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From cash-strapped to financial freedom: side hustles are a blessing for ministers

It seems like every minister I talk to struggles with needing extra cash. Everyone is looking for a way to make extra income.

It’s a frustrating thing to be well-established in a career that you feel called to do and yet be consistently struggling to make ends meet. It can steal the joy from work that was once life-giving.

I know this from personal experience. I have been a pastor for 23 years in churches of all sizes. I have felt honored to sit by the bedside of the sick and dying, write and preach sermons every week, teach confirmation and lead Bible studies. I remember when I was first ordained how lucky I felt to get to do exactly what I felt called to do and that there was nothing greater I could do with my life. The message of Jesus had truly stolen my heart and all I wanted to do was share that message.

I believed there would always be enough money.

That turned out to be both true and false.

Yes, I had the luxury of being able to get an education. For a minister in my denomination that was a huge expense as it required four years of college and four years of seminary. In addition, I went on to get my doctorate. I believed the more education, the better! I believed it would all pay off in the end!

However, I found that churches rarely cared about my number of degrees and I never received extra compensation because of them. My salary earned has never matched the debt I accrued to do this career.

I had the luxury of working with many caring people who often gave us gifts of food and we lived in parsonages, church-owned houses, which were beautiful and well-kept. I loved the flexibility of living in these parsonages. However, they also kept our family from building up any equity by owning a house of our own.

The most damaging thing was that I allowed myself to have a blind trust that “everything would just work out.” God would take care of us. And the thing is – we have been fine, we have always been ok. However, as time has gone by, I can’t ignore that life has gotten more and more expensive while my salary as a pastor has not reflected the same kinds of increase. I have a retirement fund that has been contributed to by my congregations since I began this work in 1999 but it wouldn’t nearly be enough to retire on. I am still paying off student loans and in just a few short years, my sons will be starting college. While we have always had health insurance and have been a pretty healthy family, we still struggle to keep up with medical bills that aren’t covered for this reason or that reason.

I don’t write this to complain. I only share this because I know so many other ministers who can relate to this exact same thing. We are all wondering how we got to midlife and are still feeling so dang broke.

The best solution I have found to make extra money is to establish a side gig of some sort.

Most ministers are busy constantly. We are on-call at all hours and if we aren’t in the midst of leading worship or some program, we are planning for the next one. It can be overwhelming to think about starting another job on the side, but it is possible!

A great place to start is to think about your areas of interest. Do you like to write or bake or create art? The best side hustle ideas start with considering things that are life-giving to you. The truly great ideas for a great side hustle are born in what you already love to do.

What do you do in your spare time? Is there an area you know a lot about that you could turn into an online course or an e-book? A few years ago I turned a class on baptism that I have taught for years in churches into an online course that now earns a bit of passive income for me every year.

Do you have a spare room you could list on Airbnb or turn into the hub of a small business?

Do something that works with your own schedule. You probably don’t want to have to go to a side job at a store or local restaurant or someplace where you are trading time for money. No, something that is flexible and is your own business is best. In the time in which we live this is more possible than ever before. It just takes a lot of hard work and thought because setting up this kind of business is so different than what most of us in ministry were ever trained to do!

In seminary, we learned about how to serve others. This is still important, but there are ways to do that without joining or being a cog in the organizations or businesses of others. It reminds me of a story I heard (I tried to find the video and can’t – so be warned that this may be just a story) about when Larry King interviewed Oprah and asked her if she would ever run for president. She said no – because if she were president she would have to work within the framework of the government and rules set by others. However, as Oprah, she already has such a huge platform and so many ways to affect change and all of it is within her own control.

Creating a side hustle that is something you organize and run yourself is not the easy way to earn extra money but it can be a great way to express your own creativity and experience growth in whole new ways. Many small business owners are finding ways to earn so much money through affiliate marketing, learning about how to bring up their business ranking in search engines, beefing up their social media accounts and at the same time helping their bank account!

I also know of ministers who swear by setting up an Etsy shop and in their free time creating more and more products for it until they have a lot of people following it. It has been such a good side hustle that some of them have now moved from ministry as their day job to their side hustle being their full-time work. I will link here to one of my favorites.

Etsy shops or any shop where you sell a product can be good money compared to some other pursuits. Freelance writing can also be a nice way to earn some extra money, especially if you are creating e-books to sell on KDP. This is another passive income stream I have developed without much effort that consistently brings in an extra bit of money each month. I will write some more blog posts about KDP and the passive income I have earned from it if you are interested in pursuing this.

The best part about a side hustle is the freedom it can give you. For many years I felt very stuck as a pastor because I had put so much time and energy into my education to become a pastor and I knew I wasn’t trained to do anything else. While there are a lot of ways to be creative in ministry, I always wanted something I had built myself and that could give my family extra space and more breathing room in our budget. My side hustles have done that for me. Now my side hustles are my ministry! And an important thing to note is that I didn’t need another college degree to learn how to do anything else! Everything you need to learn you can learn through podcasts or books or courses being shared on the internet.

My best advice is to not spend too much time looking for the “perfect side hustle.” There is no such thing. Just get started. Brainstorm some ideas, try some things, and before you know it you won’t just be watching reruns of Stranger Things in your free time, you will have your own side hustle, making money on your own hours, and making strides forward.

If you’d like more ideas, here is a link to an article I wrote after I surveyed women in ministry about their side hustles:

Have a great day and hustle on!


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