Today, there are many Ministry options for the new theology graduate, ranging from the traditional pastoral role in a suburban local church (Parish) to continuation of studies for a postgraduate qualification, possibly leading to an academic teaching or research position, and many others in between.
I am always pleased to note those seminary graduates who have gained significant academic honours, and those who have specialised in an area of particular theological emphasis. In this article, I wish to emphasise some possibilities for specialised or community Christian ministering, based on my own experience in the faith-financed Well-Being Australia mission, which specialises in respite for athletes as well as tourism ministry.
For those who want to stay within a more traditional local congregation, there are still many specialities to be considered. Increasingly, the financial inability of smaller congregations to sustain a full time paid Minister means that the old time 'General Practitioner' Pastor is becoming more difficult to maintain, except in rural and regional Australia (where it may involve travelling from one small church to another, on different Sundays of the month).
For larger congregations where finance is not such a problem, the duties of a General Practitioner Pastor can become overwhelming; so I have seen some congregations with eight or nine Ministers. Apart from the main Preaching appointment, there is often an Associate Minister which may be a new graduate-in-training, and then a range of other Ministers, each of whom has the opportunity to concentrate on one or two areas of church life.
I have seen different Ministers within the one congregation take on the caring roles involving, for example: senior citizens; older teens and young singles; families; early childhood and younger families; administration and business (more important than you may think); arranging the worship and music programs – and maybe training the choir or playing the organ; home study groups and/or pastoral home visitations; and whatever else is of particular need for that congregation.
Some Ministers will excel within a congregation and others will have a proclivity to find a mission outside the church.
The traditional type of 'ministry TO the congregation' is no longer the only option. There are also valuable opportunities for the qualified theologian OUTSIDE the church structure, which can be considered as ministry to the wider community.
They include chaplaincy positions, for example in hospitals, to the military, at youth centres, in prisons, within industry and commerce, employed by professional and community sporting associations, at Universities and many other institutions and organisations within our society. There is also a wide range of Christian organisations and missions that represent a different type of community ministry, such as Youth With A Mission (YWAM) (and other youth-focussed groups), Fusion, and all the many overseas missionary services.
I would like to point out that evangelism, too, is today much more than simply standing in a pulpit and preaching to the converted. More and more, an evangelistic mission is situated right within the community being involved with welfare activities such as feeding the hungry and homeless, undertaking benevolent service, helping with organisation of international aid agencies, and many other social service activities.
So it was with joy when I met with a final year student from Morling (NSW Baptist Theological College) recently, and listened to him express eloquently his heartfelt hopes and dreams for his future Christian service, as he spoke about such a breadth of options.
This young man, with a wife and three young children, faces a situation like generations before him, in needing the financial security that a congregation ministry provides, but wanting the freedom to be engaged within the community.
However, as in all large structures (including denominations and local churches), the financial security comes at a cost of individuality. An institution or group needs to protect itself and have some type of consensus or common aim among its members in order to carry out the function expected of it. Therefore, regardless of how well meaning a 'live wire' might be, such enthusiasts don't easily function within such restrictions.
He who pays the piper, plays the tune (in this case, dictates the rules). People with an independent or unorthodox way of working do not always fit within these rules; and conversely, those who are happy being protected within a large structure do not see how or why the rules, which work for them, should be bent, or even changed. This is precisely why many men and women of vision choose to raise their own faith financial incomes in order the follow what they believe the Lord would have them engaged in.
To engage in ministry within the community in things new and adventurous, the fresh seminarian graduate faces a huge psychological and spiritual barrier, one that every faith financed missionary has had to conquer. This is, in faith, to let go and trust the Lord, come what may.
I have found that it is very important to pay attention to marketing, just as though anyone in business needs to do. I use a lot of photographs and colours to convey my, and I take advantage of all means of communication – from personal, hand-written messages on my wife's hand-made cards sent by snail mail to email bulletins, and websites, Facebook and Twitter.
Although these new technologies can be useful, I caution those using them to find out how to protect themselves against 'identity theft' and other unscrupulous behaviours.
Finally, in association with this, I have found other ways to assist my own mission in raising funds. Some of these have proven very fruitful, as I have edited or authored and sold books (mostly on my favourite subjects – sport and railways), CDs and DVDs.
I advise those seeking a self-funded mission to look to what they do best – not everyone will find writing beneficial – others may be able to find their own niche. I can think of many ways someone may be able to raise money in a way consistent with their Christian ministry work – a few examples might be: creating new merchandise products; mediating or facilitating business activities (such as provision of office supplies); working from home in some type of IT activity; exhibiting and selling art works or being involved in the music industry ... etc.
But if you see an outside activity as beyond your capabilities or interests, I have seen many missionaries (both home and abroad) simply falling before the Lord in submission and helplessness, asking for the Lord's provisions, and He has provided in the most unexpected and unimaginable ways.
My final comment to young seminarians contemplating their careers, is that the Bible's message is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Like those of eras past, our primary focus must be to seek the Lord in all our endeavours.