Sorry about the delay in posting this. It’s mainly been due to my laptop being unwell (so the majority of this has been typed on my good old Windows phone, and then uploading onto a public library computer), as well as church and work restarting again after Christmas, and generally being kept busy!
Fulltime ministry – a profession above the rest?
It’s been difficult trying to write this. To unjumble all my thoughts and make them coherent.
As usual, it’s best to start at the beginning. So I will.
Even before I understood the gospel properly, I wanted to do Christian ministry. As a teenager, I was surrounded by graduates at church who were ministry trainees – they spent a year or two at Cornhill or Oakhill training courses while helping to lead children’s, youth and evangelistic ministry areas at my home church. I also got to know associates at Christian camp (who worked fulltime for camp for one or two years), and heard a lot about UCCF’s work and their Relay scheme. I really looked up to (most of) the associates and ministry trainees, and knew (without a doubt) that after university, I wanted to do a scheme where I did a year or two of Christian work. I wanted to see if I was meant to go into fulltime ministry.
And as someone who likes to constantly reflect on how I’ve changed over the years, I’ve been thinking why I had this initial desire.
I’ve uncovered a rather unpleasant home truth in the process. It’s not nice realizing that your motives for such a revered occupation weren’t so pure.
I really do think that there’s an unacknowledged hierarchy in conservative evangelical churches. The most listened to and respected people are those who work for the church, para-church, or have had ministry training. And as I feel like I’m generally not taken very seriously, this is something I’ve longed for. A huge part of me wants to be respected, highly thought of and made much of.
I thought there were secret things I would learn which would mark me out as a super Christian, and would make me more godly than others.
And as you can see from the series so far, God taught me a lot. I learnt many new things. But this was by far the most important of all.
Why? Because previously, I only thought that church and para-church workers (and ex-church workers) could do word ministry. To me, the rest of us lesser mortals just pootled along, trying to live and speak for Jesus the best we could – that this was not as great as all the stuff you could be doing if you worked for the church. And you couldn’t do word ministry unless someone already doing fulltime Christian work gave the go ahead.
I was so wrong.
Primarily because the Bible says something very different about who does word ministry.
Who can do word ministry?
Sorry to keep coming back to Ephesians 4. But it’s key for clarity about Christian ministry.
Verses seven to ten make sense of verse eleven: when Jesus ascended back into Heaven, He was clearly the victor over death. And He also gave gifts to men (v 8).
What are His gifts? They are all the people in v 11. He gave us the thirteen apostles, to record all Jesus said, brought to mind by the work of the Holy Spirit, and to tell others about Him. And He gives and has given us prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
These people gifted in teaching God’s word are GIFTS to the church. God has given them to us.
But what is their primary role? Its not primarily to tell us how to live our lives. It’s not to explain the Bible because we’re incapable of doing it by ourselves.
God uses Bible teachers to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’ (v12). Plainly, pastors are to help Christians (saints) do ministry. And ministry is primarily building up the church. And from Lesson Three, the way the church grows and expands is through God’s word. Through speaking the truth in love to each other – using truths about God in His word to help, instruct, rebuke, challenge and encourage others. Bible teachers are meant to help Christians do word ministry. Therefore, all Christians can and should be doing word ministry.
And for the first time ever, I saw this attitude prevalent amongst students at church. Students are encouraged to read the Bible with friends. A considerable number of Bible study leaders don’t work for the church, and haven’t had fulltime ministry experience. Students are taught to read the Bible for themselves, in one to ones, groups and by themselves, and encouraged to lead Bible studies, write and deliver talks and put on dialogue suppers for non-Christian friends. Students are equipped to do word ministry, and many eagerly seize opportunities which God gives them. It fills me with such joy to hear things going on behind scenes and the way God is using them. That people who don’t work for the church see word ministry as vital and something they can carry out.
So when I realized that fulltime Christian work wasn’t for me (unless I drastically change in temperament), I wasn’t too put out. Because God uses all Christians in His word ministry. Even if it’s just encouraging someone with truth about God and the gospel at church or in a small group. That is word ministry.
What I think now…
Here are a few things which have occurred to me since this realization:
Yes, it’s great that men and women can be trained and are called by God to work in fulltime Christian work. But I wonder if some brothers and sisters don’t realize that they themselves are also capable of leading Bible studies, delivering talks and reading one to one. Church workers don’t have to overburden themselves by trying to do everything and burning out.
Furthermore, I wonder if fulltime Christian work is sought-after for the wrong reasons. That people think it’s a more godly career than a secular one. That it’s a walk in the park. That it’s having copious cups of tea and coffee, and it’s far less stressful.
As someone who has been there and done that, please hear me out. It’s such a privilege teaching God’s word. But it’s tough.
Why? You must be resilient, flexible, happy spending time alone, fervent in prayer when it seems hopeless, willing to use your initiative, risk taking, creative in getting alongside people and willing to be rejected as a consequence of sticking to the Bible. I’m so thankful that God has created brothers and sisters who are far more suited to this way of life than me. That he provides our fulltime paid Bible teachers as gifts to serve the church.
But where we see constructed hierarchies of first and second class Christians in gatherings, we must do all in our power to dismantle it. We’re all part of Christ’s body – we’re all equally as important. Let’s not show partiality or encourage favouritism.
This lesson should also change the way we do church. If we truly believed we are all doing word ministry, we’d prepare for our gatherings with other believers. I think we can do this by studying passages being preached on or examined in studies beforehand, perhaps looking at it in our daily Bible reading. This would ensure we are in a position to really use what we’re learning in God’s word to help other Christians grow, instead of coming to it fresh and having to process it for longer after the teaching. The time after the sermon or towards the end of the study can be used far more effectively as a way to really help and love our brothers and sisters.
Weirdly enough, this has really changed my view about what kind of man I want to marry. And also the point of Biblical marriage.
Marriage unites a man and a woman together, and makes them one. They are a team.
So I could never marry a man who doesn’t see himself involved in word ministry, and whom I couldn’t work well with in word ministry. This doesn’t mean that I only want to marry a man who is in fulltime church work. I’d want a partner who is eager to use God’s word to build up the church.
Yet I’m also truly confident that God can use me by myself as someone single to build up His church. He can use us whatever we’re like.
Can I also clarify that if you want to investigate the possibility of doing full time ministry, then by all means talk to someone at church about it, and see if you can gain experience.
But rest assured, if you’re keen to open up the Bible with others, but feel like you can’t – go back to Ephesians 4. You are an integral part of Christ’s body. God can and wants to use you in His plan to grow His and expand His kingdom through His Word.
And that was my final installment of this series. Please comment at the end, and if you liked what you read, feel free to share it! For the next eleven months, I’m planning on focusing on my other blog (about book reviews) and other projects, but hoping to keep this blog going. Watch this space.