Bivocational pastors juggle church, family, career duties

Adam Robison | Daily Journal Pastor Lesha Agnew stands outside office at Barr Hall where she teaches as a professor at Ole Miss.

Adam Robison | Daily Journal
Pastor Lesha Agnew stands outside office at Barr Hall where she teaches as a professor at Ole Miss.

by Riley Manning
Daily Journal

The apostle Paul was, to say the least, a do-er, a hard worker who put everything on the line to spread the good news.

In II Corinthians, he even calls out his fellow apostles, saying, “I have worked harder … I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (II Corinthians 11:20-32)

While other apostles supported themselves with their ministry, with donated money, Paul constantly worked to avoid placing a financial burden on the seedling churches he founded.

His hope was that Christians would not worship Christ with their hands out or become idle in waiting for his return.

While preaching in Corinth, Paul made his living crafting tents. To this day, pastors who follow Paul’s example – who hold employment outside of the church – are referred to as tent-making pastors.

Church and community
The Rev. Michael James, pastor of Smith Chapel CME Church near Oxford, also works with Head Start in Holly Springs, a community service organization dedicated to providing resources for health, education and disability services.

But his biggest job, perhaps, is raising his six children, who age between 8 and 22 years old.

“It’s tiresome, but joyful,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As a sociology major at Rust College, he first came in contact with Head Start through a 1999 internship. In 2006, James was hired on full time to work with children and families.

“I feel like my ministry and my job go hand in hand,” James said. “I enjoy helping people in any kind of way.”

James said the key to meeting the needs of his job, church and family, was cooperation and communication.

He said his employers at Head Start are very understanding of his many roles, and allow him to be flexible. His congregation also knows he has a lot on his plate, but they trust he will faithfully make himself available to them.

“They know my phone is always on if they need me,” he said. “I tell them don’t hesitate to call.”

James makes sure his children get the attention they need as well.

“You have to be really committed to blocking off family time to sit down at the table, that kind of thing,” he said. “It makes for some long nights sometimes, but you have to have that structure. If I didn’t have God in my structure, I couldn’t do it.”

Though he is occasionally forced to miss a sporting event, his children – two girls in college and four boys left at home – he is on their team.

“My kids understand more than I thought they would, especially as they get older they are very receptive of stepping up and helping out,” he said. “They know, you know, Dad has to work. When it comes to my ministry, they have a father who loves God, which is the best example I can set.”

Church and education
The Rev. Lesha Agnew, pastor of Hamilton Chapel CME Church, serves as a full-time program development specialist for the University of Mississippi, helping facilitate the grant process for researchers and finding opportunities to bring them more funding.

Agnew got her first taste of preaching at her hometown church in Guntown in 1998. After serving there 19 years, she entered seminary in 2007 and received her first pastoral assignment in 2011. Her current church is located in Waterford, near Oxford, where she commutes each day from Guntown.

“My church is on my way to the university, so it’s really convenient if I need to pop in and take care of something,” she said. “Most of my congregation works in Oxford, and if they fall ill, they usually come to the hospital in Oxford, so if I need to see someone, I’ll take an early or late lunch and go in that time.”

Agnew said being accessible is what makes it possible to be a shepherd and work a secular career. In addition, leaders in her congregation of 73 have been instrumental in helping the church run smoothly.

“Many of our officers have stepped up into leadership roles, so as pastor I don’t have to micromanage the business side of the church,” she said. “It’s also great to have them, as members invested in the church. Pastors come and go, but that member commitment is what keeps a church strong.”

Before becoming a pastor, Agnew said she struggled to discern if it was right to have another career. She thought, if God called her to pastor, was it not slighting him to have another job?

“I’ve actually found my other job helpful as a pastor. Being here helps me help the church,” she said. “With the economy how it is, a church isn’t always able to pay for benefits and things like that. I want the church to worry about what the church should be doing, not worrying about how to afford a pastor.”

Bivocational memories
Adam Miller, minister at Saltillo’s Mayfield Church of Christ, has worked a variety of jobs since becoming a full-time preacher halfway through his undergraduate engineering studies at Louisiana Technical College.

“I got into preaching after I was encouraged to speak at a few church functions, things like that. From there, I filled in for the preacher a few times and the rest is history,” he said.

Miller’s parents operated a landscaping business during his high school days, and he continued that work through college, in addition to picking up odd construction jobs as he needed.

Though he rarely works outside of his pastoral duties these days, his biggest balancing act was working for a uniform company that rented service uniforms to mechanical, chemical, and manufacturing plants.

“I’d leave the house at 5 a.m. and come back at 5 p.m.,” he said. “The only way to balance is by sacrifice. Saturday becomes a study day instead of an off day, and you get your studying and sermon writing done early in the morning or late at night.”

Miller said the bivocational pastors he knows do jobs in almost every profession he could imagine. Some preachers, like Miller, use an extra job to get out from behind the desk.

“Some of us just aren’t cut out for it,” he said. “We always have to be doing something.”

Miller recalls his days as a bivocational preacher stressful, but he enjoyed being in contact with so many people. Because his co-workers in his alternate job knew he was also a pastor, it sometimes opened the door to share his ministry.

“I tried to never be overbearing, but to always be open. Being around people, you have lots of discussions,” he said. “Once someone suffered a chemical burn on the job, so I was able to minister to them in the hospital.”

Like Agnew, Miller’s fellow ministers are eager to help him share the load. In fact, Miller said in the Church of Christ, preachers object to the title of “reverend,” instead simply calling themselves “ministers.”

“It’s fulfilling to use your skills to provide an income,” he said. “It’s definitely an interesting dichotomy, being a capable preacher, tending to the spiritual needs of your congregation, but also being a worker worthy of hire.”

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  • Chuck Luck

    Do they accept pay from their churchs? If so, this article is a sham. They are no different from any other person pursuing money. And, please, do not compare them to the Apostle Paul.