning exactly what she would do if she had alone time with Daddy. Everything was calculated, and the game rules she made were well thought out. I could tell she was in her girly element.

At the end of this play time, Mommy came home and it was time for me to go to work. My little girl hugged my neck and kissed me goodbye. It was a tender moment and I loved the look in her eyes as she focused her attention on me.

To understand the reason why this day was significant, it is important to understand how my daughter has behaved lately. She has experienced behavioral issues and general disobedience. Part of the problem is the fact that she is 3, but there were times that it went beyond a typical 3 year old general disobedience. There has been something missing, and my wife and I have been frustrated because of it.

Before you make assumptions, I want to clear the air and say that I regularly play with my kids, and make it a point to show them a great time (I also discipline them as needed). I can probably admit that I tend to spend a larger quantity of time with my son because of his age and certain things that we do together, but not so much that there is favoritism shown.

This impromptu playdate with my girl brought about a realization in me that I had been hypothesizing for a little while. Her behavior was kind, sweet, and loving for most of the day after I left for work. She obeyed more, and even kept her focus (for the most part).

I realized that she needed me to “fill her tank” from time to time. The times when I have taken her on dates, or focused my attention on her alone has always made a significant difference in her day. Often, she runs on empty, and I have the power and the spiritual obligation to fill her with life and call out the girl she was made to be. I am her closest male connection to God here on Earth. I know that sounds extreme, but I take personal responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of my family, and I am the leader when it comes to helping my kids understand God and His faithfulness in their lives. I don’t take that lightly.

So, it has come to my attention that I need to take more time to fill the spiritual and emotional tanks of my children (also my wife, but that is another blog post for another day). I thank God that I did not wait until they were older to find this out.

My daughter needs me, and I need her. God is growing me through loving her in her own unique way. Her behavior is not perfect, but I can see glimpses of change from time to time.

My princess needs her king.

-Landon DeCrastos

Just One More

one moreI can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.

They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.

The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.

There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.

The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.

The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.

There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.

Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?

If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos