vocational advice for ex-pastors

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Would you like to talk with me? GO HERE.

"Nice vid David - hilarious! We'll miss you and wish you all the best! (and ..."

nakedpastor’s goodbye video to patheos
"Good idea! I look forward to exciting developments at your own site. I like Patheos, ..."

nakedpastor’s goodbye video to patheos

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • VanPastorMan

    David, thank you for the advice you’ve given. I’ve been a pastor for 11 yrs and can say that many times I feel like a survivor. Many of the men I went to school with are no longer in the ministry. Pastors are dropping like flies. Help!!!!!!!

  • Pat Pope

    Good advice. As one who has worked in business all my life, even while serving as an elder, I know the importance of much of what you have written here.

  • After I left professional ministry my heart was drawn to issues of social justice so I went into the field of social work. It puts me in direct contact with oppressed and disadvantaged people- the kind that Jesus spoke about. I make half the salary I made as a pastor and work considerably harder. I also find satisfaction in bringing hope and justice to people who may never go to a church. I am free of the weekly pressure to float the church program, produce the Sunday show, and hope that the people will like me and my church enough to come back next week.

  • It makes you wonder why so many pastors are dropping out, leaving quasi-secure jobs because they can’t take it anymore. Why is this happening more so now than ever before? Is it perhaps because people in congregations are so anxious about a possible nuclear war, the economic meltdown, or whatever, that they develop very specific and narrow expectations of ministers and pastors, and then begin to undermine and even bully them when they don’t deliver the goods? And most pastors leave, I would guess, not just because they’re being bullied, but because they are forced to completely give up on the prophetic and restrict themselves to the milk bottle and lullabies. Nothing wrong with milk and lullabies, but that should not be ALL of ministry. No pastor can sustain a nappy ministry forever…

  • Pat Pope

    Daniel, I think some leave over disillusionment and being restricted to milk and lullabies, not to mention bullying. But I think something else that factors in is that we live in a different age now and the idea of sticking with one profession one’s entire career is not the status quo anymore. Even in church ministry. People are think are waking up to the fact that they can do more if they so desire and some pastors are waking up to some of their passions that they might not be able to live out in their congregations. That’s why I think David makes a good point about rewording one’s resume because many of the skills can be transferred to other occupations; people just don’t readily see it. If they hear you’re a pastor, they think all you know is the Bible. A lot of people, even some sitting in the pews each week, don’t know all that goes into running a church.

  • That is true, Pat, I fully agree. I actually think if companies knew the skills pastors have and develop on the job, they would realise how valuable they would be even just as corporate/industrial chaplains. There’s a lot of anxiety and conflict in the work place. Having a chaplain type figure around to turn to when people feel like they’re gonna lose it any second could actually save the company lots of money, not to mention generate increased well-being and thus productivity. You know what I’m saying? *wink, wink*

  • Tim Mathis

    Lots of stuff here that’s right on track. Thanks for the post.

    A few years ago I left the church altogether after 6 years of youth ministry, masters degree in theology, etc. I happened into a job on an inpatient psychiatric unit at a children’s hospital, and couldn’t believe how directly it used my skills – counseling, leading small groups, helping kids process difficult emotions and experiences, teaching, working with a team, etc. I managed to use it as a bridge into a career in nursing, and the job was a real life-saver at a time when I had no idea what I was going to do next.

  • Thanks for this timely post! I’m in a period of transition not knowing what is next, it’s scary and exciting all at once. I appreciate your advice about rewording the resume and evaluating our skill sets.

  • DA Armstrong

    Just left my church to run a charity that works with churches Love INC. My experience at the church has been valuable and helped me acquire skills that directly benefit my current position.

    I will say that I’m a bit of an oddity because I’ve always had work on the side that’s been more or less profitable if I worked at it. I just get too bored doing just one type of work or project.

  • For what it’s worth, I joined AmeriCorps (www.americorps.gov), which led to a career in nonprofit and public service.

  • Paul Johns

    Fabulous post. I would only add that the book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” (Richard Bolles, revised annually, in its 40th edition!) is excellent and gives advice specifically for people leaving the ordained ministry. Bolles is himself an Episcopal priest; this ministry arose out of a project he was asked to do by the national Episcopal Church to help priests who were “becoming civilians.”

    I especially love the appendix entitled “Finding Your Mission In Life.”

  • Thanks for the reference Paul. I’d forgotten about that.