9 Action Steps For A Successful Transition From The Marketplace To Ministry

The church is blessed by the many business leaders moving from the marketplace to ministry.

Men and women of all ages from a wide variety of backgrounds have sensed a call to ministry, and many at great sacrifice, have made the change. They bring so much valuable experience to church leadership.

One of the most common things Christian business leaders say in their first three months working in the church is, “I thought this would be so much easier. I had no idea it was this intense… it’s like the church never sleeps.” 

The truth is that nothing worthwhile in life is easy. That includes ministry, business, and family life. There are misconceptions in all arenas.

“Ministry is easy” is just one misconception. There are many.

Here are a few more misconceptions:

Ministry always feels spiritual.
All of ministry is spiritual, but there is nothing particularly spiritual about Monday morning. Ministry is amazing, but it is also work, and a lot of it, including such things as budgets, reports, meetings, problems to solve and even conflict to resolve.

Ministry is reserved for the spiritually elite.
In a word. Nope. Those of us who serve in ministry are just as human as the next person. Those in ministry do their best to follow Christ and set a good example, but none are “spiritually elite” or exempt from messing up.

Ministry is like going to church seven days a week.
Church is a one-hour experience, a very valuable and important one, but the work of advancing Christianity often feels very little like attending church. A worship service celebrates God among us; the work of the church is out in the community the rest of the week.

I was a Private Investigator, (right out of college, and for only about a year,) but I still remember the transition from business to ministry and my misconceptions. My main misconception was that all churches were big. The church I attended was then about a thousand people on Sunday morning. I had no idea that the vast majority of churches were less than 100 people.

NOTE: For this post, I gave a brief survey to seven of our staff members who had extensive backgrounds in business and successfully made the transition. The group included men and women, a wide age range, various departments, and time in ministry ranging from a few months to twenty years. 

The result was pages and pages of incredible insights which I have done my best to incorporate into the article.

In addition, over the years, I’ve talked with hundreds of people who have made the transition from marketplace to ministry.

That’s enough introduction, let’s jump in!

9 action steps to make a successful transition to ministry:

1) Settle your calling.

Many of the sharpest leaders I know are brilliant in business and dedicated Christians.

God needs and wants influential Christian leaders in business. It is sometimes easier to be a strong light for Jesus in the marketplace than in full-time ministry. Many of the businessmen and women I know are making a significant impact in their communities, shaping and even changing the culture.

All the more important, then, to be crystal clear on your calling from God or don’t make the change. Full-time ministry is not something to be explored after you start; it’s something to abandon to once the decision is made.

Pray long and get wise counsel. A sense of passion, longing, clear prompts, and confirmation are needed. A call to ministry is not about getting spiritual goosebumps, it’s a matter of certainty, or wait until you are as sure as you can be.

2) Embrace a new and different rhythm.

The rhythm of business, (certainly at least large publicly traded corporations,) is generally driven more by monthly and quarterly timelines.

The church is highly focused on a seven-day cycle. Learning how to plan ahead while focusing on the reality of an ever-present weekly rhythm requires an adjustment.

This new rhythm is not contained to work; for example, the word weekend has an entirely new definition.

There certainly are other professions from public service, such as firefighters and police, to medical professionals and retail that work weekends, but it’s still the weekend, and the definition hasn’t changed.

In ministry, your weekend is experienced differently, especially Sunday mornings.

As you adjust your days off, it’s essential to understand your family still thinks of weekends in the same way, including both Saturday and Sunday. (That’s when your kids are off from school.) Don’t take this lightly.

Find your new creative rhythms that work for your family, and it will work well, but it does require intentionality.

3) Prepare for a culture shock.  

I love the uniqueness of the ministry environment, but it is different. Ministry tends to be relationally governed.

Staff who came from the business world often say they experience relationships carrying a much greater level of significance. This does not, in any way, suggest that relationships are not important in business; they are vital. But those making the transition say they immediately feel a sense of eternity in relationships.

One said,

“The idea of the ‘customer’ is entirely different. The customer is the congregation and the community, and you can’t separate these two, but you have to address them entirely differently. Further, all ‘customers’ are equal in value; everyone matters the same. Such things do not rate them as purchasing power or brand ambassador etc.”

They all say that business moves at a faster pace, but ministry carries a heavier weight. Again, I think that’s a result of work focused entirely on people in combination with the reality of eternal consequences.

In ministry, deals are not made and closed, and with life change, ministry is never done. In fact, people come “undone,” and we start again.

4) Navigate one life rather than two.

It is common in ministry to make little to no distinction between work, spiritual life, and personal life.

Staff members from the business community said,

I no longer feel like I have a clearly separate work life and personal life. It’s a good thing actually because my faith is the great connector between the two and my Christianity is full time. However, it can be difficult to shut off from work because the needs of people can’t be contained in an 8am-5pm time frame.”

It becomes essential to learn how to disengage from ministry without becoming distant or disconnected. And it is equally important to enjoy a sense of living out your faith but not connecting it to a paycheck.

5) Don’t hesitate to use your marketplace experience.

It’s not uncommon for those who make the change from business to ministry to feel spiritually unprepared or even spiritually inadequate.

Everyone in ministry needs to deepen their prayer life and study God’s Word, but if God called you, He will equip you.

Most of the time, the feeling of inadequacy is an attack of the enemy, and you need to reject it. 

This kind of spiritual attack can destroy one of the greatest gifts you can bring the church, and that is your experience in the marketplace. 

Remember, if you were not a force to be reckoned with, Satan would leave you alone.

If you have been in business for years, you have learned much, and your experience is invaluable. Yes, some of it must be adapted, but that’s not a problem. If God called you to ministry, He wants to use what He has already given you in the business arena.

6) Learn to measure outcomes differently.

This response was so good; I’m just going to share it with you as is.

“For me, there are two stark differences that are inter-related.  First, in the business world, profit is an incredibly clarifying metric. There is no ambiguity, there is no debate, and the numbers are clear. Each month, each quarter, each year, the profit, or loss, is a clear scorecard. You know whether you won or lost. In ministry, the scorecard is more ambiguous, more faceted, and more nuanced.  It’s about eternal life change.

Certainly, numbers are useful indicators of progress in ministry, but they are rarely the definitive scorecard. Second, is the intuitive, perhaps even mystical, nature of decision making in ministry. 

Of course, we analyze, we plan, we study what’s working in other ministries, but at the end of the day, the decision making relies heavily upon discernment of God’s will for the ministry.

Business leaders and executives accustomed to decision making informed by robust data-driven analysis, the ministry decision making processes may seem less rigorous. However, I’ve learned over the last 15 years, that decisions founded on faith in the discerned will of God seem to require more rigor and more commitment than decisions founded upon unimpeachable data.”

7) Lean into collaborative over competitive.

In the world of sports, business, and many industries, the competitive edge is king.

Certainly, in ministry like in business, the importance of innovation, staying current with culture and leadership drive is vital. But in most cases, a purely competitive disposition will slow your progress in ministry. 

When churches compete with each other, both lose because we’re all on the same team. When staff members compete, they lose because they are also, literally, on the same team.

Learning to redirect what may be unhealthy competition to productive collaboration without losing your leadership drive is essential.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

8) Prepare yourself financially.

There are exceptions in ministry just as in any business or non-profit, but in general, there is an adjustment in salary and lifestyle from business to ministry.

Please forgive any over-generalization that may be present and read for the big picture. You may receive a handsome salary, but my experience from those who have made this transition is that you will adjust to a more modest paycheck.

Now go back to point one. Settle your calling. If your call to ministry is clear then make the change and adjust, tens of thousands have and you can too.

I’ve known many in ministry who knew they were called but took a couple of years to save a significant amount of money to help soften the adjustment. Smart.

I’m not going to say something cliché like “Ultimately your salary doesn’t matter when you work for God,” because it does. But I will say, when you are in the center of God’s will for your life, there is nothing like it.

9) Get ready for the ride of your life! 

I’ve been in ministry for a long time, and it’s been an amazing adventure.

The clarity of purpose, the meaningful nature of ministry, and the beauty of the relationship are difficult to put into words without telling countless stories of life change.

The supernatural realm, miracles, and the unexpected create an experience that you simply cannot manufacture in any other way. When your work is in direct partnership with God’s mission, and you sense the eternal nature of your full time effort, there is something deeply satisfying about it. It’s not problem-free, but it is fantastic.

2 thoughts on “9 Action Steps For A Successful Transition From The Marketplace To Ministry”

  1. Harrison Gitau

    Thank you Dan, this article has been an insightful read for me. I am very new in ministry having left my corporate position towards the end of last year. The transition has been a mixed bag of sorts.

    One the one-hand I have enjoyed doing work that is impacting the eternal destiny of people. On the other hand the uncertainty especially on matters finances has been quite a challenge.

    What would you say about fulltime Church workers/ministers having side hustles?

    I have tried consulting though there hasn’t been much success. I am currently evaluating other business endeavors that won’t require my full time commitment. This way I hope to have a firm financial base without the fulltime commitment of a corporate job.

    1. Harrison,

      A complicated question for sure. Especially now when there are no guarantees financially in either the corporate marketplace or the church, but I understand what you mean.

      The “side-hustle” is a legit option if you are sincerely able to keep the church in first place. That can be a tension if what you do continues to require more and more of you. A significant percentage of opportunities you might choose require growth and growth requires more of your time. Consulting is one of the best options, but so far hasn’t worked for you, but it still may. The good thing about consulting is that two or three clients make a big difference.

      The decision-maker for me is calling. Your calling keeps you off the fence in decision-making. If you are “trying out” ministry that’s usually not a great formula for long term productivity and joy. If you go “all in” that sense of abandon gives you the freedom to do “whatever it takes” and greater effectiveness usually follows. It’s true that there are no guarantees that ministry will work, just like business. But commitment makes a big difference. Then you are freed up for a reasonably sized endeavor on the side because its from the overflow of what you love to do, rather than from a position of desperation — meaning what you need to do.

      The last thing I want to encourage is for you to go back to corporate, but I need to say that you can have a powerful ministry in the marketplace should God prompt you to go back full time. It really is all about your calling.

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