Earlier this month I wrote a post that received quite a bit of attention called, “Why It Is So Difficult For Pastors To Leave The Ministry”. One of my points was “vocation”. Today I want to write about this point specifically. I want to give some suggestions that pastors leaving the ministry can consider.
- Buffers: when I left the ministry I had the privilege, being a Canadian, of collecting my Employment Insurance benefits. It was a fraction of my salary, but it provided several months of financial help during that time. I also was given a severance package by the church that certainly helped for a few months. There were some friends who also provided us with financial help. These few means of support provided a nice buffer for a while.
- Adapt: With the help of a friend I revised my resume to de-spiritualize my theological formation and ecclesial experience and emphasize my higher degrees and skills that made sense to those in the real world. I had lots of experience in teaching, systems management and development, fundraising, charitable work, small group organization, counseling, conflict resolution, building management, marketing and promotion, etc., etc.. You might think this is stretching it and being deceptive, but that’s not true. Some pastors I know have incredibly developed people skills that businesses sorely need. The normal work environment calls these “soft skills”. Reword your resume.
- Self-employment: Many of the pastors I know have some kind of skill. The few times I have been without a church I have applied my own skills. One time I was a full time artist. I learned the meaning of the term “starving artist” during that year. I also learned carpentry and did renovation work. Another time I had some extra cash and bought a dump of a house cheap and renovated it and sold it. I didn’t get rich but I lived and supported my family for a year. Being self-employed in these ways were nice ways to heal without being under the thumb of another boss.
- Teaching: Pastors are teachers. Some of them are very good. When my employment insurance and severance package ran out, I got a lead on a job at the university teaching English as a second language to international students. What got me the job was the fact that I had years of experience teaching a diverse group of people, including young adults. I also had some experience teaching overseas which helped. It took me a while to get the hang of teaching English rather than bible and theology, but it wasn’t long before I was getting good evaluations. I know some other pastors who gave there names to the local school board and became good supply teachers and eventually even got positions.
- Charities: The church is a charitable organization. Most pastors know how to handle charities. I know a few pastors who, when they left the ministry, started working for major charities and do very well. They know how to inspire people to give money to worthy causes.
- Counseling: Anything that employs your people skills is worthy of your consideration. You can check around with different counseling agencies and find out if you are employable. If this doesn’t seem to work for you, then try coaching. I have several friends who have gone into the coaching business. In fact, I do a bit of that myself. Many pastors have learned the fine art of listening. Some even know how to give wise advice.
- Education: When I left the ministry and got a job as a teacher I immediately got some new courses under my belt. They were about teaching English as a second language (TESL) and adult education. But I also got a Diploma of University Teaching. Often there are government programs that assist people changing careers. If you can swing it, go back to school for a year or two and get another degree that will integrate all your past education and experience into one attractive package… such as professional, personal and executive coaching, adult education, counseling, charity work, systems management, organization development, etc.
I offer this post to give you hope. It’s absolutely frightening, I’ll agree. But I’ve done it many times. Pastors are like cats… no matter how you throw them they’ll usually land on their feet. So don’t lose hope. You have skills that are not only marketable but are needed and desired in the workplace.
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