The landscape of hiring and managing staff is rapidly changing for congregations.
What are the implications for the men and women who desire to serve in those congregations? What does this dawning of a new era in congregational life mean for those who feel called to a life in ministry?
Specifically, what can a man or woman who wants to serve God in the context of local church ministry expect with regard to finding a job, keeping a job and enjoying a job?
Recently, our son graduated from divinity school. The world he faces is very different from the one I entered in 1980. It is rapidly changing and difficult to navigate.
When I think about my advice to him at the beginning of his life in ministry, it goes something like this:
- Living out of a sense of call is more important than ever. If you are not deeply and divinely called to the life of a minister, you will quickly find that the aggravation, financial arrangements and general work environment will quickly dissuade you from any romantic notions about making the ministry a career. Even with a strong dose of call, many of us find it is difficult to live out that call in the current culture.
- Prepare to be underwhelmed by the free call process that is standard in many Protestant traditions. Economic priorities dictate that very few people remain who devote their full time to placement concerns. That leaves a patchwork network that is heavy on relationships and short on logic. It will probably drive you crazy.
- Take care of your spiritual life. What is at the heart of you matters more than any other single factor when thinking about a life in ministry. You must cultivate a profound sense of connection to Christ, Scripture and leadership of the Spirit. That is the rock upon which to build your life. Resist the lure of a ministerial life built on the sand of methodology or metrics or trying to please others.
- Take care of all of you. Your family, your body and your mind matter to God and to your life in the church. Spend quality time with them, take time off, eat well, rest, exercise, read, think, go to concerts and movies, play. In short, live an abundant life.
- Have a life outside the church. I hope you will always have hobbies, friends, interests and experiences that transcend the boundaries of the local church. You will be a better minister and person if you do.
- What is your “escape hatch”? That’s what one friend calls your avocation. That is, the thing you would do if your primary vocation were taken away from you. Think about that and prepare for that.
- Remember that your congregants really want to know two basic things: Do you love God, and can you love them? Spend most of your time focused on these two things. The majority of that will happen between Sundays, by the way.
- Can you spell entrepreneur? Can you be an entrepreneur? I hope so. The life of a minister in the future will require it.
- Remember, EQ (emotional intelligence) usually trumps IQ.
- Learn multiple skills. The chances are that you will be asked to do a multitude of jobs, whatever your title may be. Expect it and embrace it. No whining. The era of specialists is closing, and the most valuable clergy will be those who love the whole church, not just their silo.
- Consider what you will do when you find it necessary to be bivocational. This is going to be the standard experience for many in your generation.
- Take an interest in anything that teaches you how to be a more effective leader. That is the skill congregations and organizations are yearning for. Read about it. Think about it. Watch good leaders in any field and learn what makes them effective. Learn from the failures as well, for they will teach you invaluable lessons. Study Jesus the leader. He’s the finest model available.
- Pay attention when professors, books, articles or conferences speak to the leadership required to lead the transition from programmatic models toward missional models. You’ll be glad you did.
- Live simply. Salaries for ministers have never been high, and they may have peaked. The future looks lean in terms of pay and benefits.
For every ministerial author who writes eloquently about leaving church, there are thousands of women and men who serve congregations diligently and faithfully across a lifetime.
Remember, for all the pain and aggravation, the life of a minister is the finest and highest calling one could hope for.
Your grandfather loved every day of his life in ministry. Your dad can say the same thing with enthusiasm. I pray the same will be true for you.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.