The College Board lists careers in the clergy as one of the ten fastest-growing careers through 2018. A career in the ministry is, though, much more than just a job. It's a way of life. Reverend Becca Clark, the pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier, Vermont, graciously consented to discuss what a day on the job with a minister is like.
Why Choose a Career in the Ministry?
Ministry is one of those strange careers that seem to choose you rather than the other way around. Becca never thought, growing up, that she'd want to be a pastor – her family wasn't particularly active in the church. But in college, as she was studying to be a teacher and not really feeling it, she had instead a call in her head that said, “Not teacher. Preacher!” When Becca pictured herself as a preacher, she felt both inspired and peaceful. It's a vocation for her, not a career choice.
What is a Typical Day on the Job Like?
There really is no such thing as a “typical day.” Sundays are the obvious, visible days, when Becca leads worship, and it's pretty clear what might go into that. But much more happens behind the scenes. Becca spends time in prayer and reflection, then she goes into her office, where she might meet with staff to go over events for the week or select music for the Sunday service.
On any given day, Becca might meet with people in the community to talk about poverty issues or get support for a community board to help teens. She regularly meets with colleagues and with people who are considering a vocational calling to ministry. Becca reads and selects prayers for the service and brainstorms thoughts throughout the week. Most days she has a meeting – scheduled or not – with a member of her congregation or a person from the community who needs a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a word of prayer or encouragement.
One day a week, Becca attends a soup kitchen at her church. Sometimes she leads prayer for public functions. Other times she attends rallies at the statehouse for workers' rights. Some nights, she holds committee meetings to discuss finances, maintenance, programming and events. And sometimes she meets with families to plan weddings or funerals for loved ones.
Career Satisfaction and Challenges
Becca finds great satisfaction in meeting with people who are considering careers as ministers, or with fellow clergy to share the joys and burdens of the calling. Other rewards include crafting and leading creative worship services and participating on a community board that helps address needs for food, clothing and shelter. Becca also finds satisfaction in walking a family through grief following the loss of a loved one and feeling that, in some small way, she and her church create a memorial service that honors the deceased and offers opportunities for the venting of grief and the beginning of healing.
Challenge-wise, there are many aspects to being a minister, and not much of it is easily delegated. Becca feels like it's impossible to get everything done, though there is nothing that she would trade or cut out. There's also a constant sense of accessibility that comes with the job, of people wanting access to the pastor, that can take a toll emotionally and psychologically.
Necessary Skills for the Job and Working Atmosphere
Ministers really are jacks of all trades in a way. The most important thing, which can't be faked, is deep compassion for others. A minister needs to be able to truly listen and hear people where they are. They also need to be able to set firm but loving boundaries so they don't over-commit or enable rather than empower people in their churches. Ministers listen to God as well as to people and are willing to reflect what they hear with conviction and love. It also helps to be organized, to be good at strategy around goals and how to get there, and comfortable working with people one-on-one and in crowd settings.
Becca sets the tone in her office, and it's a laid-back place. She brings her nine-month-old son in with her. It's hard to be too structured when there's a baby crawling all over the place. The people she works with are team members in the ministry of the church, whether staff or volunteers, and she has a lot of respect for her team. Trinity United Methodist is a small church – about 65 in worship – and there's a regular staff of six: pastor, church administrator, Christian education/Sunday school director, music director, choir director and a sexton/janitor. Becca is the only full-time employee. Each person, and the many church volunteers, brings gifts to the table.
The Lifestyle of a Minister
As a United Methodist pastor, Becca serves where the Bishop appoints her. A typical United Methodist pastor may serve five to seven churches in a career and move every five to ten years. Becca's family doesn't own a home but either lives in a parsonage or rents using a housing allowance. They move when they're told to move.
Another lifestyle aspect is the sense of Becca and her family living “in a fishbowl.” Clergy are considered public figures, and ministers (and their families, who didn't sign up for it) are often under scrutiny. Becca almost always has to be “on” as a pastor, whether at church or in the grocery store. It can be hard to make new friends, because many people seem intimidated by what she does, or they're afraid she might somehow be holier-than-thou or judgmental.
Advice to People Interested in Ministry
To people interested in ministry, Becca recommends a good support network: partner, family, friends and colleagues who will be honest with you, challenge you and support you through thick and thin. Ministry and parenting are the two most challenging and rewarding things Becca does, and they are similar.
The goal of ministry is to love people into the best of themselves, by showing what love (and in so doing, to show what God is, since God is love) and helping them grow. That means sometimes you're incredibly needed, so much that it feels stifling, and sometimes you have to let go and trust the people you have nurtured to spread their wings and take responsibility for their own choices and faith. Being a minister requires checking your ego and sensitivity at the door. This is never about you, but about your congregation and about God.
As you can see, there's really no typical day on the job with a minister. Each day presents its own challenges. Becca feels the ministry chose her, and she can't imagine doing anything else. As she puts it, “Some people spend their whole lives looking for a place to make a difference, a way to help others, a path that helps them draw closer to the Divine. When I put my head on my pillow at night, I know I have done those things, and I am at peace with my self, my life and my God.”