What can ministers do

OK, bivocational ministries — where someone has a pastorate and a day job — are a good answer in a number of situations, if for no other reason than health insurance can be hard to come by, or there is no possibility of yoking two or more small, part-time churches. It is worth talking about since the Universalists historically all but banned it (though ministers could own businesses, it seemed) and Unitarian Universalist fellowship rules don’t exactly encourage it.

So a question: what are some of the things ministers usually do, or are trained for in an M.Div. program, that apply in the secular workplace? Think of it as collective resume building. (Chutney: I feel, or rather have felt, your pain.)

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I guess I’ll start it off then. ;-) Here’s what I’ve done post-seminary:

    ** Run the office for a seminary consortium
    ** Do communications and events planning for a small university department
    ** Tend bar and wait tables
    ** Tutor rich kids

    In both my higher education jobs, my supervisor was also an MDiv. I’m inclined to think this made all the difference in my getting the job in the first place.

  2. I’ve found that MDiv’s are valued in non-profit work (I’ve used mine at both a secular homeless shelter and at an Episcopalian run charity). Skills from seminary my employers were specifically interested in included…

    1) managment skills learned in my church administration classes, including how to work with a board and manage volunteers
    2) public speaking skills
    3) listening skills (especially when dealing with difficult clients)
    4) and to a lesser extent writing skills

    As a large aside, Scott what do you mean that Universalist ministers were historically banned from bi-vocational ministry? In the old Ohio State Convention of Universalists there was a tradition of women bi-vocational ministers who were school teachers durring the week, and preachers at mostly small and often rural Universalist churches (part of this pattern was sexist, with larger churches mostly choosing male preachers, who they then paid better). Historic examples of bi-vocational women I’ve done research on included Sarah Stoner, Charlotta Crossley, and Olive Kimmel. According to my church history professor at Earlham, this paralleled the male bi-vocational ministry pattern among rural Presbyterians (school master and preacher) as the frontier spread west from Ohio out to Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. Many of these Ohio women got their education at Buchtel Universalist College (now merged into the University of Akron). This was all “back in the day” when a formal theological education was not uniformly mandatory for ordination in the Universalist Church, and women still had trouble accessing formal theological education (including education at Universalist theological schools like Tufts, St. Lawrence, and Lombard). So many of these aspiring female preachers became public school teachers via a degree from their local Universalist college, and then stepped into bi-vocational ministry at mostly small and rural churches in communities where they could also work as teachers.

    Perhaps you could also blog on, and we all could discuss, some more about the additional bi-vocational dynamics you’ve touched upon. This could include access to health insurance and pension, ministerial credentialing, church yoking, and I would add denominational expectations that bi-vocational ministers attend all the customary denominational meetings (a pet concern of mine). I’m doing the bi-vocational thing, and I know you’ve done it before in Georgia, and I’m guessing there are a few readers of this blog who have also tried bi-vocational ministry with different levels of success.

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