How Do I Feed My Family Now that I’m Not a Pastor? A Guide to Jobs for ExPastors

So, you’re a pastor and you’re thinking about calling it quits? It’s time to hand in the towel because you’re burned out, stressed out, frustrated, or you’re having a crisis of conscience. But you’re caught up on a question you can’t seem to find the answer to: How do I feed my family now that I’m no longer a pastor?

Maybe you’ve been so busy with ministry that you haven’t had any time to invest in other employable skills. Or maybe you just don’t know where to begin.

I remember asking the same question.

I was going through a challenging time. I was leading several different ministries within our church and preaching during the interim, as our church was searching for a new lead pastor. Eventually a new senior leader was hired and, well, that made my decision to leave a little easier, as we didn’t quite see eye to eye on just about everything.

But, truthfully, it went much deeper than that. There were other factors in my life and in the ministry that just made things more challenging. I was burned out. I was overworked and I was underpaid. Or so I thought.

Very shortly after his arrival, the new pastor pulled me aside and, seeming perplexed by my salary, stated that I was “making too much.”

I was working between 60-70 hours a week (some weeks even more), leading multiple ministries within the church, all while supporting my wife and our newborn son. I was making about $12,000 less than the average median income for a person my age. We were living in a one bedroom apartment and, even after cutting out most everything we possibly could, we were barely getting by.

Needless to say, that was just one of the many reasons why I decided it was time to call it quits.

I don’t think my story differs much from so many others out there. A bunch of different factors came into play and I was left contemplating my next step. But one unanswered question still lingered: What do I do now that I’m no longer a pastor?

Well, first I needed to find a job.

The stress of making the decision to leave the only thing you’ve known is hard enough, but now you’re adding another layer of difficulty: the search for employment.

Finding A Job That Fits

For many pastors, the search for employment can be quite challenging because their only employable skills are wrapped up in their religious education and experience. Let’s be honest, most employers are not looking at hiring individuals with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.

POSTED ON January 30, 2014
  • Rick

    I became a hospice chaplain. We are taking a Sabbatical and are looking to return to pastoring. Hospice pays well. I only have a bachelors degree, if I had a masters it would pay better. The primary skill they look for is pastoral care, which came naturally for me.

    • Rick, that’s a great suggestion. Thanks for joining in on the conversation. Question, what is the reason why you took a sabbatical, if you don’t mind sharing.

  • Rocky

    What About Me? Last year I left my pastorate after 14 years, and felt like I needed a change, and the church needed a change, thus I do not regret leaving, I Have been in full time ministry for 30 years. I am now 58 years old. When I send a church a resume, 90% of those churches respond, “We chose to go in another direction” – for whatever that means! Or they say, send us a DVD, and when I do, I never hear from them again. I want to be in full time ministry. I am in good health. I do not want to leave the ministry, but no one is interested in me. I guess I am to old, to ugly, and not charismatic enough. But I agree with your assessment of the situation, I have known many who have left the ministry.

    • I’m not entirely sure what positions or areas of ministry you are applying for but there are several different pastoral roles within church (namely larger churches have the resources to hire multiple pastoral roles). Maybe you can broaden your scope of ministry to different pastoral role, pastor care, senior care, etc.

  • Palamas

    So here’s a question for you: what about credentials? I did not have CPE in seminary (and don’t have anything like the time necessary to do it now), but every full-time chaplaincy position I look into says, “CPE necessary.” Teaching jobs want a doctorate or a state teacher’s certificate. Writing and editing jobs want experience in vocational settings, rather than the kind of writing and editing that a pastor does. I would be happy to go into any of those fields–how do I break in?

    • That’s a great question, Palamas. Again, I don’t think there are any one solution or one answer response. It’ll be challenging for someone who has only known life through their roles in ministry.

      For me, I didn’t have a degree for any of the roles I took after I left the pastorate. I was a production manager at a local radio station. I worked in the IT department at a local medical clinic. Neither of those I was qualified for, from an educational standpoint. However, I was able to maximize what I did during my time as a pastor to get my foot into the door. I’m not saying that education isn’t important or can’t decide your employment fate, but if you find ways to work on your resume (or get others to help you work on it), you’ll have better chances on landing something that doesn’t necessarily require a degree.

      Hope that helps.

      • Palamas

        It does. It certainly offers hope. Thanks, Bo!

        • Blessings, my friend. Hopefully we’re have more resources up shortly for you to check out.

    • dan

      If interested in institutional chaplancy a number of hospitals offer cpe programs with a stippen that will make it possible to complete 4 units (one year fulltime) required for chaplancy certification.

    • Janet Thompson

      Yes! Singing our song!

  • Bo you are singing my song! 3 years ago I left full time missionary leadership role when God told me, “you can help people like this!” I was listening to a 17 yr veteran missionary who got kicked out of his country of service with 72 hour notice. His church, family, agency and friends didn’t know how to help him and his family. Suddent loss of identity, direction and passion can create a real trauma to any of us in vocational ministry. As a headhunter for 10 years before I got into ministry, I learned to think of the options and look to transferable skills and how to reframe the valuable experience gained in ministry so employers can understand. It is a challenge but can be done. I now serve as a career and life transition coach to “help people like these” figure out what God wants them to do next. Dr. Terry Walling, author of Stuck! taught me that “Transitions are what God uses to move us from where we are, to where HE wants us to be.” I’ve seen that play out in the lives of other ministers as they learn to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit as He leads us back to where God wants us to serve. Reapplying the “gifts and calling” to new areas is a divine opportunity. To be sure, it is easier to see that after the transition, but there is life after ministry or ministry change!

    • Kelly, thanks so much for reaching out. I’d love to have your input, as I believe what you’re offering would greatly benefit the people who frequent our site. Please connect with me at bo (at) bolane (dot) org. Thanks.

    • David Lawhon

      I taught in the Virginia prison system for 20 years after I left ministry. I got beat up by three inmates so I retired. So at the age of 60 I am looking again for work.

      • David look to the Lord for direction as you consider what and how HE created you. Consider how your personality, strengths, skills, spiritual gifts and passion intersect. Dissect the jobs of teaching and pastor and see what are the parts that really were enjoyable and you felt fulfilled. That’s the sweet spot to look for as you begin this transition. A good book about life purpose and calling is MORE by Todd Wilson. He has some exercises and checklists I think you might find helpful. As you align with God’s direction (even though it may not be clear right now) you’ll get the confirmation you need. Walk through every door and take every opportunity that seems in the ballpark, knowing you can always walk away if it is not right. Seek the peace and confirmation that only the Lord can give. Blessings in the search… (p.s. I’m in Orlando hunkered down as Hurricane Irma approaches. Not sure how long power will hold out.)

      • David Lawhon

        Thanks Kelly I will look at the book and I will pray for everybody in the face of these hurricanes.

  • Sorry for dupe post.

  • eaglebot

    I left professional ministry after two degrees and 11 years of employment. First, I’d say leave behind the guilt and trust that God loves you for you and not for the work you were doing. He will come through. Second, I support the insights of getting help from the sheep with resume and job search who can transform the religious language and context of what we did in ministry into relevant marketplace skills and experience. Third, even though our theological degrees may not be relevant, having degrees does matter, and shows a level of intellectual capacity and self-discipline that garners respect in the marketplace. Four, take a sabbatical from ministry but find a place where your soul can heal and be refreshed, and where your family can find fellowship without the baggage of your former employment. My story is I started looking for a job and received help from a HR professional in my church, and another member got me connected to an employer interview. Three days after my resignation I had the first of three interviews, and a week later I was starting a new job in customer service and account management for a fulfillment and distribution company. It’s not glamorous but it is 8-5, no nights and weekends and feeds the family. I’ve found that God created us for work and our work in whatever field is a form of worship, and is a context to be salt and light for God’s kingdom.

    • Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your story. I’m sure it will be a blessing to those who read it.

  • Harry

    I haven’t read the article, but I’m glad to see my design in the header image! creation swap?

  • J. McLellan

    I just want to thank you all for sharing. I am in the process of leaving full time ministry and getting my degree in counseling. The thing that I find hard is in the back of my mind I hear that you are running from God. When in reality my path is a lot like Bo’s. I just want to serve God and not feel guilty that because I am leaving full time ministry that I am out of the will of God.

    • Hey J. I’d like to know more about your journey and why you’re making change to get a degree in counseling. Send me an email at bo (at) bolane (dot) org.

    • Marco martinez

      If you dont quit God wont quit proverbs 3:5 im sure the lord loves ya dont be decieved the enemy is a multitasker and will do what it takes to blind you! anchore your faith in the cross is the solution The reason pastors quit it is because unbelief .
      Romans 12:2 ESV

      Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    • Marco martinez

      If you dont quit god wont quit
      its unbeleif why pastors leave the ministry

      • Dee

        “its unbeleif why pastors leave the ministry”

        That is a very narrow-minded and judgmental comment Marco. You haven’t walked a mile in everyone’s shoes and you cannot possibly know the hearts of pastors who have left the ministry. Shame on you.

  • Pingback: Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Ministry? The Facts Will Shock You |

  • Ray Schwartz

    Bo – thank you, and so many others for such a needed ministry. Yes, after 38 years of ministry with less than 15 minutes notice, I was shown the door. And the kick that one gets in the stomach indeed lasts for years. Though a resume can ‘unchecked’ in the past – to be 60, and out – might mean one never returns to a calling they thought would last far longer. Like you, I am grieved at the stories – another came by me this week. I may be landing shortly after 20 months of no employment – God is in the the details. But we know first hand the loneliness, rejection and financial stress that goes with the loss of being forced out. Ministries like yours mean more to the thousands of us than you will ever know. Thank you! – Ray

    • Ray, thanks so much for comment. I’m praying for your journey. I’d love to connect some time. Please email me at bo (at) bolane (dot) org.

    • VanPastorMan

      Ray, I’ve been a pastor for 15 yrs (am in my late 40’s). About two years ago my daughter had sexual relations with a boy in the church basement after services. We (us and the boy’s parents) were floored when we found out and decided to not bring this up publicly so as to not embarrass them both. The boy’s father just last night told the elders what happened and I don’t know if I will be able to stay on at the church. They questioned my parenting a lot more than the other man whose son had been with my daughter. I explained that my daughter was a virgin when it happened. The father of the boy acted like he didn’t believe it. For some reason he wanted to think my daughter was the sexual aggressor towards the boy. I wanted to point out his son was the one who pursued my daughter and talked her into it. Anyways, I don’t know if I might soon be an ex pastor which is why I stumbled on this site and read your story. May God be with you and thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

  • Sebastian J.

    Great article and great honest comments. I’m just about to end my Pastorate at my current church, since we couldn’t agree on the terms to continue it and I’m bald I will not continue on the terms required. Of course one of the current hard questions is: how will I feed my family. Today by chance a church person asked me if I’m looking for a normal job. She is working at a big company in HR and international sales and she asked me to send in an application as a lateral recruit (I hope thats the right term). This got me thinking, what my qualities are, beeide greek and hebrew ((-: Now it would be great, to learn to put my ministry experience into job terminology to find a job where I can work on people, share my faith in the workspace and put food on the table for my family, if such a thing is possible at all. At least this website encouraged me and helped me see, that we “expastors” are not alone (-:

    • Sandra Anderson

      No, you ex-pastors are not alone, though your experience may feel lonely. It’s very common to feel cut off when making such a big move. Good for you for recognizing proper limits and taking action. I smiled when I read your “by chance.” I’m such a believer in divine appointments, and when they zoom in out of the blue like that they are especially notable. When someone asks me, “How would you go about coaching me?”, for example, I see God giving me the opportunity to segue into another piece of work he has created for me to do. I suspect God gave that woman the insight to see gifts you may not have recognized in yourself yet. The doors opened. It sounds as if you aspire to do the very things for which you have been training people in your last role. Great! You are courageously moving out of the church building into the larger world and being Jesus where he is very much needed.

  • Tony

    I been reading a bit what you guys wrote. It is very interesting. My story may be a bit different, I did not left the ministry, but I been dismissed. It is true, many times I feel like I was in the wrong side, many times I told God: “Are you sure this is what you want me to do?. I am not good in this, why did you called me?”…Maybe I complain to much… Even with my complain, I felt that God was really doing something in my life and in my small congregation. As is natural, I face many types of problems and circumstances as part of my pastoral duties, I was just an associate pastor, but because I was the one living a few blocks from church, most of the situations came to me to be “solve?” …. but one day, about 3 months a go, my superiors called me to their office to tell me that I was fired from my ministry because a sin that I committed while I was a seminary student…the person I committed the sin with complain and tell her story, and my bosses only consider her version and not mine. They brought me form other state to where I live now, they offered me a full time salary as pastor, but at the end they gave me full time job and only a portion of the salary…I struggled with my finances, however I saw God’s hand taking care of me every day. You know, pastors we don’t have big salaries…I try to convince them to give me a second chance and to re consider their decision. But they took the decision to fired me in 10 minutes. They did not see the whole picture, they did not see the fruits of my ministry, they did not see my life before and after my sin. They just got rid of me.
    Since then I been hiding like a thief from my church members who been looking fro me asking for an explanation. My superiors told me that I cannot approach any of the church members or neither speak to them in person or by phone. I feel really bad at the moment, I feel alone, abandoned, why called me if He knew that all this will happened? why if as pastors we give people second chances all the time, we cannot receive one when we need it?, why when a pastor make a mistake there is no forgiveness and pardon? … I ask God for His forgiveness long time a go and I feel all this time that He truly forgive me, I saw His blessings in my ministry and personal life, even with my short salary. … I am a growth man, it wont be easy for me to find a job, I have no money to pay my rent next month and I am about to lose my car…. where is God for me right now? where is that say: forgive your brother 70 times 7?”. I spent years of my life in a Bachelor and a Master degree to became a pastor and serve my church and God, and now, in my middle age, I have nothing…
    Maybe my problem and situation has nothing to do with the general topic of this web site…but I really need help and prayers… I have told God that if He want, He can take my life…
    Thanks for read me
    Please don’t feel obligated to answer me

    • Susan

      Tony, I am so sorry about what happened to you. I pray you are doing ok and I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Doug Drage

    Well I feel like I have found the right choir. I have been booted from one church about 10 years ago, and after a long slow climb back into a church ministry position, the congregation I serve…or at least the leadership, have declined to make a more serious commitment to me financially or in allowing me a voice in leadership. I am about 99% sure I am leaving, but only about 50% sure I want to continue in church ministry. It’s not that I don’t love that work, but my understanding of how church should function does not seem to translate into the modern church at all. At the end of the week mos tof what i am doing is either technological or administrative in nature. I want to be involved with people. In that regard I don’t feel a directive to leave ministry but to find a way of ministering that is more directly involved in the lives of individuals.
    I am seriously considering chaplaincy which I thought would potentially be a great fit, but I am finding that some expectations of chaplain positions specifically CPS units, I do not have and would likely require more years of education. As some one below has said, when I send our resumes, I don’t think anyone ever looks at them. I have over 15 years in ministry and a master’s degree. I have a descent skill set both ministerial and technical. I have great references. but I never seem to hear anything but “we’re gong another direction.” and I have applied in many many fields…pastoral, associate pastor, teaching pastor, family pastor, music minister…etc.
    I am just feeling frustrated. I am certain God has a plan, but everyone always says, “Well God works through people…” I don’t know what I am saying – I don’t feel finished, I don’t want to be finished, but I feel like my choices are part time errand boy in a thing called church…or car sales…and I am no salesman.

    • Doug, I’m curious to see, after your comment 4 months ago, where you are at in your position in the church, if you’ve stayed or if you’ve stepped away. Kindly reply here or you can email me if that works best for you.

      • Doug Drage

        Still here. Things are not improving to be sure, in fact they are in all
        honesty on the decline, but until something else opens up, I do have a family to provide for. I am currently working 2 jobs and looking for a 3rd.
        continue to send resumes, although I am not sure why, it just seems a
        bit pointless, but I keep reminding myself that God has a plan, I may
        not be able to see it, but when the right time and place cross paths,
        it’ll become apparent.
        Just trying to fight off frustration in both career path and current ministry.

        • God’s not done with you yet, my friend. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you out, pray for you, encourage you.

          • Doug Drage

            Thanks brother, I certainly do appreciate the prayers!
            and same goes for me if I can ever be of service in any way. I really appreciate what you are doing here I believe you are much needed and being a great help to many!

          • Trinity

            Hey doug! I’m curious now as well. How are things going for you?

          • Doug Drage

            Well….I don’t know that a whole lot has changed. We did finally move out of the town we had lived in for the last 15 years and moved to the town where my job(s) are located. Money is always tight, but the fresh start or sense of one certainly did much to improve my overall outlook. Still doing my part time ministry gig along with a part time straight job…also doing some volunteer work at another church. I have to say, I really think there is a calling on my life in as much as…when I am serving, despite any financial impetus…I have better perspective and feel a greater sense of peace and purpose. It’s only when I have excess down time that I begin to allow introspection to transmute into dissatisfaction. When I have time now I try to devote it to my youtube channel which is another creative ministry outlet for me that has been beneficial to me, if to no one else…although I am hoping that in time…it will be beneficial to others as well. That’s the scoop, thanks for asking!

  • Monica Heyden

    Hi everyone–While sales jobs (which are easy to get because they don’t require further education and often pay on a commission-basis) are great for extroverts, they’re not so great for introverts who looked into ministry for the love of deep bible study.

    You may find the book “Do What You Are” by Tieger and Baron helpful
    (updated in 2014 and available on Amazon).

    It was very helpful to me in understanding what the best jobs are for my unique mix of gifts,
    and also which ones do and do not have strong projections for hiring between now and 2020.

  • Daniel Golightly

    It seems like there is a stigma for those who were in ministry, or who left. I was never full time but was part time & had always had a side job as I did youth ministry. But there was a huge amount of harassment that I got from my co-workers & when I was muscled out by some career climbers there was even more. Countless rumors is spread & it’s hard to explain to a bunch of non-church folk why & what the issue of this “church drama” caused me to be asked to resign. Do you guys find the attitude of most employers welcoming or distant. If I was full time I’d probably just put under title “office manager & events cordinater.” LOL

  • PastorsWife

    Rocky’s story above is so very close to what my husband is facing. He is 55 and it seems that churches tend to hire younger pastors/assoc. pastors. He has been in ministry since the week we got married, and a Sr. pastor since 1988. He is a great worker, lovable pastor, great speaker, sacrifices his time with tons of compassion for people, and wants to be in a job where he is still ‘helping people’ and is open to a job in ministry or a secular job. He just wants to support us (kids are grown and on their own). I’d say that what he needs most right now, is a good long list of what is being discussed here as “transforming the religious language and context of what we did in ministry into relevant marketplace skills and experience”. One obstacle he is facing is the “degree” issue. He had 2 years of Bible College, then finished up through Christian correspondence (Berean), and was licensed, then later ordained in two different denominations. Education requirements ask for a BA which he does not have, or a CPE as discussed here, for Chaplaincy. The college was not “accredited” when he attended, it is now but he only did his first two years there, so it cannot be considered a BA. We have about 1 month of $ left before we need to leave (a small town with no real jobs).
    **Can anyone offer help or specific job suggestions??


  • PastorsWife

    Rocky’s story below is so very close to what my husband is facing. He is 55 and it seems that churches tend to hire younger pastors/assoc. pastors. He has been in ministry since the week we got married, and a Sr. pastor since 1988. He is a great worker, lovable pastor, great speaker, sacrifices his time with tons of compassion for people, and wants to be in a job where he is still ‘helping people’ and is open to a job in ministry or a secular job. He just wants to support us (kids are grown and on their own). I’d say that what he needs most right now, is a good long list of what is being discussed here as “transforming the religious language and context of what we did in ministry into relevant marketplace skills and experience”. One obstacle he is facing is the “degree” issue. He had 2 years of Bible College, then finished up through Christian correspondence (Berean), and was licensed, then later ordained in two different denominations.

    Education requirements ask for a BA which is does not have, or a CPE as discussed here for Chaplaincy. The college was not “accredited” when he attended, it is now but he only did his first two years there, so it cannot be considered a BA. We have about 1 month of $ left before we need to leave (a small town with no real jobs).
    **Can any offer help??

  • Lois

    This mutual admiration society is all well and good, but where’s the real help? Where do former pastors go to actually get some help?????????????

  • Timothy Johnson

    Just found this website. I am have been in full time ministry for 30 years and currently serve at a church where I have been the pastor for 12 years. I will be resigning from the pastorate tomorrow morning after struggling with this decision for several years – I am weary and completely bereft of inner strength anymore. I love preaching, but the disappointments of ministry have taken their toll. I have been soending out my resume to other states and districts of my denomination for over 3 years now and NEVER get a response. I know that the new church paradigm is looking for younger pastors or Joel Osteen wannabe’s. I am neither – I have 2 doctorates from a Bible Seminary whose accreditation is not recognized by my denomination. I am now 62 and still feel like I have some very good years of fruitful ministry left in me and I am passionate about expostitional biblical preaching – YET no other church even acknowledges that I am alive. I know it is time to leave my current pastoral assignment but I have no job to go to provide for my wife and I. People always tell me “God’s not finished with you yet” – that sounds good but, sentiment doesn’t put a paycheck in my bank account. I am scared, and despondent. I want to preach (that is all I’ve ever known), but prospects are just not there these days. I just know I must leave because… well…I know it’s time. I feel unvalued, unappreciated, and totally unwanted. Does anyone else know how I feel? Is there any hope or help for someone like me? I feel as lost as a little puppy who has been dropped off on an old country road and just left there and he looks around not having a clue as to what to do or where to go.

    • Jim

      Brother: I understand your pain. At 60, I am at total burnout and the people need a man greater than me to grow. I have applied for dozens of secular jobs with no success. Not certain what is down the road. We can only continue to pray and go where the Lord opens opportunities.

      • Timothy Johnson

        Thank you Jim! Nice to know others are in the same boat. I know the LORD will not abandon me and I will make it somehow. I feel like the Apostle Paul when he spoke to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 – “Behold I go bound to Jerusalem not knowing what will happen to me there.”

    • Robert RM Bagwell

      I am praying about starting something completely new. While not a Joel clone, I like much of what he does and know there are Episcopal/Anglican Churches that how been founded with more vibrancy and less Church politics. Jesus is the only answer. He makes all things new if we are open to it I am convinced.

Bo Lane is the founder of ExPastors, a community that strives to offer help, healing, and hope for expastors, pastors, and church leaders, and author of Why Pastors Quit. As a media professional with more than 15 years of experience, he has developed marketing and brand strategies that have revolutionized churches and businesses, both large and small. Bo left full-time ministry after serving more than a decade in churches in Oregon, California, and Iowa. He is also a writer, filmmaker, woodworker, husband and father.