Why (and how) to supplement your ministry salary

diversify_incomeWhen I lost my youth ministry job a few years ago I was very glad I had this site. All the time and energy I had poured into Life In Student Ministry over the years suddenly made this blog become an asset I couldn’t afford to live without. I very quickly realized how important it was to have a diversified income. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” took on a whole new meaning for me because sometimes things happen that are outside your control.

Situations to Consider

Several times over the past couple months I’ve talked with youth workers who felt like they couldn’t make the decisions they needed to make concerning their ministry situation because of the financial implications it would have for their family. Other youth workers I know are just downright underpaid, but can’t move to a better paying position for legitimate reasons.

My advice to youth workers in both situations is this: start a side business.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea for most people in general because who knows what will happen five years from now. Since side-projects that generate an income can often take several years to build, five years from now you may wish you had started building a supplemental side income earlier.

Being in the position I’m in now, I’ve found that financial freedom outside the church gives me more freedom inside the church. It’s great! Now I get to serve for free at a new church plant because I get paid outside the church. The freedom that brings for me inside the church is amazing! I feel like I can be so much more effective in pretty much every way.

Common Objections

I realize as soon as I say, “Start your own side business,” most people think, “Yeah right, I can’t do that!” To be fair, some people can’t just because they’re personally not wired for it. But others don’t even consider it for the following reasons.

1. “I don’t have time to take on another project.” And that’s probably true. What I do (and many entrepreneurs I know) is just take whatever I do for fun and find a way to monetize it. Both blogging and spending time with my family was something I already did with my limited free time. Now they both provide a passive part-time income for my family. To quote Dan Miller, “Turn your play into your work so you never have to work another day in your life.”

2. “I know nothing about running a business.” Yeah, I didn’t either. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. With the exception of tax implications (depending on what you do), most of it is common sense. Find a good tax guy, read a few books (I’ll suggest a few in a second), and pursue your idea.

3. “I don’t want to take loans to launch my idea.” Most entrepreneurs I know who make seven figure incomes never took a loan. They started with an idea, took it as far as they could with the limited resources available to them, and slowly built it over time. For example, my first videos were created with nothing but the iSight webcam on my Macbook Pro. The money I made from those first videos I later reinvested into better equipment.

Turning Your Passion into Profit

You’re passionate about youth ministry, but what you’re truly passionate about is actually something much deeper inside you. Youth ministry is just how you express that passion. It’s the symptom of something else.

If you can identify that “something else,” chances are you’d be equally as excited about expressing that passion in other ways, too, ways you could monetize to provide a little income on the side and still be true to your passion. I can tell you personally that expressing that passion in multiple ways has certainly benefited my effectiveness in each of the other ways.

Books To Read

There a couple books that were helpful for me as I turned Life In Student Ministry and YouTube from my play into my work. I highly recommend these first two books whether you’re interested in starting something on the side or not.

No More Dreaded Mondays: Ignite Your Passion–and Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work
This book asks good questions that, if you wrestle through them, will help you discover ideas you’re really passionate about and how to turn those ideas into an income. It’s written by a Christian guy, so he views work from a biblical perspective and talks a bit about what a biblical understanding of work really is and isn’t. This was probably the most helpful book for me out of all the bunch. I highly recommended it.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
This books discusses personal productivity whether you work for yourself, someone else, or at a church. The author tells some of his story of transitioning from jobs that sucked the life out of him to starting his own business. He shares a lot of valuable lessons that he learned along the way. Although his lessons can (and should) be easily implemented into both your youth ministry and business, it’s more about taking a different perspective on how you work and your productivity.

Guerrilla Marketing, 4th edition: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business
This book gives you ideas for how to spread the message about your product or service in ways that don’t cost you a lot of money, which is perfect for us as youth workers, right? Marketings may sound technical and complicated to those who aren’t familiar with it, but it’s really just a lot of common sense. A lot of the principles in this book can also carry over to promoting your youth ministry.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
There are a lot of great lessons to learn about starting and running a business here. One of the big classics about being an entrepreneur, including what it means to be an entrepreneur, some of the big myths surrounding it, the kind of people you need to surround yourself with, and what you need to have in place for your efforts to be successful.

Posted on January 8, 2013

  • Jamie

    Great post! I’m beginning the 4 hour work week. Read e-myth and really enjoyed that book.

    We started an after school program in our church that is funded from outside grants. It provides extra income for myself and another staff member….without that extra income it would be very difficult to make it with what we make and maintain the life style that we would like.

  • Excellent post, Tim. I have done the same thing with IT Contracting/Web Design and now with writing as well. The one piece of advice I can give is to be TOTALLY 100% up-front and honest about the need to do so with church leadership, whether it is needed financially or simply the need to have another “outlet”. Most church leadership will be very thankful for your transparency, and it will be seen as an opportunity to show that you have integrity.

    • Yes, very good advice, Brent. Thanks for mentioning this. Wish I would’ve included this in the most. Transparency is very key. However, if the church says, “No,” for whatever reason and you feel you really need to do something extra to support your family, I’d say put your family first.

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  • This is so important for youth workers to hear. Yes, there is the side you shared yesterday where some churches simply don’t take care of staff members who want to give of them selves to serve the Church and families within. But there’s also the other side where we might be called to a church that can only do so much, and we just have to figure out how God might provide in other ways.

    I’m grateful to be in a position that provides salary and benefits that cover everything our family needs (my first such position, and it’s a huge blessing). But I still supplement our income because we are still two years away from being debt-free with the exception of our mortgage (hat tip to Dave Ramsey there). I was amazed when I found that people were actually willing to pay me for something I loved doing (and was spending a lot of time doing anyways). And the thing is, it’s easier than people really think to find something they love that provides a little extra money that won’t take up their whole lives.

    • Congrats on being almost debt free! There’s no way I could’ve worked for myself for 2 years if we hadn’t been following Dave Ramsey’s advice for a few years leading up to that event.

      I wonder how finances could change for a lot of youth workers if, instead of increasing their income, they grabbed their current income by the horns and made it behave. My wife and I weren’t casual spenders or anything before we started working on becoming debt free, but once we started that journey, we learned so many ways to save money. And now we’re just kinda used to living that lifestyle.

      • So true. Someone told us that if we were willing to go through Financial Peace University, we would easily find ways to save the cost of the program in the first month alone…which was very true. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while; maybe I will soon.

  • A lot of people think it, but you actually said it! Awesome Job – Keep up the good work Tim. Thanks.

    • haha Thanks, Carlon. Thinking without action is lame. ;)

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  • Jeff

    Good motivating article! Very fitting for me right now as I’m about to lose my job due to budget cuts. Your content gives me something new to think about as I process all this mess. Thanks.

    • Jeff, if you have ideas you want to pursue and need someone to bounce them off of, let me know. Sorry to hear you’re losing your job. :/

  • Youthman

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. 9 years ago, my wife and I had accumulated $50,000 in consumer debt (and we didn’t even own a home). I was in full-time ministry and wanted to have a website for our student ministry but knew absolutely nothing about it. Over the next year, I began to learn all I could on website design and within a year, it turned into a side business. My original “goals” were to make an extra $200 per month. My goals were easily met within the first year and the business has only grown from there. I do it in my spare time, mostly after my wife and children go to bed. It helped us get out of debt, purchased our first home and now have no payments (other than our home thanks to Dave Ramsey) and a good amount of money coming in every month from design projects. It’s a great side business because there is very little overhead, people basically pay me for my time and knowledge.

    • Great story, man! Love how the Lord is blessing your efforts through web development!

    • Chris

      I’m interested in learning about site design. I’m very experienced in photoshop logo design and other parts of graphic design on Mac. What programs do you suggest for site design?

  • Nick

    Tim, great post! Four years ago I launched a website resourcing preteen ministry leaders. I did it on the side for 3 1/2 years, now I am full-time. I have more time and money than ever. Got out of all consumer debt earlier this year. Going on a 3 week trip to San Diego next month and a 3 week trip up the east coast in the fall with the family. I can work and play at the same time. I also get to serve for free at a church plant. And enjoy waking up every morning doing what I love, equipping leaders around the world. While working at a church I was frustrated, burnt out…making $50K with a wife, 3 kids, and a mortgage. All our kids were young, so not doable for wife to work. It all changed when the website was launched. Four Hour Work Week was a big help…read it 3-4 times. Seth Godin just launched a book, The Icarus Deception, all about how the world of biz is changing. The internet allows the average person the capability to start a biz online and pursue their passion and interests while generating income. Gotta love it!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Nick! It’s very encouraging for many to hear, I’m sure.

  • I have read the 4-Hour Work Week and E-Myth..both were very thought provoking and I will never think about time management or business in the same way as a result!

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