Beyond Congregational Ministry: What Can a Pastor Do?

Perhaps where you currently serve in parish ministry is no longer the right place to stay, but there are no other options for calls in your geographic area, and you are unable to uproot and move.

Perhaps you are part of the wave of pastors burnt out by leading through the pandemic, or your own or family health/caregiving needs make it not feasible to continue in parish ministry.

You’ve sought spiritual direction and/or coaching, and this is the conclusion you have discerned. What now?

Having served in parish ministry for many years, what else are we qualified to do?

There are “larger church” administrative or teaching roles, but those positions outside the congregation are often either elected (bishops in my denomination), appointed (or hired by said bishops), or require extra levels of education to work in academia. Interim work is another option, dependent on your geography and staffing needs. So let’s say those are possible options but I’m more interested in lateral moves from parish ministry.

We pastors are generalists. The “other duties as assigned” category of our job description is huge and we often build it in the direction of our own interests. An adaptable generalist who makes up our own projects and job description as we go could fit well into non-profit work, especially in developing a new program or organization. “Thinking on our feet” is a desirable quality for many organizations, but especially new ones. It’s time for a clear-eyed look at what there is never enough time for (because we love it and it’s life-giving) about parish leadership.

So, pastor colleague, what are your favorite parts of the job?

If it is fundraising, there are numerous “development officer” positions out there waiting for you. What an asset it could be to have someone fluent in the language of stewardship, able to nuance the “ask” to keep volunteers engaged.

If your best days are the ones with pastoral care visits, perhaps a chaplaincy at a hospital, nursing home or even prison is for you. That is not my area, but I know many, many people who love this part of ministry.

If mentoring youth or young adults is life-giving for you, you might consider directing young adult gap year programs, mentoring programs like Girls on the Run or addiction recovery programs like Teen Challenge. Managing volunteers in such a program is bolstered by the leader’s own skills at building trust with the target audience.

For those with web-based skills, the proliferation of online courses, resource websites and online publications could be possible directions to share your particular expertise.

Although I am by no means a digital guru, working online presented the opportunity to do what I am best at: writing and editing. I am now writing, recruiting writers and editing for two resources that equip those in parish ministry to do their jobs well. It truly helps that I have been “in it” during the pandemic, so have my finger on the pulse of pandemic parish ministry.

Entrepreneurs are turning their side hustles into growing concerns all the time, from ConseCrate (a subscription box for clergy women), to liturgical or study resources like Clergy Stuff, to sacred art like The Tehom Center. But there is that tricky bind of not having time to spend on some life-giving side hustles until we emerge from the demands of the parish. Once we leave, it takes time to build up the income from a new endeavor.

But here’s my greatest hope: that pastors who leave parish ministry – even for a season – will become organizers. Many, many pastors are personable people who thrive on building relationships into momentum – towards action. This is what the world needs, more than the upkeep of our buildings or perpetuation of Christian traditions. And this is the pull towards justice that some of us have found stifled in the parish, buried under conflict over things that matter so much less. We have the poignant, motivating stories that drive advocacy and lobbying. We are used to pushing people to do what needs to be done for the sake of their neighbors. Pastors are equipped to organize and push forward actions to address:

  • Climate crisis
  • Hunger, poverty and homelessness
  • Mental health and disabilities rights
  • Economic and racial inequity

Plus, we have practiced speaking authoritatively and spontaneously, while consulting our emotional intelligence.

What are your thoughts, hopes, aspirations? What could or would you love to do, beyond the congregation?

1 thought on “Beyond Congregational Ministry: What Can a Pastor Do?”

  1. I love so much of this. I feel called more and more to fundraising and organizing around housing. Being single and having a preexisting medical condition bind me in some ways, but those factors also give me empathy for other clergy who are having trouble transitioning out of traditional parish ministry–not such a bad thing.


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