Wisdom for Ministry Jobseekers!

Posted: March 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

Seeking work

‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need…’  2 Corinthians 8:14

Here’s a question for everyone who feels called to the ministry: How exciting would it be to be hired by a Christian organisation? Doesn’t that sound just great? Imagine being paid to do just what you love, what you would do for free if you could, and what you feel called to do! Paradise, surely? Well, in many cases, absolutely yes. But there is another side. In fact, experience suggests that this is not always the best thing that could happen, long-term at least, to someone who feels the call of God. Let’s talk.

I have been a Bible College lecturer and Campus Pastor for a number of years. I have loved my students and wanted the very best for them and for the God they seek to serve. However, a significant danger occurs when they begin to get themselves ready to leave the College: the need to be seen to ‘go into the ministry’ in some way. This is not just about pride or position: it can be a quite understandable pressure. The student may have come to Bible School under the shadow of disapproval, perhaps from a parent or peer, and the need to show that all this time, investment, stress and money has actually led to ‘a real job’ can be a issue. Other times, it may be centred around insecurity or a perceived lack of employable skills. After two or three years of theology, a student can feel ill-equipped to do any other kind of work. Then, of course, there is the motivation of ego that besets all of us from time to time: a need to have succeeded and to be seen to have done so. Something to put on Twitter. #livingthedream

There are, potentially, many problematic outcomes here. I want to highlight just one. What happens if the called-by-God-person takes up an employed-by-the-church job that is not really suited for him or her at this particular time? It was just there: an open door of opportunity, which was a well-meaned but delicious enticement rather than a divine entrustment. Don’t be cross with me, but let’s just tell the truth. Christian jobs are invariably poorly paid – minimum wage or not much more. The income of the church or Christian organisation is usually low, so we are not talking about elders being mean or stingy, just what is practical and possible for a project or fellowship with very little resource.

Furthermore, these jobs tend to be called part-time (say 12 hours or so a week, perhaps 18), but the level of commitment anticipated is often full-time, especially where the worker might be reasonably expected to show up at regular church events, as they were before, but now as an unpaid staff member, setting an example of on-going voluntary service. It is not that this is wrong, merely that a part-time wage cannot usually pay anyone’s full way and so the necessity to find another part-time job (with perhaps an equally burdensome flexibility) kicks in. And that other job might well clash with lifegroup, prayer meeting or music practise.  It’s tough, I should know, I have done this twice in my life – with both of my ‘masters’ thinking that I wasn’t giving 100% to them. I pastored a church while working many days and evenings a week cleaning a cinema. The stress levels can rise, as can the debts.

Then, to top it all, the ministry job may not really fit the applicant’s skills or aspirations. Most part -time, churchy jobs almost always involve all the dull admin and odd-jobs that no-one else wants to do. Who can we pay to do this stuff? asks the eldership board. And you pop along! Many churches seek to be ‘Family’ or ‘Community’ centred but are desperately short on volunteers, so there is often some responsibility for youth, children and/or Foodbank, Debt Counselling, included somewhere in the mix. It is not that this cannot be enjoyable or rewarding for some, but God’s eager servant may need to think carefully. How many red-hot evangelists have been killed off, nailed to an office chair, for a few tenners a week, just so they could be called ‘Youth Pastor’ or ‘Community Worker’ on Facebook? How many preachers in the making get burnt-out on perusing health and safety policy documents or arranging insurance for the keyboard and drums? Or how about those who are called to serve the margins on the streets of poverty, finding themselves designing newsletters and crèche rotas, or worse still, preaching on Sundays? A side-effect of being poorly paid, scrimping and saving, and over-worked in two jobs can lead not just to stress and strain. Not just to debt. Worse, it can lead to resentment. A growing unhappiness with the very people or group you have agreed to love and serve.

God is calling many to serve Him; many into ministry. I am deeply passionate about this and I believe the Holy Spirit is too. I give altar-calls in the hope of altering calls. But perhaps being legally contracted is not the best plan, at least, not for everyone. So what is the alternative? There is one which, where possible, and under God’s blessing, can be a better and much more successful route into authentic ministry. That is: don’t seek for those ‘church jobs’ and go get yourself, where possible, a well-paid, secure secular position of employment. Yes, a proper job, in most cases! This may seem counter-intuitive, perhaps even like you are turning your back on God’s service in favour of money, ease or twenty-first century security and comforts, but for many people in varying scenarios this could honestly be the very best way to establish a life-long fruitful ministry. Let me explain.

Imagine being able to serve God in your carefully arranged spare time – to do exactly what you feel equipped and called to do for Him, nothing more or less – and not to be seeking to fill your precious spare time with other frustrating, part-time work. Imagine not being broke! A temptation of the devil? I don’t think so. There are a number of practical reasons why not being short of money is a good and godly idea, if you can do it, and none of them are about loving wealth or wanting to be a millionaire. For example,

  • Home. Those with a reasonable income are usually able to rent or buy a property, useful for meeting people, running lifegroups, being hospitable for pastoral care, or simply and unashamedly having a pleasant place to live and rest away from the demands of church work. I have lived many times in a single, rented room. It’s fine. But you can’t build a marriage or a ministry in it.
  • Transport. A Christian who isn’t broke all the time can get around. He or she can purchase, tax, insure and run a car: a pretty essential asset to twenty-first century living and making one mobile to attend all the meetings and events that make up contemporary ministry.
  • Generosity. You can tithe or give to the local church’s vision, for sure, but you can also be generous beyond Sundays! You’ll be amazed at how many visits to Costa you’ll genuinely need to make in ministry, meeting people and (being British and Christian) you’ll almost always pay. This could be a small fortune just on coffee alone, not to mention when they want tiffin cake too. God is a generous God so it is always helpful if we are able to model this with others.
  • Stress. How about having a quality of life that’s free from constant anxiety, often revolving around money or how the rent or gas and electric bill are going to be paid this month? While some may preach this as a spiritual virtue, causing the penniless church worker to ‘rely on God’, the reality for most is that worry and burden are not assets to abundant life. Most marital disputes are about money, so not having enough of it won’t help relationships either.
  • Mission. Thinking bigger, there could be flights in aeroplanes to book. Many churches are now engaging with Short Term missions, and these trips need quality Christians to make them happen. Of course, it’s not a holiday but even if your accommodation lacks glamour when you land, there are no missionary-rates on flights that I have seen lately. You might even want to go on holiday occasionally too, but don’t tell too many people about this wild extravagance!

Let me be clear. I am not making a case for a middle-class comfortable life as the only way to live and minister today. No-one should be serving God for money (Matthew 6:24). But surely, elements such as stress, anxiety, resentment, a constant struggle for financial resource and a severe lack of time are the kinds of things that could paralyse or terminate anyone’s ministry, especially after the enthusiasm of the honeymoon period is over. So let me encourage you! Where the Spirit of God opens a ‘you-shaped’ door into paid ministry, that is just wonderful. Give 100% and then some more. Of course, you should go through such a door and, if it is not sufficient income, let God help you to some how make things work! He is faithful! I have seen this happen for me. But don’t just take a ‘Christian job’ hoping to climb the ladder of success, cement a social media status, or to placate your family. If you really want a ministry, and for a long time, so that you can impact many people’s lives, maybe the secular job route is much smarter. The Bible says that we give out of abundance, not lack (2 Corinthians 8:14).

 

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