Choosing to Be a Church Pastor as a Career Path, Not as a Calling

I am currently fascinated by this concept in America: In theory, a man who is not actually a believer could choose the profession of being a church pastor; not because he believes in the teachings of Christianity or that he is being called by God to do so, but instead, simply because he sees being a church pastor as a promising career path.

Church pastors have to make a living, too, you know. They have families to support. The tricky part is this, though: The salary that a pastor earns is often directly related to the size of his congregation.

Not only is there a salary to consider, but often, the church members’ tithes cover the pastor’s insurance, as well as a housing stipend.

Here’s what the career path looks like:

This man goes to seminary. This man graduates seminary.

Man starts pastoring a small country church and remains there two years, as he builds a reputation as “an engaging speaker and a strong leader, just what this church needs” (largely due to the fact he simply has the right personality for the job and is a good communicator); while using clever social media posts to build his reputation. The money isn’t amazing, but it pays the bills.

Word gets out, and now this man is offered a position at a larger church in a bigger town just an hour away: This one even has two church buses and even a humble sized “life and recreation center”. The money is definitely better and there is now basic insurance available.

He puts in three years at this one before his reputation (and his congregation’s perception of the Lord’s calling) sends him to the suburbs of a decent sized city; like Atlanta, Indianapolis, or Houston.

His church now has a dozen members in the worship band alone. His sermons get thousands of views on YouTube. The pastor even has a popular Instagram account which regularly features his high dollar sneaker collection; even if most of those shoes were given to him as publicity by the shoe companies to promote their brand.

By this point, it’s hard to speculate exactly how much money this pastor actually makes; but given all the perks with his career, it doesn’t matter as much anymore.

For example, he gets paid thousands of dollars per event, to travel and speak at other churches.

He even has his own book out, which he earns all the royalties from. So even without depending on the church itself, his side hustles help provide an extra cushion for him and his family.

As long as this man is smart enough to invest in his marriage, ultimately by avoiding cheating on his wife or getting divorced; and as long as he never involves himself in official financial scandal, like embezzlement or tax evasion, his career remains strong.

He retires in his mid 50’s and lives happily ever after. He totally gets away with “serving” as a church pastor for his entire career. Then, he peacefully dies in his sleep at age 78; having lived quite comfortably the past 30 years on his financial investments. Not to mention, he still has millions of dollars in the bank to leave for his family.

But then what?

I bet there are more of these “career path pastors” then we realize. In the end, though, we all answer individually to God at the end of our lives for our own actions:

For how we cared for the poor, the widows, and the fatherless.

For how we treated our neighbors as ourselves.

For how we made the decision to forgive, even when it didn’t make sense from a human perspective.

For how we worked out our own secret sins (gossip, judging others, apathy for the hurting), as opposed to focusing more on the ungodly tendencies of other people who have didn’t temptations than we do.

But I suppose that is a risk these career path pastors are willing to take; given that they don’t actually have to believe in order to successfully pastor a church.

Uh oh… I think I just accidentally wrote the concept for a screenplay for a Christian movie starring Kirk Cameron, Sean Astin, or Nicolas Cage.

Where I Ended Up Exactly One Year After Losing My Job: 6 Months In at a Fortune 500 Company, With a 62% Pay Increase

Today makes exactly one year since I lost my job in HR and Recruiting in the transportation industry, after working at the same place for over 11 years. The company essentially shut down an entire branch all at once, meaning that dozens of us left the office for the final time that day, with a 2 weeks’ severance pay on the way out.

For the next 6 months, I proudly adopted the title of “Stay at Home Dad”, as our daughter was only a year and a half. During that amount of time (and as I still continue to do now), I made a side income from managing my 2 YouTube channels along with this blog, as well as working as a contracted SEO Specialist for Vanderbilt University’s Biostatistics Department.

I also applied for 107 jobs, updated my LinkedIn, and prayed to God that I would find favor with the right people.

One of those jobs was for a Fortune 500 Company; right across the interstate from where I had worked all those years.

It’s funny because I had always dreamed of one day, being able to work in one of those half dozen identical 6 story buildings; not even knowing which employers were actually in them.

Exactly 6 months after losing my job, I received a call from that Fortune 500 company. I went in for the interview the day before my 37th birthday.

I didn’t realize what a big deal it was that I had more than a decade of recruiting experience specifically in the trucking industry and that I had even voluntarily took a course in HR a few years back; specializing in Emotional Intelligence.

But the manager did. And I was offered the job on the spot.

That was 6 months ago.

Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of applying everything I have learned over the years, here at my new job.

It’s pretty rewarding to think: There are a lot of things I’m not good at- but somehow, I am totally wired to be a recruiter; to handle the hiring side of HR.

I have a talent for managing chaos; which is ultimately what recruiting is, especially in the transportation industry. I am well qualified for a job that is well in demand these days.

Finally after all these years, I can feel that my English degree and my more than a decade of recruiting and retention experience has paid off… literally:

In a year’s time, I now make 62% more than I did at my old job, where I was actually in a management role.

Granted, my wife and I are Dave Ramsey followers. So we’re simply carrying over all our extra income into paying off the principal on our home mortgage, as well as savings.

And yes, that’s still the same old paid off 2004 Honda Element there in the picture behind me. (I’ve owned it since January 2006.)

Even though I could buy, in cash, the Jeep Wrangler that I have wanted all these years, it’s more important to me to manage this extra income wisely.

After joining the work force with thousands in student loans and getting married a few years later in 2008, during the recession, and learning to live off a lot less for so many years, it’s hard to imagine living any other way at this point.

So yeah… it’s been an interesting year for me.

Major Nerds and Super Geeks: We Become Specialists in What We are Naturally Good At and Love to Do Anyway

In order to be cool these days, you have to embrace your inner dork.

By a college student’s junior year at a large university, there is no denying what he or she is majoring in.  Because by that point, there are certain undeniable quirks which have been weaved into the way they speak, how they spend their free time, or most importantly, who their friends are.  So when I chose the term “Major Nerds” as part of the title for this, it’s a play on words with a dual meaning like the classic TV show “Family Matters”.  It seemed to me that while in I was in college, a student became a nerd or a geek for whatever their college major was.

For me, the easiest ones to spot were the drama majors.  When a drama major walked into a room, they basically sang everything they said.  Their private conversations were never private; instead, everyone else in the room was an audience member for their traveling play production.  Of course they were also some of the most sincere and friendliest I knew in college.  Or were they just acting?  I guess I’ll never know.

I earned my degree from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.  So it’s no surprise that in addition to every typical degree you could think of, they had a few peculiar options as well.  In particular, I’m thinking about the Worship majors.  These were the students planning a career in leading worship music at large churches… I guess.  Because every time you saw them, they were carrying a guitar playing “Shout to the Lord”, somewhat successfully drawing in a crowd of people singing along.

And if they weren’t doing that, they were inviting people to their “Night of Praise”: As part of their graduation requirements, the Worship majors had to entice an audience to come to a worship service in which the Worship major ran the thing.  For me, it was the most random thing someone could major in at our college.  I just couldn’t understand why a person would be willing to limit or brand themselves with such a specific degree.

What if after a few years of leading worship at a church, they decide they’d rather work in a bank?  And during the job interview, the employer says to them, “So, I see you have a college degree in… worship?”  And too, it’s just a weird concept to me that a person has to learn to worship God or lead others in worshipping God.  It makes sense, but also, like I told my friend James Campbell, whom I recently lost contact with because he evidently “quit” facebook: “Is that really something that you have to be taught?  Isn’t that comparable to having to take a class on ‘how to make love’?”

Then again, I’m not the one who feels I was called by God to work in the ministry.  So of course I can’t relate.  As for me, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I was an English major.  To caricature us, I would say we were a strange hybrid: Decently liberal and very artistic on the inside, yet pretty conservative and sophisticated on the outside.  In other words, baby Literature professors in training.

Our heads were in the clouds, yet our feet were on the ground.  We were trained to dissect and diagram every situation into literary components; we were the Grammar Police to our dorm mates (see I am the Human Spell Check).  We were the only students who actually enjoyed writing papers.  In fact, I didn’t start out as an English major- I became one my junior year when I realized that if I enjoyed writing term papers, and all my friends came to me to proofread theirs, that maybe I should stop looking at some big dream of a career and just to what came easy to begin with.

And though those last two paragraphs about English majors were written in past tense, I can’t say that any of those characteristics about me have changed, simply because I graduated.  In fact, they’ve only increased in intensity.  In my office, I’m still the guy people come to when they need a letter written or an important e-mail proofread.  Obviously, I still enjoy writing- you know, hence the website and everything.

And really, that’s the way it works.  Most people end up majoring in whatever comes most natural for them anyway, for however they are wired.  Is it true that Finance and Accounting majors love working with numbers?  Sure, but it also comes easier for them then it would for me.  We all still like being challenged in our particular field.  When we can succeed in the difficult tasks of our specialty, it furthers us in becoming a locally recognized expert, equipped with knowledge and experience that impresses and possibly intimidates those who in different fields than we are.

I can tell you why the “k” in knife is silent and I can spell any word correctly without thinking about it, but I can’t do numbers.  I can’t do science.  Nor am I a computer whiz.  There are so many things I’m not good at and that I know little to nothing about.  But when it comes to the English language, literature, creative writing, and any kind of written communication in general, I’m your guy.  In other words, I was an English major nerd.  And always will be.

I use the word “nerd”, but I could say “expert”, or “go-to-guy”, or “whiz”, or even “buff”.  It’s all the same.  We all like to be good at something.  And when we can, we like to THE person for our niche.  Which often means we all have a bit of quirkiness attached to us.  Everyone’s at least a little weird.   Even the people we think who are the most normal.

Humble and Embarrassing Beginnings: Five Years of the Writings of Nick Shell

An autobiographic look at the Scenic Route Snapshots franchise.

Scenic Route Snapshots: Est. August 2005.

When people show you a picture of themselves from five or more years ago, the tendency is often to laugh at their longer/froey hair and outdated clothing and say, “That was you?” Because ultimately that younger, less experienced version of a person was more naïve and goofier than the version of that person we know today.  Of course, it’s no different for each of us.  We too have many laughable aspects about ourselves when we look back on them, five or more years later.

This month makes exactly five years that I’ve been writing online.  In August 2005 I was in the process of moving from Fort Payne, AL (having just graduated from Liberty University a few months before) to Nashville, TN to start my career in music (which I decided wasn’t what I really wanted to do, after a year of being here).  I starting writing MySpace blogs as a way to document new life pursuing a career in music.  It’s not that my writings were all horrible those first couple of years; looking back, I can actually see some jewels in the gravels.  But for the most part, they were pretty cheesy, not to mention they were all about me and “making my dreams a reality”.

Obviously it was those early years in particular that helped me realize ways to improve my writing, eventually giving birth to The Code.  That means my older writings consistently violated The Code and I’m sure that’s part of the main reason it’s so difficult for me to go back and read them.  But anyone who has ever been successful in any kind of enterprise surely endured the same sort of sloppy early years as well.

Yes, that generic version of what we know as good and relevant was probably not always good and relevant.  Like the episodes of Saved by the Bell with Miss Bliss or the Tracey Ullman version of The Simpsons or the British version of The Office.  Sure, hardcore fans will always approve, but the rest of us know to stay away, lest we become disappointed and somehow allow our idea of a pure thing to become tainted.

And the still, the irony of this whole concept will surely prove itself that much more five years from now, when I use this post as a point of reference to show the place in time where Scenic Route Snapshots really started taking off.  The point where 1,934 were my highest views in one day (happened this week) instead of that being a slow day.  The point where I could admit that humble beginnings were over for Scenic Route Snapshots, yet the big break had not happened yet.

What started in August of 2005 as a goofy blog that just a handful of my friends read has evolved into an actual website that currently receives around 1,000 hits per day.  I sure don’t know where the future of Scenic Route Snapshots is going, but as long as I can still claim to be a writer who never experiences writer’s block, the posts will keep being born.

Bonus!

Read my very first “blog” from August 16, 2005, entitled “I Choose to Be a Fatalist” at the bottom of the page at this link:

http://www.myspace.com/nickshell1983/blog?page=13

It was this 2005 version of me that laid the ground work to get me where I am today.