This month we asked our bloggers what they wish they’d known as they graduated seminary and began their ministry. Here are their answers.
- Run, do not walk, to a tax professional who is familiar with clergy taxes. Do this as soon as you are hired (or before!); do not wait until tax filing season. Have the person help you figure out what you will owe in taxes each year based on your salary, housing allowance and other situations unique to you. If your church does not withhold the taxes for you (as most do not), plan to make quarterly estimated payments to the IRS and your state. This means pulling that money from the top of your paycheck every month and reserving it until you send in your payment. If your church will withhold and pay the taxes for you, be sure they are doing it correctly and on time. It’s up to you to read your pay stub, check with the treasurer and make sure their calculations match what you really owe. Take the time to do all this up front so that you are not stuck with a $10,000+ tax bill come April.
- Find a group of colleagues and meet with them regularly. This group can be a lifeline of support, a place for advice, a venue to cry and laugh and a space to be real – not to mention a great source of recommendations on tax professionals! The demands of ministry require friends and colleagues who understand what it’s like to do what you do. Be open to lectionary groups, ecumenical gatherings, ministerial associations, gender-specific groups and denominational offerings. Consider online groups that communicate frequently if you are far away from other congregations. If you absolutely cannot find a group that fits you, make the effort to create one.
- Keep your mind open about your future vocation. I know this seems strange after devoting three years or more to following this particular vocational path. But, God’s call and our life situation sometimes changes whether we want it to or not. Also, circumstances sometimes demand that we work – for a time – in a place or career that is not our “true” calling. Keep a secular resume up to date. Consider what you might do if a church position is not available to you. Doing these things is not unfaithful to your calling. When you do get to serve in the right place with the right fit, praise God often!
- Commit yourself to having a life outside of church. Hone your interests and discover new ones. Seek out friends in your area, even though the process can seem daunting. Keep your Sabbath day and be sure to call it your Sabbath day, not your day off. (But don’t be legalistic about it unless you have to be in order to keep it.) Read books on topics other than church or faith. Get a pet – pet therapy does wonders! Exercise. Enjoy your family. Take vacations.
- Love your people. God has given them to you and you to them. Come to see the beauty in their quirkiness. Find ways of coping with the ones who drive you bananas. Show them your love and tell them of your love. Write it down, save the cards and savor the moments when they show you their love. Remember that you won’t always “feel” love, but in Christ, you can still demonstrate it. Come to terms with the fact that sometimes, love has to say and do hard things. Remember that love can also be fabulous grease for the wheels of ministry when it is genuine and free.
EMMA NICKEL serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.