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Minister  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotMinisters believe they are called by God to teach, care for and spiritually guide people within their church. They share in joys and tragedies, and try to be a comforter and friend to all people in need.

dotIn the course of their day, ministers prepare and deliver sermons, lead congregations in worship services and perform various rites of the church, such as baptisms and confirmations. They also perform marriages, conduct funerals, provide counseling, give religious instruction and visit sick and handicapped people. Ministers also comfort the bereaved.

"As a minister, I'm responsible for teaching God's word, visiting the sick and shut-in and reaching out to those that are lost and need direction and guidance in finding Jesus," says William Staton, who works in New Jersey.

dotMinisters participate in governing the church on a local and national level, and are expected to take part in community activities and provide leadership on community issues.

dotSome clergy specialize in youth ministry. They do things like lead youth groups and counsel young members of the church.

dotMinisters receive a formal education before being ordained by their church. Ordination can be by appointment or approval from the church authority, by invitation or by the consent of the congregation.

dotOutside of the parish, ministers may teach at schools and colleges. They may specialize in missionary work or church administration, or they may become chaplains in universities, prisons, hospitals or the military.

dotMinisters also provide parish education, give theology seminars and help people in special need, such as immigrants and inner-city youths. Some also specialize in radio, TV and print media communications.

dotMinisters work in both urban and rural areas, in large congregations with well-equipped services, or in tiny parishes with limited facilities.

dotMinisters often work long and unusual hours preparing sermons and doing administrative, community or educational activities. They also spend time continuing their studies and in prayer.

dotPeople's needs aren't regimented and a minister is expected to be available when these people need help. A minister must be comfortable with unusual scheduling and interruptions. "The negatives in this job are few, but I'd have to say the high demand of time is difficult," says Gary McElhany. "It takes away from my family."

dot"As a minister, you're on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Matthew Sullivan in Tennessee. "This is where my faith comes in the most."

dotMinisters of religion in denominations outside the Protestant faith include Roman Catholic priests and rabbis. They both attend to the spiritual, pastoral, moral and educational needs of their congregation, but with some differences.

dotRoman Catholic priests are generally classified into two types. Secular (or diocesan) priests work in parishes assigned by the bishop. Religious priests generally work as part of a religious order, such as Jesuits, Dominicans or Franciscans. Priests also take a vow of celibacy.

dotA rabbi is a spiritual leader and teacher of Jewish law and tradition. Regardless of a congregation's particular point of view, all Jewish congregations preserve the substance of Jewish religious worship. Rabbis have quite a bit of independent authority because they follow no formal hierarchy.

dotMost of a minister's duties aren't physically demanding. They read and research to prepare and write sermons. However, some degree of mobility may be necessary for a minister to visit the sick and shut-in or to hold babies during a baptism.

dotDo you think you have what it takes to minister to others? McElhany suggests that you look deep inside yourself and examine your motivation for becoming a minister before taking the leap. "Make sure that it is a genuine sense of calling, not a sense of duty, pressure by others, or even just a desire to do good," he says.

dotSullivan also tells people to make sure that the calling is there. "Pray about this and any decision you might make," he says. "But don't run away from God's calling."

dotConsult a minister, parish priest or trusted leader to discuss your decision. Also talk with friends and family. Be open to what your heart tells you to do. "Let God lead you in your decision," says Staton.

dotVolunteering in a parish, congregation or in the community is good preparation for the job. It's also a chance for you to decide if a career in the ministry is for you. A minister must enjoy working with people.

"You must love people," says Staton. "Reaching people and introducing them to the same love and joy that I found in Christ is a wonderful experience."

dotA minister can specialize in many different areas, so there's no need to worry if you aren't strong in one area -- such as public speaking. "It's a place for everyone who has different talents or gifts," says Terry Dempsey. "Someone with a fondness for public speaking, social work or administration could find a niche."

dotMinisters must be good listeners. "It's important for the parishioners to know that you aren't on a high and mighty throne, but that they can talk to you," says Dempsey.

At a Glance

Act as the spiritual guide of a congregation

  • You have to be available when people need help
  • Listening skills are very important
  • Some post-secondary training is typically necessary