How to Leave Full-Time Ministry for “the Marketplace” (without giving up ministry)

If you’re working in full-time ministry but thinking of transitioning to “secular work” or “the marketplace,” then I’ve put this page together specifically for you.

I spent three years working in full-time ministry and genuinely loved it. I have no doubt I was called to do it, but after a big move overseas there were far fewer opportunities.

I took a job in the corporate world to gain some new experience and to pay the bills.

Turns out, I loved the corporate world.

There was still ample opportunity to do ministry, and I recognized the need for leaders with integrity outside of full-time ministry.

It’s been six years, and while I still miss aspects of full-time ministry, I’ve never seriously considered going back.

I recently spoke to a friend who is about to leave full-time ministry for the marketplace. We have some mutual friends who are also considering making the move, but they’re not sure where to start.

I’m not a career expert or recruiter, but I thought it would help to share my experience changing careers.

I’d also like to say this post isn’t just for people looking to leave full-time ministry. Even though it’s targeted towards ex-pastors, I really think these are helpful guidelines for anyone looking to change careers.

Lastly, this page has intentionally been filled with cheesy stock images from the corporate world.

Let’s do this.

But first, this post is not…

An attempt to convince you to leave full-time ministry: I’m a firm believer in the value of pastors and other full-time ministry workers. We need them, and I’m not trying to convince you to leave. It’s a personal decision between you, your family, and God. If you have already decided to transition (or are just considering it), this post will provide some helpful tips.

An attempt to convince you to stay in full-time ministry: After talking with my friend, I started searching to see what resources might be available on this topic. Most results fit into the following two categories:

1) A guide for people trying to leave the corporate world and go into full-time ministry, or

2) An attempt to convince pastors that full-time ministry isn’t so bad and offer tips to help you stay in full-time ministry.

Both topics are valid and important, but it’s not what I’m going to do here. This is a guide for people who are already in full-time ministry but want to transition to “secular” fields like government, arts, corporations, trades, and media.

guide to leaving full-time ministry - corporate meeting photo

A pass to stop doing any ministry: You might notice I’ve been using both the words “full-time ministry” and “ministry” so far. I’m keeping them separate on purpose, because once you transition from full-time ministry you still have plenty of opportunity to do ministry (you just don’t get paid for it).

Later in this post I’ll dive into this topic more, how you can continue to be an ambassador for Christ outside of full-time ministry.

Let’s talk about guilt

One thing that holds people back from leaving ministry is a sense of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

If you leave ministry, will people think you’ve sold out? Are you admitting that you got your calling wrong? Does it make you a failure? Will your job be less spiritually relevant or meaningful?

I struggled with leaving, mostly because I thought I’d disappoint people.

Assuming you are not actively going against God’s calling, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to feel guilty for leaving. There are many valid reasons to leave full-time ministry:

  • Your calling can change
  • Full-time ministry has become too hard for your family
  • Family budget is growing larger than ministry can provide for
  • Full-time Ministry is exhausting and you’re tired
  • You have a passion for another career
  • You’ve lost your full-time ministry job and can’t find another
  • You need a break for a few years
  • The marketplace is a great place to work and represent Christ

I had trouble naming this page, because ultimately “the marketplace” or “secular work” create a dichotomy that isn’t very helpful when discussing jobs and careers.

Should you feel guilty leaving full-time ministry?

It’s important to remember that work outside of full-time ministry is still rich with meaning, and you certainly should never feel ashamed of any work you do for God’s glory.

Working in the marketplace can and should still be a platform for worship and ministry.

In fact, the Bible is filled with examples of Godly people who had careers outside of full-time ministry and still made a huge difference.

As Tim Keller (and Martin Luther) put it in Every Good Endeavor, “When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, the ‘fingers of God,’ the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.”

When you love your neighbor through your work, no job is meaningless. Depending on your career, you can help put food on the table, provide shelter, clear waste, teach or share information, keep people moving, and so much more.

Not only that, but I have found there is ample opportunity to continue sharing the love of God after leaving full-time ministry. My position as an ex-church employee and current corporate worker has created some unique opportunities to make a difference for God’s Kingdom.

How to Choose the Best Field – Start with WHAT you Know

The first question I hear people ask when they consider changing careers is, “but what else can I do?”

Here’s the good news – you’ve got skills and abilities. Just because you’ve worked for a church or parachurch for multiple years does not mean you are not qualified to work other jobs. In fact, ministry has probably helped you develop some awesome skills for the marketplace.

I’m not going to pretend that finding a job (any job) is easy either. It’s hard for everyone, and probably harder for people looking to change careers completely.

The best place to start, however, is with what you know. Most jobs want someone with experience, and just because your experience came inside a full-time ministry job does not make it invalid.

Ask yourself, what is my favorite part of my job now?

guide to leave full-time ministry well - cheesy celebration

For me, I worked for a pretty large church in the youth group. There were parts I loved and parts that were tedious, parts I thrived at and others I struggled with. When I started looking for a job outside of vocational ministry, I considered the things I loved most:

  • Writing devotionals and website content
  • Managing our social media channels
  • Planning and promoting events
  • Video Creation
  • Preaching

Marketing was a career where I knew many of those skills would be useful. I may not write devotions anymore, but I could write content. Search and social media skills are increasingly important in marketing, event planning happens with things like tradeshows, and corporate video has become a vital part of marketing strategies. I probably wouldn’t be preaching any more, but I figured I could confidently give presentations on any other topic.

I did not have a degree in Marketing, but instead had them in Philosophy and Speech Communication. Not exactly career-focused degrees, but both required a lot of writing and persuasion.

guide to leave full-time ministry well - philosopher photo

Photo by andrewasmith

Since no one would pay me to sit around and ponder the meaning of life like any good philosopher would, I started looking for jobs specifically in marketing.

Because I started by identifying the things I loved, six years later I still really enjoy Marketing and look forward to continuing to grow in this field.

But enough about me! How about you? What is your favorite part of your job? What do you think you are actually really good at?

Once you’ve highlighted those skills, start looking around for careers that take advantage of them. Research online, ask people about their jobs and what their day-to-day activities include, read job descriptions, and see what is out there.

If you’re still having trouble, here is a helpful list of career options for people with an Masters of Divinity and here are a few examples of jobs held by ex-pastors.

How to Get a Job – Start with WHO you Know

Now that you’ve identified the field you want to get into, you’ve got to actually get the job. When it comes to getting a job, the old adage is really true, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Every time someone makes a hiring decision, they take a risk. Hiring is often about reducing risk, and the fact that you’re coming from a different field often adds risk in the eyes of a potential employer. That’s why knowing the right people can help tremendously.

guide to leave full-time ministry - who you know

An employer is far more likely to hire someone when they can say, “Sure, Mike may not have experience in a traditional logistics role, but I know he works hard, has good ideas, is extremely organized, and always friendly to others.”

If you want people to say things like that when you apply for a job, then you’ve got to get to know them.

I discovered my job through a connection at church. I had explained that I was looking for a marketing job and a friend named Scott said, “my company is hiring a Marketing Assistant, you should check it out.”

He wasn’t the hiring manager, but the fact that I knew him got my name to the top of a pile of 50 resumes. I still had to do well in the interviews and prayed a lot for the job, but that initial leg-up made a huge difference.

job interview - leave full-time ministry

Here are some practical ways to build connections in the field of work you want to get into:

  • Find local groups or associations you can join. For instance, I could go to monthly marketing meetings where people from around my city mingle and chat and then learn about a specific topic. Some people find this awkward and difficult, and it can be, but your full-time ministry experience should have given you plenty of practice talking to strangers.
  • Look for people in your church who do what you want to do. This can be a bit touchy depending on your role in the church, but these kind of connections can be very valuable because of the long-term relationships you might have. Not only could this person help you find a job, but they can also teach you and help you understand what their career is really like. Learning about their work can help you identify the your next best field.
  • Look for neighbors who do what you want to do. Hopefully you already know some neighbors well, but if not, it’s time to start. Just like with church members, your neighbors can give you insight into their career.
  • Take advantage of LinkedIn. The best social media platform for finding a job is LinkedIn. You can see job advertisements, but more importantly you can connect with old friends and see what kind of work they do. I would argue that connecting on LinkedIn is really just the first step. If you see someone you knew in college that works in your hopeful field, then send them a message and try to meet up with them for lunch to ask questions and learn. You can also make yourself visible to recruiters and identify the field you’re looking for a job, all without going public. Here are 15 additional tips for taking advantage of LinkedIn to get a job.
  • Talk to Recruiters. Recruiters are always looking for talent to fill position. Typically, they get paid by the company who does the hiring, which means they are free for you. Good recruiters can offer you career advice, help with your resume, get to know you, and keep you in mind when available jobs come on the market. Employers value the opinion of recruiters, so they can give you a big foot in the door. Hopefully you know someone already who is a recruiter, but if not, you can find them on LinkedIn or through google searches.

Ultimately, you’ll still need to prove yourself with a professional resume and a successful interview process, but knowing the right people goes a long way towards landing a job.

More Tips for Success

1. Decide if you will work for someone else or work for yourself: Transitioning out of full-time ministry does not mean you have to go out and work for “the man.” Many people choose to start their own business.

One possible benefit of this path is that you might be able to start your business while still keeping your day job. The challenge, of course, is that you already have a demanding day job, so finding extra time to start a business can require serious discipline. The pay is also unpredictable, so sometimes the transition is much easier when you go after a job with a consistent paycheck.

Even if you ultimately decide to work for someone else, starting a side business in your field now can help you learn and prepare for the marketplace later.

guide to leaving full-time ministry - job in photo

2. Demonstrate that you are willing to learn: When you change careers, recognize that any employer who hires you is taking a risk. You can help give them confidence by demonstrating a willingness to learn.

This may mean you look for mentors in the business who can teach you their ways, or it could mean you go to night school to develop other skills or get an MBA (before or after you land a job). A good attitude and a desire to grow are important qualities for any employee, and you might be surprised at how this sets you apart from others.

3. Can you do a part-time transition? This is not an option for everyone, but would your full-time ministry job consider allowing you to go part-time for awhile?

This can give you more freedom and flexibility to look for a job, or maybe it allows you to take a part-time job in the field you’re considering to learn the ropes before going full-time. If you’re starting your own business it also provides a consistent paycheck while you try to get things off the ground.

It also might give you a chance to train a replacement in your full-time ministry job. Again, not a possibility for everyone, but something worth exploring.

4. Pray: When my wife (Morgan) and I moved to New Zealand, we stayed with a wonderful family for free. I remember Morgan, who wanted to demonstrate that she wasn’t lazy and was making every effort to find a job, explained all the things she had done to look for a job. “I’ve dropped off this many resumes, subscribed to this job site, met with so many principals, etc.” Our host nodded as he listened, and then asked her, “and how much time have you spent in prayer?”

It was a compelling question, and one neither of us had a great answer to. The reality is, changing careers is hard, but if God calls you to a different field of work, He can provide a job for you. Praying is one of the most important ways you can seek His guidance, support, and provision, and we should not neglect it.

From Ministry to Ministry – How to Continue Being an Ambassador for Christ

Once you’ve found a job outside of full-time ministry, there is still ample opportunity to represent Christ wherever you work. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 is a rather foundational passage for this site, and it says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Regardless of where you work, you are called to be an ambassador for Christ. Your history working in full-time ministry means you are uniquely gifted to serve and minister to those you encounter. Here are a few ways you can continue to do ministry after leaving full-time ministry:

  1. Love and Respect others: People in the marketplace are people, but love and respect can sometimes be hard to find. Many in the workplace feel the need to demean or take advantage of others so they can feel more powerful. This behavior hurts people and productivity. Showing your co-workers respect and compassion will make a serious difference in their lives, and make you a light in what could otherwise be a dark place.
  2. Share the Gospel: Hey this should be obvious, but we’re called to share the good news wherever we go – not just at church. I’ve found that when you love and respect others well, you build strong relationships with co-workers and people become much more open to spiritual conversation.
  3. Do a great job: If you plan on representing Christ, it’s really important that you make every effort to do a good job. I knew a guy once who shared the gospel constantly at work, but rarely finish jobs on time. One of his co-workers finally said to him, “if you spent half the energy you use telling us this junk on actually doing your job, I might consider listening to you.”
  4. Work with Integrity: I’ve talked in depth before about the importance of integrity in the workplace, but the short version is this: there is a shortage of integrity in the workplace. Your integrity can make a positive difference, and even help your business thrive.
  5. Volunteer at your Church: When I stopped working for a church, I suddenly had a lot more free-time. My corporate job was actually a 40 hour week (I know not everyone has this luxury). This meant I still had plenty of time in the week to dedicate to supporting my local church. It was a smaller congregation, and there was plenty of opportunity for me to use my gifts and experience to help the church grow. I was also able to support the leadership of the church in a unique way, because I had an idea of what church leadership was actually like.
  6. Disciple others: When it comes to full-time ministry, preaching gets the spotlight, but some of the most serious heart change comes through life-on-life discipleship. Randy Pope is a pastor of a very large church in Atlanta. In his book, Insourcing, he argues that discipleship is so important to ministry that he would give up his job before giving up discipleship. Therefore, if you do leave full-time ministry, discipling others is an amazing, commissioned-by-Jesus way to minister to others.
  7. Servant Leadership: Many people view leadership as a chance to lord their power over others, but Jesus calls us to something different in Luke 22. “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” Servant leadership is a form of ministry, but can also support your company’s bottom line. Many have demonstrated that servant leadership produces great results, and it will continue to do so years into the future.

That’s all I’ve got for you on how to leave full-time ministry for the marketplace, but I’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about being a leader in your place of work, I’d encourage you to check out my free ebook on Leadership in the Book of Nehemiah.

Lastly, if you know anyone considering a career change, please share this with them if you think it will help!

Photo by Bs0u10e0

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