Tip #1: Break Out of Your Box
Understand that God uniquely designed you. Everything about you was created to appeal to the people, place, and position that God destined for your life. Breaking out of your box is an act of surrender that allows God the opportunity to move on your behalf. If you’re seeking help discovering your destiny, reflect on these scriptures: Isaiah 43:19, Psalms 139:14, and Jeremiah 29:11.
Tip #2 Trust God
This tip could not be overstated. Many in ministry are joining the “Great Resignation” for various reasons, forcing them to step out on faith into vocations outside their typical comfort zone. When I was called to consult for a land development opportunity, I wanted to decline the offer. After prayer and agreement from my wife, I accepted. Turning down the chance to lead a development worth millions could have caused me to head in the opposite direction from God’s calling for my life. If you’re desiring to trust God in this season, reflect on these scriptures: Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalms 46:10, and Matthew 6:25.
Tip #3 Be Strategic
Strategy is time-consuming, tiring, and sometimes frustrating, but it’s what makes and breaks organizations and sets the successful apart. The planning, implementation, and execution of an idea puts your faith into action. As you balance strategy and trust, reflect on these scriptures: Habakkuk 2:2-3, James 2:14-26, and Proverbs 16:1-3.
For Christians, walking in the will of God is critically important. Understanding how your uniqueness in Christ relates to the world provides the opportunity to thrive and spread the Good News in the unreached parts of society. Even those skilled in ministry can find themselves venturing into opportunities to be influential in the business sector. I believe that God is calling many Christians to break out of the box and pursue ministry in the marketplace, trust Him by taking opportunities to work in secular settings, and strategize for success. Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
For years, I struggled to reconcile my passion for ministry and the marketplace. As a young minister, I found myself equally intrigued by the stories of great evangelists and the stories of entrepreneurs that used their influence to change the world. While the aspiration to be like the men and women I admired was immense, my reality painted a different picture. I was broke. Not only was I broke, but I faced the hard truth that I did not have the financial resources to accomplish what I felt God was calling me to do in ministry. Please don’t get me wrong, money does not make a ministry successful, but it sure does help. After all, the Bible states: “Money answers everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).
As a Campus Staff Minister at a major Christian non-profit, I was tasked with raising a substantial budget to support the work of ministering the Gospel to students at Wesleyan University. After eight months of meeting with fundraising coaches and pitching the ministry to over 200 potential philanthropic partners, I was only able to raise half of my original fundraising goal. Little did I know that my failure to secure funding would be the catalyst to discovering my destiny in Christ.
Like many other young ministers, my desire to be an entrepreneur was distinctly separate from my desire to preach the Gospel. Because of this, I attributed my failures to lack of networks, lack of skill, and poor personal leadership, only to find that the deeper issue at play was that I was inauthentically engaging the call of God on my life. God called me to be a minister and an entrepreneur. In essence, an “EntreVangelist.”
I had spent nearly a decade preaching, serving on non-profit executive boards, traveling on missions nationally and internationally, and ministering in my local church. Yet, I never thought of taking the skills I acquired in ministry into the marketplace until I received what seemed to be a random call from a multi-millionaire asking me to work for him. He remembered my fundraising pitch from years ago. Now, it was his chance to pitch his multimillion-dollar project to me.
During the interview, I listened intently, mentally documented the areas needed for improvement, and made a suggestion that changed the project’s trajectory. Within a few weeks, I became the lead consultant. From that point on, I leveraged the skills I learned in ministry to lead a team of consultants, hire staff, and successfully pitch the project to city officials. While this opportunity transitioned me into a better understanding of God’s will for my life, I realized that I was internally conflicted by my desire to minister outside of the confines of the box I created around my calling. To address this internal struggle, I needed to clear up a misconception within myself regarding ministering in the marketplace.
Misconception: Ministry and the Marketplace Must be Separate
The misconception that deterred me from merging my skills in ministry and the marketplace was that I believed they were distinctly separate. Remember the story in the Bible where Jesus entered the temple courts and drove the money changers and merchants out of the temple? Well, for many that Scripture has been used to justify a separation between business and church; however, when one takes a closer look at Matthew 21:13, they will notice that Jesus declares: “My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.” This narrative focuses on the merchants and money changers perverting the House of God for personal gain. When Jesus forcefully redirects those exploiting the temple, He re-shifts the focus back to its primary use as a house of prayer. So, does this justify that the church and business should remain separate? The answer is no.
One thing to consider is that churches in America are legally and practically a business. Many, if not most churches have budgets, paid and volunteer staff, insurance, and boards of directors. In fact, the estimated hundreds of thousands of Protestant churches in America collect billions in revenue each year. They provide services, strategic planning, community development, networking events, conferences, and workshops that are considered valuable services in secular industries. A critical concept to understand is that the Church is a business and a ministry. As stewards entrusted with leading both, we should never forget that the primary function of the Church must always remain for the worship of God.
WASHINGTON (RNS) — The Rev. Melech E.M. Thomas attended two seminaries and graduated from the second, a historically Black theological school, in 2016.
That academic journey has put him in the pulpit of an African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Carolina.
But his pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree also left him about $80,000 in debt.
“The tuition was less, but I still had to live,” he said, describing other seminary-related costs after his transfer from Princeton Theological Seminary to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. “I’m in seminary full time. And I got to make sure I’m paying rent, that I’m eating, all those other expenses.”
Thomas traveled to the nation’s capital in early February for a meeting with other graduates, leaders and students of Black theological schools to discuss possible solutions for the disproportionately high debt of Black seminarians.
Delores Brisbon, leader of the Gift of Black Theological Education & Black Church Collaborative, said it’s important for leaders to understand the sacrifices being made by students who pursue seminary degrees in historically Black settings.
“We need to address this issue of debt,” she said, opening the collaborative’s two-day event, “and determine what we’re going to do about it.”
According to data from the Association of Theological Schools, debt incurred by Black graduates in the 2019-2020 academic year averaged $42,700, compared with $31,200 for white grads.
Data shows 30% of Black graduates in the 2020-2021 academic year had debt of $40,000 or more, compared with 11% of white graduates.
Thomas, 34, said his debt, necessary to achieve his degree and gain ordination, has led to a church appointment that “pays me enough to pay rent,” but not his other living expenses. Yet, Thomas said he knows he’s in a better situation than some other graduates of historically Black seminaries.
“I’m grateful,” he said. “But it’s extremely tough.”
The collaborative includes five Black theological schools — Hood Theological Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center, Payne Theological Seminary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and Shaw University Divinity School. Lilly Endowment Inc. has given three grants between 2014 and 2020 totaling $2.75 million to the In Trust Center for Theological Schools to help facilitate coordination and increased mutual support between the schools, including the recent meeting about student debt.
The Rev. Jo Ann Deasy, co-author of a 2021 report on the ATS Black Student Debt Project, told the dozens gathered at a Washington hotel that the project came about as researchers discovered how “Black students were just burdened by debt more than any others.”
She said ATS is seeking to help change perceptions about what the project calls the “financial ecology of Black students” as seminarians seek training to become religious leaders, churches hope to hire them and theological institutions consider expanding financial networks to aid them.
“We’re trying to help people shift their understanding of finances from really individual responsibility to a broader systemic understanding of how finances operate in our communities and in our churches,” she said. “This is just a part of that shift toward understanding that it’s not the students’ fault but that this is a bigger issue that we need to address together.”
The report described “money autobiographies” of students who sought financially stable circumstances as they attended theological schools, whether historically Black, white or multiracial.
“They noted the disparities in financial support, particularly from congregations and denominations, between themselves and their White colleagues, a disparity that was often not seen or acknowledged by their peers or the institutions they attended,” the report states.
The average annual tuition for an M.Div. — before any scholarships are considered — is $13,100 for free-standing Protestant schools and $12,500 for Protestant schools related to a college or university. Chris Meinzer, senior director and COO of ATS, said that, on average, it takes students about four years to complete an M.Div. degree.
Seminary graduates who attended the Washington event spoke of having few scholarship options and having to take out loans to pay for expenses including or beyond tuition.
“It’s the cost of being enrolled and the cost of student fees along with your books,” said the Rev. Jamar Boyd II, senior manager of organizational impact at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, which supports African American ministries. Depending on the class and the number of books required, it could amount to as much as $600 to $700 in a semester, said Boyd, 27, a graduate of Virginia Union University’s theological school.
“If you’re a full-time student taking three or four classes, that’s a paycheck,” he said.
Minister Kathlene Judd, a theologian in residence at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation in North Carolina, said she eventually chose debt over the mental stress of working, studying and supporting a family at the same time.
She worked in information technology as she went through seminary and continues that career as she pays off her debts after originally hoping to pay for seminary without taking out loans.
“If I’m being fully transparent, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” said Judd, 38, who graduated from Shaw University Divinity School in 2020.
She said it was a “big decision” to borrow money to continue the education she felt God called her to pursue.
“But honestly, it came down to my mental and emotional health,” she said.
Many students and grads, like Judd, are at least bivocational.
The Rev. Lawrence Ganzy Jr. is in his fourth year at Hood Theological Seminary, where he attends a track that allows him to pastor an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in South Carolina while taking classes on Friday nights and Saturdays. During the week, he’s an admissions officer for Strayer University.
Prior to seminary, his work through the Carolina College Advising Corps, a government program for University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduates to counsel low-income high school students, helped him afford the start of his theological studies.
“That paid for my first year of seminary,” said Ganzy, 26. “Then when I got to the next year, that money was gone.”
Keynoting the opening night of the collaborative meeting, the Rev. Michael Brown, president of Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio, pointed to the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that says “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us” in the Gospel of Matthew.
“Debt keeps us chained to the past and it doesn’t open up possibilities for the future,” he said, “and so the idea of the forgiveness of debt in the Lord’s Prayer is that it releases you to do things for God.”
During the event, graduates spoke of the additional financial struggles they faced, such as debt affecting their credit scores as they try to purchase a car and escalating rent, sometimes in historically Black neighborhoods that have been gentrified.
Brisbon pointed out that Black theological schools may have small endowments and may not get support from their alumni, in part because of the often-lower salaries received by their graduates.
“Black preachers may love their school as much as somebody else but they can’t give money that they don’t have,” she said.
The ATS report noted that a 2003 Pulpit & Pew study found that, on average, Black clergy salaries were about two-thirds those of white clergy. In a 2019 Christian Century essay, scholars noted that a study by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference found that one-third of Black pastors believed they were “fairly and adequately compensated as a professional” while 67% said that they had “particular financial stress” at that current time.
The Rev. Leo Whitaker, executive minister of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, told Religion News Service that some clergy in the more than 1,000 churches in his Black state denomination are often “bivocational if not trivocational” to make ends meet, especially when they are located in a region like the state’s Northern Neck rather than the city of Richmond.
Whitaker suggested to collaborative members that they look to U.S. government programs that offer debt forgiveness to educators and doctors who serve in needy communities, noting they should offer the same for seminary grads. He hopes collaborative members will discuss his idea with seminary and education officials.
“You’re serving a stressed community and you’re financially stressed yourself without the ability to make the necessary funds and it’s not about them having a choice of where they choose to serve,” he said, noting that Methodist bishops appoint clergy and Baptist clergy go where congregations have called them to serve. “In ministry our location is not always assigned to us by choice.”
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black denomination, said laypeople and clergy may not be aware of the sacrifices made by seminarians and recent graduates as they pay seminary tuition that is far more than what she paid 40 years ago.
“Most of our highly organized denominations don’t really have a grasp on what they are actually doing or not doing to support theological education,” Jefferson-Snorton added. “Although in many cases we promote it, we encourage it. But we don’t resource it and I think that needs to be brought to the attention of the church.”
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