Working for a church can be a calling–which is good, because it often doesn’t pay as well as the private sector. However, just like in the private sector, it’s important to keep your professional development up to date to ensure that your career has a bright future and that your parish has the best talent supporting it. Unlike in the private sector, it’s often difficult to scrape together the funds to pay for expensive professional development conferences or courses. Your church likely doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement program or even a formal professional development budget. How can you develop the skills you need without going broke? Here are five hacks.
It sounds basic, but reading is a great form of professional development. Whether it’s brushing up on your theology, finding inspiration from Church leaders, or learning new technical or leadership skills, you can find just about anything in your local library or bookstore.
Take a little more time when reading these books than you do when you’re reading your favorite novelist. If you’ve purchased the book, grab a pencil and take notes in the margins. Underline your favorite tips or insights, and bookmark them to return to later. A reading journal is also a good way to keep track of what your learning, and give you access to it later.
You might even start a book club at your church for the other staff and interested volunteers. That way, you can learn from each other’s experiences and perceptions of the book–plus, the simple act of talking about a book will help you remember what you’ve read.
There’s a lot to love about the instant access of information online, but it can also be overwhelming to search a keyword or phrase and find thousands of hits. Fortunately, the internet can also help you find free professional development courses, and many of these providers only charge you if you want a certificate that proves you took the course. If you’re just taking it for your own development and don’t need validation, they’re often completely free!
Here are a few things to look for in an online course to make sure you get the best bang for your … time, if not your buck:
Professional associations, made up of people who work for the Church or in your field, can be a great way to learn–and even find a new job when it’s time to move on.
If you manage your church’s stewardship program, for instance, check out the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Do you lead the music ministry? Try the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Are you the parish secretary? See if the American Society of Administrative Professionals has a local chapter.
When you go to your first meeting, make it a goal to introduce yourself to at least three new people. Exchange email addresses, or connect with them on LinkedIn afterward. Find out if your chapter offers any educational events, like workshops or speakers. Consider getting involved as a volunteer. There are many ways you can learn new skills and advance your career by joining a professional association.
Many professions publish magazines or journals. In addition to subscribing to your diocese’s magazine, look for magazines that publish professional development content that’s relevant to parish employees or people who work in your field. For example, Catechist Magazine is published for Catholic catechetical leaders and catechists, while Accounting Today, a secular publication, might give you some good information if you’re the parish finance manager.
While most magazines still offer a print subscription, many also publish a limited number of free articles on their websites. Sign up for their email newsletter or an RSS feed, and you’ll be notified every time they publish something new.
Finally, when you learn something helpful or exciting, multiply the impact of that knowledge by sharing with your colleagues! Whether it’s through a staff meeting at your parish or through your connections in the diocese or a professional association, teaching others will not only help you sharpen your own skills but also enable you to give back to your community. As they told you in elementary school, knowledge is power; sharing that power with other church leaders will make your parish and the entire Body of Christ a better place to work, live and pray.
About the Author
Taryn Oesch DeLong is an editor and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and works in digital media. Passionate about supporting women in work, in life, and in health, she is the managing editor of Catholic Women in Business, assistant editor and contributing writer at FemCatholic, a contributor to Live Today Well Co., and an almost-certified fertility awareness educator. When she’s not helping writers craft stories and writing her own nonfiction and fiction, you’ll find Taryn reading Jane Austen and drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea, playing the flute or the piano, or volunteering. You can follow Taryn on Instagram and Twitter @tarynmdelong, on Facebook, or on her blog.