S ay you’re passionate about the arts and also about your faith (and maybe about the church, too). What sort of career path might you pursue for a creative job in ministry? I get contacted on a regular basis by artists, filmmakers, designers, and more about ministry career advice.
To help, I’m devoting this month’s blog theme to careers in creative ministry. For starters, I’ve put together a list of 6 options you might pursue to make an impact (and a living) combining your faith with the arts.
1. Local church ministry
What it looks like: Full-time or part-time positions in local churches, usually creating various forms of art in worship but extending into communications and marketing as well. Includes worship service programming, content creation, technology management, volunteer coordination, administration and development. Examples include graphic designer, worship producer, social media coordinator, and more.
In my experience local churches can be fickle places for creative careers. They can provide a platform, an opportunity to practice a craft, and financial security in a way that the other options on this list cannot. But yet circumstances can change or even vanish quickly without corporate vision and direction, which sadly many churches and church leaders lack. Thus, the viability of creative positions in churches are often out of the control of the creative person.
My lifelong dream is that the creative arts would be as much a part of the life of a local church as music, education, and service. What we call the “creative arts” is is a necessary component of an effective local ministry and needs its own ecosystem with connections to academia, parachurch agencies, and so forth. In my 20 years of ministry I have seen this begin to take shape in fits and starts, yet we in the church are still having arguments about whether or not it’s even a valid form of ministry.
Barrier to entry: Very low, given the right situation. Many small and medium churches have a need for young artists wanting to cut teeth on making film, video and graphics. The challenge for a young or novice church creative is to both fulfill the immediate tactical needs of a staff or contract position and also use the position as an entrepreneur, to cast vision and expand the church’s understanding of the purpose and role of creative arts in faith formation.
Potential for impact/success: Creative arts in a local church has a low floor and a high ceiling. it can terrible or fantastic, depending on the setting, the church’s leadership, and the cultural fit for the creative.
Salary potential: Low to high, depending on setting.
2. Parachurch Ministry
What it looks like: Work for a non-profit or for-profit companies, consortiums and foundations devoted to serving churches and ministries in a variety of settings. Examples include technical firms and agencies like BigStuf, Christian publishers like Thomas Nelson, small shops like Floodgate, distributers like Worship House Media, non-profits like the Center for Church Communication, staffing agencies like Vanderbloemen and Slingshot Group, and many more.
About 15 years ago, a lot of young creatives who’d achieved a level of influence in a local church began to set out on their own and form companies to support the church at large. This cottage industry, of which I was a part, emerged as a digital incarnation of the same publishing industry which has supported churches for hundreds of years.
Barrier to entry: Most parachurch church creative companies are small, and jobs within them are limited. You could start your own, but it’s quite capital intensive.
Potential for impact/success: Low floor, high ceiling. it can terrible or fantastic, depending on the setting and/or your business savvy.
Salary potential: The thing I advise creatives thinking about their own company, or work at an existing (usually small) company, is that you’re free from the often intense demands of a local church, but you’re always chasing the market and looking for the next paycheck or revenue stream, which can cloud your focus.
3. Free-lance work
What it looks like: Contract work for larger local churches and parachurch ministries. Creatives with ministry aspirations usually mix church work with secular work to make a living, which eventually results in serving secular or corporate clients who can pay bills better.
Barrier to entry: Very low. Everybody say: Insurance. Anybody can hang a shingle, but the challenge is creating enough business to sustain a livelihood.
Potential for impact/success: Poor. With few exceptions, the end game of a free-lancing life is an endless cycle of more free-lancing, and an inability to ever get ahead of the cycle.
Salary potential: Usually poor to average, unless you have entrepreneurial aptitude and business savvy.
What it looks like: Theoretical and tactical education and training about worship and creative arts at universities, seminaries and through online education.
Barrier to entry: Very high. Need proper credentialing – i.e., a doctorate degree. You can get away with a Master’s as an adjunct professor, but there’s not much money in adjunct work.
Potential for impact/success: Short term low, long term high. For the one who hustles hard, the academic life can still provide a platform for ideas.
Salary potential: Poor to average. Most schools are leaning on adjuncts now, which pays poorly. A few tenure track positions have average to good salary potential.
5. Denominational agency
What it looks like: Work, usually administrative, to support local churches and ministries. Examples include regional positions supporting a group of local churches and national denominational agencies such as United Methodist Communications.
Barrier to entry: High. Opportunities are rare.
Potential for impact/success: Limited, given the nature of bureaucracy.
Salary potential: Average and decreasing because of the declining influence of denominations.
What it looks like: Tent making is the bible word for a person who works in the marketplace to fund their ministry efforts. In an increasingly post-Christian Western world, future pastors and church leaders will work in secular positions and volunteer for their church. The same can apply for creatives.
Barrier to entry: Very low. Every church in the world welcomes gifted volunteers.
Potential for impact/success: Low. Demands of corporate work usually win out.
Salary potential: Average to high, given nature of day job. Corporate work tends to pay much better than equivalent church work. Of course, the higher your day job, likely the more your responsibilities and the less time you have to work on your passions.
At one time or another, I’ve worked as a professional for every option on this list. None are a silver bullet, but the list perhaps helps you think through possibilities and where you fit.
What additional ideas or thoughts do you have for creative work in ministry?