The surprising gifts of bivocational ministry

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana Image Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana | Apr 30, 2017

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It is the only day when I can fully focus on my local congregation: the people, the stories, the ins and outs of all the dynamics that make the worship service come together.

Sundays are full with life, excitement, and people that I love. They are a family reunion, a time to be reminded of what it means to follow Jesus. The way individuals gather to proclaim Jesus, care for each other, and carry each other’s burdens will forever be one of my favorite things to witness.

Once everyone has left and the lights are turned off, I hop in my car, take off my heels and head home. Without fail, at home I return to a sink full of dishes, a stack of homework, unfolded laundry, and unanswered emails. Eventually I meet the couch with a full heart and an exhausted body and soul.

In all their fullness, Sundays give me life.

Mondays, however, are tough.

Throughout the week, I balance my roles as pastor, FYI staff member, and student. Bivocational ministry is not easy, but for me, it has been a formative practice. It has shaped my understanding of time. Even though I get a rush of excitement when I cross things off of my to-do list, time no longer runs in the same way it used to. Reality is, not everything will get done most days. But how the time is spent is as important as the task list itself.

Often bivocational ministry is treated like a curse or a necessary evil, but I have learned to see it as a gift. It is a reality that many pastors are living into, and it is a rhythm that has tuned my ears to hear the whispers of Jesus as I am in motion throughout my week.

Bivocational ministry brings me a constant awareness that the church is not mine.

It is a co-shared experiment. I hold my title as a pastor with open hands, for there is seldom time to cling to that identity before getting pulled into other realms.

Bivocational ministry leads me to ask for help and to delegate.

Ministry becomes a network of individuals who are interdependent on one another. Every event, every Sunday service, is a team effort. Success rarely gets pointed to me, but instead to a plethora of people who have said yes.

Bivocational ministry is unapologetically unpredictable.

Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. Sometimes collaboration goes so smoothly that I see snapshots of the kingdom of God breaking in and it moves me to tears. Other times, collaboration leads to exhaustion and total chaos. Due to constant waves of unpredictability, I am invited to stay anchored in why we do what we do. I choose to be open to how God might surprise us.

Bivocational ministry transforms any space into holy ground.

I do not have a church office or cubicle for meeting with others, planning events, or executing budget meetings. All of it happens in living rooms, coffee shops, hair salons, and dining rooms. I have had the most groundbreaking conversations in my car at a Target parking lot, shared the gospel while getting my bangs trimmed, and worked through ministry rhythms at a coffee shop. Having no specific space in a church building has expanded my ability to notice that my parish is wherever I can find a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Bivocational ministry grows my capacity to empathize

Sometimes an email is not answered right away, a volunteer flakes last minute, and people are not as engaged as I would like them to be during a small group meeting. In these moments, I am reminded of the countless directions our attention is pulled. I used to respond with frustration when things were not done well or on time. Because I am also on the same boat of not being able to dedicate as much time to ministry as I would like, I am more willing to hear the stories and ask better questions. I have been stretched to see beyond the failed task and instead become aware of the ways that I have missed the relational importance of the interaction.

Bivocational ministry helps me prioritize initiatives and programs.

Learning to say no, or not yet, was one of the very first hard lessons of bivocational ministry. Due to the fast-paced nature of our daily routines, when challenges arise, I have an easier time letting something go and starting again—not having to blame myself or others for why it failed. For if it is bringing about stress rather than flourishing, it probably doesn’t need to be done.

These challenges—and growth opportunities—are in themselves a significant part of my experience as a pastor. Bivocational ministry sometimes gets a bad reputation because it is hard, messy, and challenging work. However, it has been a season of incredible growth and formation for me.

If you happen to be in the same boat as I am, how have you been formed by stepping into bivocational ministry? I would love to hear your story.

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana Image
Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana is the Manager of Multicultural Initiatives at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI). Jennifer, originally from Guatemala, grew up in Southern California as the daughter of church planters. She holds a BA in Social Work from Point Loma Nazarene University and an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary. Jennifer previously served as a pastor and social worker in San Diego county. Her passions include leadership training, intercultural youth spiritual formation and bilingual ministries.

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