As the number and size of many churches in the mainline denominations decline, student enrollment at seminaries has been flat or in decline and many seminarians are considering alternate forms of ministry as they do their vocational discernment and post-seminary planning. A number of our students choose to do their field education placement in an agency or faith-based ministry rather than in a congregation, because they are thinking more intentionally about non-traditional forms of ministry. Those who are in dual-degree programs, such as the M. Div./M.S. W., often do two field placements – one in a church setting and the other in an agency setting (thus satisfying the requirements of both the seminary and the educational institution where they are pursuing the social work degree)
Faith In Place is one such ministry. Begun in 1999, it was initially a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and its goal was “to gather religious leaders in the Chicago region in dialogue, prayer and action on issues of environmental sustainability.” The Reverend Clare Butterfield, an ordained pastor and trained attorney is the founder and Executive Director of Faith In Place.
She offered some good suggestions at a panel discussion held on campus last semester. From her perspective as the director of a non-profit, faith based entity, Rev. Butterfield spoke about what it takes to start and sustain such a ministry. The following summarizes the points she made; they provide some “go with your gut” guidelines if you’re considering any form of entrepreneurial or evangelistic ministry (which could, of course, include a new church start — but more about that in another blog).
- Follow your passion; if you don’t love what you’re doing you probably won’t succeed. Starting a new ministry is not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged. So think long and hard before you take the plunge.
- If you can’t start your own ministry; hook into an existing organization, if one already exists, and find ways to add your gifts and skills to the mix.
- Define your ministry and mission carefully, and then stick to it. If it’s not your mission, don’t do it.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry regularly. Part of an ongoing evaluation may include letting go of programs that aren’t really working.
- Learn to “play well” with others.
- When you volunteer your time, be realistic about who may be getting paid for what you have offered to do for nothing.
- Stay positive about your ministry in public (you can grumble all you want in the privacy of your own office). Donors and potential donors will tend to walk away from you if they sense your negativity.
- Have a group of friends with whom you can honestly talk with about the downsides and stumbling blocks you are experiencing in your ministry.
- Find security (and pleasure) in things other than your job.
- Recognize your blessings every day.