When a Secular Job Looks Inviting to a Pastor . . .

I’ve been there. I know pastors and staff members who are there now. And, I’ve known leaders who actually took this route.

It happens. Church leaders get exasperated with church people, and they begin to long to do something else – something outside the church world, in fact, where they’re no longer under somebody else’s magnifying glass. When you get there, here are my suggestions—including one that might surprise you:

  1. Take a day off. Get physically away from the messiness of ministry, even if you can’t leave it all behind emotionally. Do something you just want to do—allow yourself to enjoy the day.
  2. Give your heart to God in prayer. That is, don’t be afraid to give Him your emotions. All of them. He’s big enough to handle them.
  3. Read from the Psalms. The psalmist knew the agony of enemies and the pain of being on the run. He also knew, though, how to thirst for God when even worship was difficult. Let the psalmist speak for you in your heartache.
  4. Review your calling. Go back to the time God first put His hand on your life. Be amazed that He uses you at all. Be grateful He also uses us in the midst of our wonderings and anguish. Assume He’s not finished with you.
  5. Choose not to make a decision in the midst of an emotional cloud. When the cloud disappears—and it usually does, even if less quickly than we like—you might regret where you’ve landed if you made a decision during the storm.
  6. Call somebody you trust. And, I really do mean call. Don’t send an email. Don’t communicate through a text. You probably need to hear the voice of a confidant, a friend, a fellow prayer warrior.
  7. Honestly ask the question, “Does God want me in a different place—including in a secular place?” This suggestion is the one that may surprise you – but I don’t know where the Lord wants you, and it’s possible He would indeed have you fulfill your calling out of some secular role. He might be moving you to serve bi-vocationally, or He may want you to be the best trained, most faithful layperson fulfilling your calling in an unexpected role. So, don’t avoid the question.
  8. Wherever God places You, serve Him faithfully. If He leaves you where you are, re-invest and push through your questions in the power of the Spirit. If He’s moving you, get your heart ready—including by forgiving others so you leave with the right attitude. If He’s placing you in some surprising secular job, don’t see it as a “secular” job; be a witness and use your gifts wherever He moves you. A lost world needs to see the light of Christ.

In the meantime, though, plan and pray to be fully focused and intensely involved in leading your church this weekend. Let the Lord work out His timing.   


  • Dan Birchfield says:

    Thank you for these insights, brother. After 30 years of ministry, with 23 of those years as a pastor, I made the transition three and a half years ago to bi-vocational ministry. In my situation, it was absolutely the right move, but came after months of careful prayer and planning. I well know the struggles of ministry and I’ve felt that longing to walk away and go sell cars or drive a truck or something. I would caution anyone in such a scenario to take your suggestions to heart. I had thoughts of doing only interim ministry to struggling churches, which I did for a while, but God led me back into the pastorate of a church that couldn’t afford a full-time pastor. God is doing a wonderful work there and revitalization is happening. If God calls you, keep on preaching and being faithful. God will sustain us. Thanks for letting me share.

  • Jeff Glenn says:

    I was serving in a “fully-funded” pastorate but was forced to resign. A bivocational church contacted me. That was 11 years ago. Because of declining attendance and financial support some churches and pastors have little or no choice but to accept a secular job.

  • Brad says:

    With all due respect Dr Lawless, I really don’t like the title of this post. As church leaders we have to stop referring to jobs outside the church as “secular.” Regardless of what the people in the church do, Monday through Friday, we need to help them see how their calling in the marketplace or public square, contributes to and participates in the mission of God. We need to shift our thinking and communication from seeing “secular” vocations to sacred callings.” Further, I am absolutely convinced that Bivo/Covo church planting is one of the best missiological and financially strategy we can employ.

  • Brad says:

    Yes I now remember reading your earlier post on bivo ministry. Appreciate your work!

  • JTGray says:

    As a music minister at age 54, with 33 years experience both part-time and full-time, my wife and I are currently praying through what God would have me do next. It’s looking more and more that I will be moving into a part-time music position and working another part-time job. Music ministers my age don’t seem to fair very well in the worship climates of today’s churches where everyone believes the contemporary style is the way to go.

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