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Ministry Outside the Box September-October 2012

d-MinOutBox Istockphoto-Zeno0620Professionally Trapped?

Three strategies for freeing you up to develop your ‘tent-making’ skills

One of my favorite quotes on bi-vocationalism comes from renowned Southern writer and economist Wendell Berry. He spoke at a 2007 seminary convocation saying: “It seems to me that one of the most important things in ministerial training would be to teach them to do something besides be a preacher. Because ... it’s a bad thing to be professionally trapped.”

Those last two words really sting: “professionally trapped.” I dare say it, but there are likely thousands of pastors—young and old, men and women—across the country who feel like they have no place to turn but the church. In other words, they’re stuck.

Berry goes on: “I can’t imagine a worse trap to fall into than a total dependence on being a minister. [Pastors] ought to be taught to garden, to farm, carpenter, take care of themselves in some other way. And then they can tell the truth.

Being in occupational ministry isn’t something new. We see it in the New Testament, the early church and our modern church as well. Someone leads a church and depends on the tithes and offerings of that local congregation to provide for their needs. Pretty typical.

What we’re seeing less of is pastors having a skill they can depend on when the financial support from ministry isn’t getting the job done—also known as “tent-making,” borrowing the term from the apostle Paul’s skill that helped support his ministry endeavors.

I believe all pastors should have the tent-making skill in their back pocket. I talk to pastors on a regular basis who confide in me, “My paycheck from the church isn’t cutting it, but I have little time/skill/energy to try anything else!”

I understand. I’ve been there myself. It’s a terrifying position to be in, but it doesn’t have to stay hopeless. There is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel!

If you find yourself trapped in ministry, here are three things you can do:

1) Assess your strengths.

If you think you don’t have any marketable skills, you’re wrong. You’re a pastor. That means you’re a people person. If you’re good with people, you can do just about anything and be successful at it!

I know pastors who own painting businesses, cotton candy machines, carnival rides and consulting businesses all on the side. If they can do it, so can you. Trust me.

2) Ask for more money.

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many pastors don’t ask for raises or pay adjustments! Usually, it’s because a pastor doesn’t feel worthy of a raise or that there’s truly not enough money left at the end of the month.

If it’s a question of worth, let me remind you: Pastors are not called to be poor. You need to hear that. You don’t have to sacrifice your personal finances on the altar of ministry to be a good pastor. Trust me.

If it’s truly a question of lack in regards to congregational resources, read the next point ...

3) Ask for more time.

If your church can’t pay you more money, they can always give you back your time. If you’re in the office five days a week and a raise is out of the question, ask for an extra day out of the office. Use that extra day to build a side business. I’ve used this approach personally, and it works.

If you’re not happy with the amount of income you’re making, do something about it. You’re not any less spiritual (or more, for that matter) if you need a little more cushion in your bank account.

Find your skill. Free up the time. Market yourself. Get out of the trap a paltry ministry income may set for you.

Justin M. Wise is director of projects and development for the Center for Church Communication (, a resource for church communicators. Follow him online at

Reaching the Unplugged

The rise of the Internet and mobile technology has ushered church communications into a new digital era. As a result, churches have worked hard to create a flawless user experience, engaged social networks and search engine-optimized websites. We’ve come far, but I fear we’ve left people behind. Meet the “unplugged.”

Despite popular belief, the unplugged are not just senior citizens, they are those in our pews who are not regularly visiting the web or aren’t socially engaged online.

So how do we keep up our online strategies while still caring for the unplugged?

I imagine communication as if it were a hub and spokes on a bicycle. A bike has two wheels (online and offline) and is capable of moving us forward. Just like using Facebook, Twitter, email and other tools to bring everyone back to your website, you can use platform announcements, posters, people, etc., to point back to one central hub with all your communication pieces.

Try to designate an area in your church where all your announcements connect, such as an information or visitor center.

Remember to begin with the end in mind. Consider crafting content that can translate easily from Web to print. Each page on your website exists because it presents valuable information to the curious churchgoer. Display the information on printed cards, recycling website text and adapting as needed for an offline audience.

For dynamic online content that changes week to week such as calendars, blog posts, email campaigns and prayer requests, compile a stapled booklet of printed copies and make it available as a weekly or monthly touch point.

Also consider maintaining a simple event registration process that can be accessed offline. Every time you announce an event from the platform, there should be a universal event registration card in the seatback that can be completed and placed in the offering (or however it’s collected).

Finally, never underestimate the power of the personal invite or time spent casting vision for involvement by a staff member. Communication is every staff person’s job regardless of their title.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. The unplugged typically represent a small percentage of your overall audience. Create a simple, sustainable way for them to have access to the same information that the plugged-in do.

In the end, it takes both wheels spinning together to make the bicycle move forward, and it takes an online and offline system to move the people in your organization toward the unique calling God has for them. —Jon Rodgers

Relentless Branding

I can spot an Old Navy commercial from a mile away. Maybe it’s the bright colors or the almost-recognizable celebrities or perhaps the fact that I used to work at an Old Navy in Minnesota. Whatever it is, their commercials are obvious. Unfortunately, their commercials aren’t always attractive, at least not to me. They are loud in every way possible. Loud announcer. Loud music. Loud colors. Yet these commercials keep coming. Their marketing must be working.

I think pastors and church creatives can learn a few things from Old Navy’s repetition.

1. Your organization should be recognizable.

Chances are my talent in noticing Old Navy commercials isn’t unique to me. The clothing company has had the same message for years. No matter what you’re saying in your church, you’re saying something. It’s essential for your church to be consistent in the words you communicate, especially when intentionally branding your church. Identify your church’s core values and let people know about them again and again. How many leadership books do we need to read until repetition seems repetitive? Either way, repetition is key to getting people to recognize your church.

2. Your church isn’t for everyone.

Like I said, I’m not super excited about Old Navy commercials, but someone is. It’s OK to not reach everyone. Decide who your church is touching and/or who you would like to minister to and do whatever it takes to get to them. And please understand that marketing your church won’t look the same way the megachurch down the road markets. That’s fine. Just be intentional with your messages.

3. If your content is good, people will ignore your flaws.

Even though I don’t like Old Navy commercials, I still wear their clothes. They’re good quality, readily available and priced low. Frankly, they have what I want and need.

As churches, we carry the most important content around. No other message needs to be conveyed more than Jesus’. Bottom line is that we have what people want and need. People will overlook things not working in our churches if they can connect to the Savior of the world. Figure out what you want to communicate, create a message and be relentless in pursuing your target audience. —Aaron Springer

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