After university, you will eventually face a career choice, apply to an in-country church or organization where you can get a pay check, or apply to a place that needs volunteers and where you will need to raise support. When one has student debt, they are forced to try for the former choice, as they need the paycheck to pay off the debt. Without debt, the choice is literally yours.
If you already know what type of ministry fits you personally, take the time to research it and see what ministries are already involved. Check their websites, newsletters and the like and see if there are positions available. Some ministries cannot offer pay to internationals due to their local status and local laws, but they can offer housing and other minor benefits that mean you don’t have as much support to raise.
This is part eight in the “Debt Free University to Ministry series” the other parts are as follows:
Part Three: Value Based Spending
Ministry For Pay:
From what I have seen in pastor positions, most of these require the applicant to be married. So, if part of your degree included getting your marriage degree, you will have more chance of being hired than if it did not. I had one guy friend who was considered for an associate pastor position and was considered perfect. However, he did not get the position because he was not married.
In ministry, one has more opportunity if one has a marketable skill to offer. Many ministries, not so much churches, need people who can do video, writing, handle social media, and other promotional style work. Still others need people skilled with numbers, or skilled in administration. Pastoral ministry is not the only possible avenue of ministry.
In my own area, most of the churches are small and few can afford more than one paid staff person. Thus, since they already have senior pastors, there is little chance of them hiring another paid staff member. As such, volunteer ministry, or moving, are the only two options relevant in my area. The other skill sets are expected to volunteer their skills. In a larger center the options would, necessarily, be more varied. At the same time, today’s economic climate and the general job market does not make one too sanguine either.
Volunteer Ministry: Full-time or Short-Term
Currently every ministry and its brother wants volunteers. Your challenge is to find the ones that don’t just want volunteers for the free work, but volunteers who will be a valued and integral part of their operations. As I mentioned before, some international ministries cannot employ non-local paid staff, and must have anyone who is from out of country as a volunteer. While these ministries cannot pay, they usually offer some type of benefit for a full-time staff member, although most of your expenses will be on your own plate.
There is one type of volunteer ministry to avoid. That is the one that wants you to pay several thousand plus plane fare, to come and work for 2-4 weeks for free. While I have nothing against these as short-term missions’ opportunities, if you are looking for full-time ministry it is usually better to save your cash. A short-term trial period is often requested by ministries, and while that can be both a challenge, and a deep dip into your bank account, it is worth it to find if you like the ministry, the people, and actually want to work for them full-time.
Walking through events like Mission’s Fest Vancouver, I find many booths trying to pull young adults in with bright, shiny “tour” ministry options. While some of these are no doubt, helpful and relevant, for someone going into full-time missions they are irrelevant. Now, I have been on one educational tour which I took a large degree of benefit from. That was the Engage Israel tour, and thanks to the theology that was taught, I ended up having a great deal of “fun” when my theology textbook the next fall didn’t agree with the Bible!
Hence, while the benefits of short-term volunteer missions, particularly those targeted at young adults, are more in line with learning, fun, and making new friends. Long term volunteer missions are more focused on the people, with a side focus on your own learning and growth. If your emphasis is on active ministry then taking the time to find a long-term option, whether international or not, will save you time and money later.
While I do not grudge the tour I went on, thanks to the theology, I slightly grudge the time and effort in the airports. Travel is tiring, and expensive, and the less of it the better in my mind. Of course, having to come home and apply for visas, and support, makes the return practical. However, it does not make it any easier.
Challenges of Volunteer Ministry:
In any ministry there will be challenges, difficulties, and benefits. International volunteer ministry is no exception. Different monetary systems, language, and even transportation systems all require a sharp learning curve to master.
In international ministry the cost of living can either be higher, or lower, than that of home. In my case, the cost of housing and utilities is higher than home, but the cost of food is lower. Hence once I’m on-the-ground my housing will be covered, since I’m a volunteer, and my utilities and food will slightly balance each other so my personal expenses will not be much higher than at home. This balance, however, can change dramatically based on the exchange rate, and so having a little room in the budget is essential.
In my 3 month experience in Jerusalem this past year, my biggest challenge was being unable to read Hebrew. Hence, I am now trying to learn to read it, even if I will not master speaking until later. Depending on the country, you can have a larger or a lesser struggle with the language. I can make out a good bit when reading French, even though I never learned it, but trying to read a completely different alphabet is a lot more challenging.
The benefits are fairly obvious. You get to work with amazing people, learn a new culture, study a new land, and even have many opportunities to have fun. As a writer, all these things are awesome. Though, as far as I can tell, writers like collecting new experiences like beads on a string, and we never really know when they will be useful.
A Ministry Reminder:
Remember, no matter what type of ministry you want to enter whether in one area or another, volunteer or paid, the biggest thing is that the ministry needs to challenge you to grow. In a believer’s life, one is either growing or stagnating. Ministry is front-line work, it is challenging and also rewarding, and the struggles are nearly constant. If you are not growing while in ministry, you will soon burn out. Taking care of ones’ own growth and continued maturity are essential to remaining strong while there, on the front line.
Back To You:
What advice would you give someone seeking to enter full-time ministry? If you have been in full time ministry, what was one thing you wish you’d been told before you began?
Leave a comment, I enjoy he