As a former Marine, I did all the running I cared to do during military life. But last year, at Foursquare Connection 2017, when I heard Matthew Barnett talking about running seven marathons in seven days, I found myself so motivated I nearly headed out to the National Mall for a jog.

Tom Woolard

Matthew inspired me. He’s not physically imposing and doesn’t even look like a long-distance runner. But because God put it in his heart to tackle the World Marathon Challenge so he could raise more than $100,000 for the Dream Center, he did it. That shows the truth of Matthew 19:26: “with God all things are possible” (NKJV).

So, if Matthew could run seven marathons in seven days, I can run my race. I can meet the grueling demands of bivocational ministry. I can still father four children while working full time—and shepherd my congregation. I can get up at 4:45 a.m. to pray before heading to my job as a jet engine mechanic. I can prepare sermons, counsel church members and attend Saturday morning prayer meetings.

Still, this regimen can get overwhelming. This is one reason I decided, for the first time, to attend Connection 2017. And before I knew Connection 2018 would be in the picturesque city of Seattle, I had already decided to return.

Initially, I went because I saw the meeting as a way to connect with other like-minded pastors and leaders. Even when I go into Sunday morning services prepared to praise and worship God, it’s still in the back of my mind that I have to “perform.” But at Connection, I was looking forward to receiving, praying and letting the Lord minister and pour into me.

There is a different anointing in a corporate setting, too. It was fantastic to be around 3,000 other Foursquare members. It’s exciting to hear what God is doing in other parts of our nation and the world. One story that especially touched me came from a bivocational pastor in Utah. He talked about going to work full time at a church, but it wasn’t working. After the Lord told him it was OK to return to an outside job, weekly attendance mushroomed from 100 to 400.

I identified with that. Our church had dwindled to several couples when I first joined them. We’re still small, with only 50 members. But this man’s story helped me see the need to keep going. Because God hasn’t released me from the company I helped start in 2001, I have to trust in Him to grow our church.

My talks with other pastors and leaders, many who lead smaller churches and serve in a bivocational role, helped me return home with the assurance that I’m not in this by myself. Sometimes it can feel that way, but when you get together with other Foursquare leaders, it offers all kinds of encouragement. Like all churches, ours faces its own set of challenges; seeing how other churches have worked through difficulties has helped me realize that I can endure.

Although it can be especially challenging for a bivocational pastor to attend Connection—I have to take vacation time from two jobs—it’s well worth it. Consider it an investment in yourself. It is enriching in so many ways to take part in the kind of atmosphere that many pastors don’t get to enjoy very often. It’s a blessing to be with others who understand the particular burdens you carry.

I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to pray about attending Foursquare Connection 2018 in Seattle, May 28-31.

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Tom Woolard has been involved in leadership at Awaken Church (Midlothian Foursquare Church) in Midlothian, Texas, for nearly three years and became senior pastor in September 2016. His wife, Debbie, is church administrator. They have four sons. This article was written with Ken Walker, a freelance writer and book editor from Huntington, W.Va.