A new career for a burned out pastor?
October 27, 2009 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Career brainstorming filter: Help me help my minister friend think creatively about a midlife second career.

The basics: like me, he's a minister, located in a congregational setting doing traditional church ministry. But he's getting burned out and wants to find another career.

He's well educated, but all his training is ministry-related. A bachelor's in Biblical Studies, a 90-hour Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry.

What he likes about ministry: helping people, being a leader, research and communication, analyzing the congregation as a system and helping it work better. He's really good at the "big picture" stuff, and every church he's been at has grown while he was there. He's not pushy, but people follow his lead because of his high competence levels and he likes setting the direction. What he doesn't like: lack of privacy, role ambiguity, (competing expectations from lay leaders and the congregation), lack of autonomy (i.e., being over-ruled by his eldership board on matters where he frankly knows more than they do.)

So he'd like something where he can either be his own boss or at least have the authority to get things done. If necessary, he could go back to school for a couple of years. He's got a stellar graduate GPA and something like a 1250 on the GRE, so getting into a good school shouldn't be a problem. He's thought about seeking licensure as a marriage and family therapist (LMFT), but isn't sure how likely it would be to get back to his current salary--$70,000 + family health insurance. He doesn't necessarily need quite that much, but getting in that ballpark is a plus.

I think the main thing is that he always, only, wanted to be a minister, and just hasn't ever thought about other options. But he's seriously burned out and needs some help thinking about what other careers might be a good fit. Anything to help him spark an idea, or even advice about how to go about finding a second field, could be useful.

Thanks for helping us think through this!
posted by Pater Aletheias to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think he's on the right track: pastors and counselors/therapists have a lot in common. For a while I was trying to figure out if it would be possible to be a counselor specifically to pastors, as they face unique challenges and expectations, and as you mention, are expected to be invulnerable, which leads to burnout.

Building on this leadership skills is also a step in the right direction. What about leading workshops? I know pastors don't have a lot of spare time, but he try doing something here and there on the side to see if that's something he would enjoy. There are a ton of congregations that could use help in terms of figuring out communications plans/web sites, etc., or hiring/staffing issues, or learning how to get those constituencies (pastor, congregants, elders, committees, whomever) to converse with one another. This plan would take some time to get off the ground, however.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:05 AM on October 27, 2009

Does he really need a different career or does he need a sabbatical? In either case, getting training as a therapist would be helpful in either case. A friend of mine went from being a licensed clinical social worker into the pastorate (he's in a multipastor setting where he does mostly ministering and little to no speaking) and his skill set is invaluable.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:09 AM on October 27, 2009

Does he really need a different career or does he need a sabbatical?

I talked through that with him, and I agree that he really does need a second career. Even though he's good at what he does, it seems that it's never really brought him satisfaction, and it's time to move on while he's still young enough to get established in a new field. There are some non-trivial but not directly relevant secondary issues that further confirm that.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:25 AM on October 27, 2009

I bet he'd be really good with nonprofit grant writing or fundraising, and he wouldn't have to go back to school for that.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:41 PM on October 27, 2009

There are a ton of congregations that could use help in terms of figuring out communications plans/web sites, etc.

The thing about that is, I expect that for most congregations who are part of a larger denomination, the denomination already has people who do that. I know for sure that that was true of our denomination--if there was such a need in a congregation, that's what the district executives or, barring that, someone higher up in the central denominational office, were for. I don't know if he'd be either needed or looked upon very kindly by both congregations and by the larger polity if he were to strike out on his own.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:46 PM on October 27, 2009

dlugoczaj, I obviously don't know how every denomination approaches their communications materials, but I think it's a career path worth exploring. Many individual churches have their own web sites, even if they follow the guidelines set by their denomination. Obviously you wouldn't create your own logo, etc., but there seems to be variety and leeway that might create an opportunity (and if you're someone who can cut through the red tape and knows what is/isn't permitted, you would have extra value). I would presume that a pastor would be familiar with their denomination's requirements, and of course research would be necessary before embarking on any new career path. Communications materials would also include fliers, bulletins, social media presence, etc., that might be less closely guarded by the denomination.

Pater Aletheias, the UCC is one denomination that does fairly well in their communications pieces, so they might be a good example to check out.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:55 PM on October 27, 2009

The denomination we are in has no organization above the congregational level whatsoever. There's no regional office or judicatory or anything. It's all a bunch of free agents. Which means that he could go out on his own as a consultant/workshop leader without annoying anyone, but he'd have to do a bunch of advertising in denominational papers and create a position out of thin air. But it would let him use his current skill set and give him the autonomy he wants. That's a good thought.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2009

Pater Aletheias, I have sent you mefimail.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:14 PM on October 27, 2009

My first thought was nonprofit admin for something involving leadership development. My second thought was academic admin -- he sounds like he'd be a perfect candidate for something like an assistant dean of student affairs.
posted by desuetude at 1:23 PM on October 27, 2009

Yeah, academic administration - aiming toward eg dean of students at a college.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2009

Inside Higher Ed (free) and the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub needed for some sections) have job listings where he can get a sense of what qualifications employers are asking for. He will want to think about whether he'd be willing to move for a job, whether there are schools close to him that would be suitable, and whether he'd like to be at a religious school or a non-religious school, community college, liberal arts college, master's university (usually regional schools), or research university.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:20 PM on October 27, 2009

He could teach! I'm a pastor who teaches at a state university and I love it. A good Lutheran pastor friend of mine went back and got his Ph.D. in linguistics and teaches at the school as well.
Grading papers completely sucks but teaching undergraduates is a lot of fun. He'd take a fairly hefty pay hit, but he could do weekly pulpit supply and bring in an extra $7500 per year.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The thing about that is, I expect that for most congregations who are part of a larger denomination, the denomination already has people who do that.

Hahahahah! Go look at the websites for the larger church denominations. There is a definite need for church web professionals.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:56 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about being a chaplain in a hospital? It would require some training/education but I don't think it would be much for someone who is already a practicing pastor. I am close with someone who has begun the training process and he has found it to be an amazing experience in terms of the work and what he is able to offer patients and their families. It's incredibly important to have someone in a hospital to offer support and bear witness as people are dying. It may not have as much of the big picture stuff--unless he gets into running a chaplaincy program or something--but it would provide him a lot of opportunity to help people and he wouldn't have to deal with the lack of privacy and the role ambiguity.
posted by min at 6:01 PM on October 27, 2009

Hahahahah! Go look at the websites for the larger church denominations. There is a definite need for church web professionals.

Seconded, but particularly more-so at the *denominational* level - which is often a rather small entity / office - being primarily comprised of the pastoral staff of the various churches in said denominations.

That said, a lot of churches (especially the bigger ones) have some really mind-boggling fantastic websites, if you take a little time to browse around.

Anyhow, I dropped in to nth teaching. Basically that's a huge part of his current job, right? He could either go back to school to get a degree in teaching, or skip that and go straight to teaching at a seminary.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:31 AM on October 28, 2009

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