The ministry, or no?

A few days ago, I got an email asking advise about entering the ministry. Here’s an edited version of my reply.

As a rule I don’t encourage people to enter the ministry. To make my
concern as plain as possible, the cost of preparing for the ministry
is more likely to leave you exposed to financial hardship than
provide a path to engaging pastoral ministry. There is too little help
and too few open churches. Little wonder you hear so much about
military chaplaincies and community ministry now.

My advice? Do as much as you can as a para-professional or a amateur
(in the best sense of the word). Work creatively with your
congregation (and minister, if you have one) to shape what you can to
apart from the formal fellowship preparation process. If that proves,
in time, to be insufficient, then you have your answer.

Let me go a bit further. A para-professional isn’t self-appointed and also needs formation, thought I can imagine informal or non-traditional ways to do so. And self-monitor zeal (or prepare to have it monitored for you.) I’ve heard enough cautionary tales about would-be ministerial cowboys who make trouble for those ministers who have the pastoral trust and authority of the parishes that called them. Don’t be one of these.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I also caution people about entering the ministry. The calling comes with a fari share of hardship, including in many cases quasi-poverty, and the sometimes discouraging dynamics of congregational communities.

    My advice, try your hand at non-ordained ministries and see what grows from there. Consider options for earning supplemental income, even if you one-day will be ordained. Oh how I wish I had eanred a nursing degree before I earned my MDiv .

  2. Amen. However, I’d add a quibble that Community Ministry is increasingly viable these days. Probably the highest paid minister in the UUA is a Community Minister and the limits to what can be accomplished exceed those of the parish. But it is harder, and requires more training than the parish.

    Full Disclosure-I’m the President of the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries.

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