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Stuck in a Professional Rut?

d-MinOutBox Istockphoto-Zeno0620Three 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


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