Thursday, April 25, 2013

The challenge of success in a bi-vocational setting

There are many things that are different about ministry in Latin America, but a conversation I had recently gave me an insight into one difference and resulting challenge that hadn't even crossed my mind.

Many, if not the majority of the pastors I am working alongside here are bi-vocational. As well as pastoring a church they have a "day job" to pay the bills. Most commonly this is the result of a combination of factors - economic, cultural, family expectations etc.

Being bi-vocational has all sorts of implications. Greatest of all is that you generally don't have much time on your hands. You are busy doing your "day job" and then in your other hours you are frantically trying to do the best you can for your church, prepare your sermon for Sunday, visit those who need visiting etc. I think most of us would be aware, or even be able to sympathise to some extent, with the pressures of wearing different hats.

But there is one aspect of "bi-vocationality" that hadn't even crossed my mind - and that is the way you think about success.

In "day job world", success can often be measured in quite concrete indicators like sales figures, investment performance, exam results, efficiency improvement, production targets being exceeded, waiting times reduced, customer satisfaction, number of enrolments etc.

But in ministry, how do we measure success? Should we even consider it as a appropriate category to be measured?
Perhaps categories like "faithfulness" and "love" and "patience" might be better indicators of success and performance, not sales figures or attendance numbers, but how do we measure those things? And if we are to measure them, can the very act of measuring and analysing them create an unhelpful rod for our own backs?

For bi-vocational pastors, the tension of working in "two worlds", and the difficulty that comes from stepping from one world to the other is enormous. Measuring the "success" of their ministry can be one of those areas where it is so easy to unconsciously transfer the thinking of one sphere of life into another, with the result that often the pastor can easily feel dis-heartened because they are not seeing the "performance" that they see in the other workplace.

Of course, such feedback can motivate and energise the pastor to try new things, to motivate his people to work hard on a gospel project or some personal milestones. But it can also mean that perhaps less gospel-centred thinking can creep in as well as a way of "boosting the numbers." Latin America is full of examples of churches that have tried to increase their "success" in ways which focus on the world and what itching ears want to hear, rather than on faithful, loving and patient gospel proclamation.

I am grateful for the insights which my bi-vocational brothers have shared with me and for their willingness to serve in such difficult contexts. We need to continue to pray for them and support them as they carry on this difficult task.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What do you do at a conference on mission?

I'm in Orlando, Florida at the moment, participating in a pretty big conference about christian mission. (Well, actually, OK - it is huge! At the moment the "pre-conference" is on and there are 3,000 people at it. I've heard there will be about 10,000 by the time the main conference gets going tomorrow. That is a lot of people seated in one room!)

Today, one of the speakers (John Piper - if that name means anything to you) had us think about what you actually do at a conference about mission. Yes, we have heard from a couple of missionaries (although not that many), I've just been to a great session about the history of mission in Latin America and I'm just about to have dinner with a group of leaders from Latin America, but what is the essence of a mission conference?

His answer was great. The key activity at a mission conference has to be the opening and teaching the scriptures. Why? Because it is as we open and study the scriptures that we understand what mission is, and learn what will sustain mission and missionaries.

So for the last day and a bit we've been reading and studying 2 Cor 4-5, and it has just oozed gospel, gospel motivated mission, and gospel sustained mission.

The temptation at a mission conference is to get all caught up with the missionaries and spectacular stories or success or failure, or to hear about great needs or rejoice in needs met. And those are all good things - but they won't in the long run motivate or sustain mission - especially when it is difficult. What will motivate and sustain mission is the gospel - a firm understanding of the gospel its place in the world.

I am glad to say - I've been challenged and motivated once again by what I've heard.