Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Full-Time Ministry versus Working in the World

What Constitutes a Full-Time Christian Vocation?

The following is an opinion piece based on what I believe Scripture says about this subject. There is no Biblical definition to absolutely define the term "full-time service for the Lord", so there is no Scriptural definition here, saying that full-time ministry is ........ whatever. This subject may also not actually be a controversy, conundrum, or contradiction, so it is a little off of the topic for this blog, but it has recently become a pet peeve of mine that has sort of slapped me in the face, so to speak, yet again and since this is my blog and I can write what I choose, I decided to write about it. First some stories to show the problem.

When my children were babies, I publicly dedicated my children to the Lord. In the years that followed as they grew up, I home-schooled them (up to high school), and due to our inability to find a church that was not apostate, home-churched them for a number of years. The result was that my children know far more about the Bible than your average three Christian adults put together. Sometimes more than some pastors/Bible teachers, as my children were able to catch their Bible teachers in errors of knowledge of the Bible, even in the Old Testament Scriptures, with which most Christians are completely unfamiliar. Attending a Christian academy for their high school years, they met with extreme disapproval from the Christian community there, when they opted to follow the Lord's leading and go to a military university (older son, but as a civilian) and a denominational college with whom we do not agree theologically (younger son). We were taken to task and told that our children should be 1) taking at least one year of Bible college first to ground them in the Word of God, and 2) attending a denominationally acceptable (to the academy and affiliated church) college, where they could be closely watched and controlled, so that they would not stray from the Lord. My response was 1) we follow the Lord wherever He leads us no matter where that is, and 2) I had equipped my children long before this and grounded them in the Word of God, as I believe that if you a) do not do it early, it is too late when they leave, and b) do not trust or expect others to do the job that God has entrusted to you. I had made sure that they were ready to go out into the world when they graduated. They did not need a remedial course to get them up to snuff.

From the college's descriptions, you may already have surmised that my children were not majoring in theology or any type of Christian ministry. Instead the Lord was calling them to two different areas of science, both of them very impressive areas of study, which I will not go into. This was also frowned upon, because according to this church group, if you are not a pastor, a Christian school teacher (any subject), or missionary, you are not entering into the Lord's work, and they prided themselves on sending their graduates to the few approved colleges to major in the approved majors, so that they could all consider themselves as working in full-time ministry for the Lord. Because God had called my boys to a different walk of life entirely and these colleges in particular, we trusted and had unfailing faith that He would 1) supply the money needed to send them to these very expensive private schools, and 2) that He would keep them close to Himself in spite of the worldly or theologically erroneous atmosphere. This attitude was also met with incredulous looks. It turned out that these folks did not trust the Lord to provide, but made sure that their children only applied to schools that they could afford (as well as where the children could not make any decisions for themselves, but were practically told every breath to take).

Indeed God came through with a lot of scholarship money for my children, as we had expected Him to, since He had directed where they were to go, and in what they were to major. We trust that if it is His idea and His will, He supplies the necessary equipment for the job, in this case, money. Through this all, the Lord's leading has been very clear. And the result has been incredible. In colleges where they could have easily been led from their faith, were they not grounded, they have stayed firm and maintained their faith without wavering. They have made good friends, some who would do just about anything for them, even though many of their friends are not believers. Their lives have made an impact on not only these young people, that hopefully will one day bear fruit even if nothing has been seen yet, but they have made a deep impression on their teachers. Because both are in the sciences, when we ran into people from the high school academy, the first thing they assumed was that our boys had fallen from belief in creation. I just laughed. My boys just shake their heads and laugh at evolution. They are well grounded in the evidences that defend creation, so are not confused at all by evolution, even though they may have had to study it and regurgitate the information for tests. Then people assume that the companionship of non-believers has influenced them to stray. They are still the same as they ever were, except more mature both in the normal way and in Christian growth. Because of the home-schooling, I have a very close relationship with them, and I hear everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They hide nothing from me, because they know I do not judge, so I know exactly where they stand and what they have been up to, good and bad. I am very proud of them both. The point of telling all this is to point out that while they did not go the the “right” schools or major in the “right” major, their lives are completely given over to following God's will, which means that no matter what they will be doing, God has placed them there for His purposes, which then means that they are working full-time for the Lord, doing what He wants them to do. Can you call it a ministry? That depends on how you define the word ministry. If it means being a testimony (by life if not by words) to the world, then everyone who is conscious to follow God's leading and do what He has asked of us, to the best of our ability, is in full-time ministry. If by full-time ministry you mean that your paycheck comes from offerings taken at a church service, then no, only a few jobs qualify as full-time ministry.

I know of one young lady who is adamant about becoming a missionary. She has pursued this with a single-mindedness to the point that I do not know if it really has mattered to her whether or not that was the Lord's plan for her life. It was her plan for her life, and that is all that mattered to her. She finally, through many struggles, got accepted by a missionary group. They gave her some training in an area that required more skill than education (since she has no formal education - poor homeschooling and no college) and told her to get a certain amount of money in support from her church, etc. Well, she would work for them for a while, then have to take a sabbatical, because her money would run out. Then they would need her and she would again work for a while, then have to take time off. She has been doing this on and off for a few years now, and to date, she cannot get the support she needs. In fact, she lacks so much support that I cannot see her ever getting it in this economy barring a miracle of God (which is possible, but it hasn't happened in the last three or four years yet, so I am not hopeful). For me, I would start to wonder if I were doing the Lord's will, but she perseveres. During the course of this time, she was offered a full-time paying job by another ministry doing the same basic work. They were not a missionary group, however. The offer came out of the blue without her even knowing why she was being given this opportunity. She told me, “I didn't even have to think about it. I turned them down. I want to stay in full-time ministry and I know God will supply my needs.” Okay, let's take a step back here. This job came out of the blue. Does not God work in ways we do not expect, so when something comes to you like that, should you not at least take the time to pray about it and check into it? Then there was the guaranteed paycheck - not having to ask friends, family, and church members for money, which by the way after several years God has still not seen fit to supply. She never considered that God might have been answering her prayer for wages by offering her a job where she could do the same work, but get a steady paycheck. From our conversation it did not seem that she even considered the possibility that this was the way God was supplying her need. Her problem seemed to be that it did not have the word “missionary” scrawled across the top of the job description, and she wanted to be a missionary in full-time work for the Lord. And a paycheck, in her mind, negated the whole “full-time ministry for the Lord” title that she wanted to wear so proudly. I know that I cannot know another person's mind or God's will for their lives and should not judge their choices when something like this comes up, but I had to really wonder if she were following God's path or her own, considering the circumstances and the way she reacted and made her choice. The point of this story was that she may have missed the opportunity to do full-time work for the Lord without struggle, simply because she bought into the ridiculous notion that unless you have to go out and raise your support, and have the correct title, you are not in full-time ministry for the Lord.[Since writing this article, I have seen this young woman's situation go from bad to worse. As she only has raised 1/3 of her support, she is now moonlighting. She is using her skills at jobs that, to put it nicely, are sometimes not in harmony with her testimony of being a missionary. I feel she is jeopardizing her job if her superiors were to really check this out. She has made some other rash decisions that have altered her life in a permanent way, that do not show a great deal of thought and prayer. Yet she proudly wears the badge of full-time worker for the Lord as a missionary.]

So the question seems to be, what defines the term full-time ministry or full-time work for the Lord? Is it the title and lack of a regular paycheck? Or is it doing the work the Lord has given you to do, where He has placed you? People love to make the distinction, and I have noticed that the reason they seem to love to make that distinction is that there is a certain amount of pride and possibly a little arrogance and superior attitude that goes with it. It seems to be a badge of honor. “Oh, I am in full-time ministry for the Lord.” As if what you do is completely worthless for the Lord's purposes. As if you only do anything for the Lord when you show up to church on Sunday. And I will admit, that is where a lot of people's Christianity stops, unfortunately - at the door as they exit the church. Full-time ministry though, (as some define it), other than missionaries out on the field, seems to be not so much doing for the Lord, as doing for the church organization. And those two things are not always the same thing. Again, I see churches whose ministries consist of servicing their own congregation, but not reaching out to the community. I believe that there can be true believers in every type of church, however I have noticed a certain trend. Liturgical churches are great on works for the community such as soup kitchens, clothing drives, etc., but unfortunately the component of the gospel is left out in their presentations. Liberal churches are similar, but slightly different. They have bazaars to raise money, bake-sales, etc., which they then donate to charities, and usually offer classes in things such as yoga (which is New Age and totally non-Christian). They too are sadly lacking in the only truly important part of works, and that is the accompanying gospel. Fundamental evangelical churches are isolated. They have all sorts of things going on for their own little Christian community, but they never step outside that little community to reach out with the gospel to the unsaved. Yet, they call the people who preach from their pulpits, and teach their children in their schools, full-time workers for the Lord. Full-time workers for whom? Seems like they are full-time workers for their own little community. We were given one job description that classifies as full-time work for the Lord. We were told to preach the gospel to the world, baptizing in Yeshua's name. You can preach the gospel on any job. Well, actually that is not quite true. Some jobs forbid it now, like the public school teachers. But our lives are also a witness, and that they cannot silence. If you are living for the Lord, no matter what you do, you are working full-time for the Lord, as the only job He told us to do to qualify for full-time ministry was to be a witness and to do whatever you do heartily unto Him.

Let's take a look at some Bible heroes - those who have to classify as full-time workers for the Lord, because they made it into the Bible as Bible heroes.

Abel – Abel was a shepherd/husbandryman. Because he was a faithful worker for the Lord and offered sacrifices, his brother made him the first martyr. Most people don't get martyred for not living all out for the Lord.

Noah - Noah was, for 120 years of his life, a shipbuilder. Granted he preached while he was doing it, but I don't think he had a congregation that was paying his salary. I think it was more of when someone came and mocked him, he would tell them of God's judgment. Not exactly a full-time ministry by the narrow definition. Nobody would have been in his church had he had one. Otherwise someone other than Noah's family might have survived. What did Noah do before shipbuilding? Who knows. He apparently was independently wealthy to have a large piece of property and either have the materials to build the boat on his property or buy the materials. He certainly did not have the time to work a job outside of the home for those 120 years.

Abraham – Abraham, if you want to simplify things, was a tribal leader. He had flocks of animals and lived out on the plains. He was very wealthy and had a large number of people dependent upon him. In fact he had his own army. He was the man God chose to build into a nation from which to bring the Savior into the world. I believe he could classify as a full-time worker for God, as his faith is held up to us as an example.

Joseph – Joseph was what amounted to the prime minster of Egypt. He worked for a pagan - a big-time pagan - yet he was there working on the Lord's behalf to save his family, which would become the nation of Israel. Had he not been, Israel would have perished long before it was time for Christ to enter the world, and we would have had no Savior. His was a job that would not in any way be classified as full-time ministry by some, yet where would we be without him.

Moses – Moses was a prince of Egypt, then a shepherd, then the deliverer of Egypt. He was also a prophet. He did not go to a Christian college, or seminary; he was not a pastor (his brother was the priest) or teacher or missionary. He acted as a judge and the intermediary between God and the nation of Israel. I believe he qualified as full-time minister for God.

David – David was a shepherd and then a king. Neither would have qualified him as a full-time worker for the Lord by some people's definitions, yet he was chosen to be the one through whom the Savior would trace his lineage. He was a man after God's own heart in spite of his sins.

Let's go to the New Testament.

Luke – Luke was a physician. He was in full-time ministry as an apostle, but I imagine he continued to act in his capacity as a physician to make a living, as apostles did not have a regular paycheck for that particular job.

Paul – Paul was a tentmaker. He plied his trade while bringing the gospel to the world, as he also needed to feed himself and could not count on the churches providing for him all the time. I believe everyone considers Paul a full-time minister of the gospel.

Peter – Peter was a fisherman. He fished while being a disciple of Christ's. As it appears that the apostles did have to work to continue to support themselves, one can guess that Peter at least occasionally continued to work at his trade. Yet he too is considered a full-time minster of the gospel.

I believe if we were to look at the vast majority of people in the Bible, we would find that very few were full-time missionaries, preachers, or teachers who, by the definition that some would put upon full-time work, solely depended upon the offerings of congregations to support them. In fact, in the Old Testament, only the Levites would have been paid through the offerings. And with the exception of Aaron and a very few others (a couple of whom are mentioned for bad reasons) their names do not make it into the roster of Bible heroes. So full-time ministers, as defined by some people, were not the ones who were being chosen by God for the really important jobs. They were going to the people who worked at “regular” jobs. Apparently God does not think that you have to be a Levite, pastor, missionary, or Christian academy teacher to be a full-time minster for the Lord.

Let's look at a few Scripture verses to see if they agree. Colossians 3:23 "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ." This verse tells us that whatever we are doing, whether ditch-digging or nursing, or teaching, or being a CEO, that we are to do it for the Lord. It is the work He has given us to do, and we are to do it with the idea that He is our employer; we are not employed by the world. More than that, we are told that the Lord will reward us for serving Him." He does not specify that only ministers, or missionaries, or Christian Academy teachers are serving him and will be rewarded for their service. We all serve him in whatever we do.

1 Corinthians 12 is a passage that speaks to a similar issue. There were those in Corinth who apparently thought that the gift of tongues was THE gift, and if you did not receive it, you were somehow not chosen by God. Today many still believe that in the charismatic circles, but Paul refuted it, however that is another subject. The point made by Paul in this passage is that God gives a diversity of spiritual gifts to the church so that all of the needs of the congregation may be met. If, as was happening at Corinth, some think that their gift, which might be more religiously experiential than someone else's, is more important, then the church body will suffer. He uses the metaphor of comparing the gifts of the spirit to the physical body. 1 Corinthians 12:14- "For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." The rest of the passage points out that every member has an important part to play and that God has set it up that way for a reason. If the whole body were an eye, there would be no smelling, no hearing, no feeling. There needs to be a diversity. While this is speaking of spiritual gifts, I believe the application can be carried over to what God calls us to do as a vocation. He uses us in that capacity as much as He uses our gifts in the church. Those who are in the ministry, missions, or work in a religious vocation correspond to the one's who speak in tongues. It is religiously experiential, but it is no more important in the body than the other parts. God needs people everywhere. To that end, I think it is right and Scriptural to say that we are all full-time servants of the Lord (as long as we are doing His will). I do not believe the source of our paycheck or our job title should define whether we are full-time servants or not. Nor should those in "religious" jobs think that they are somehow more "chosen" by God than anyone else.

Since posting this quite some time ago, I noticed a question that was googled that led someone to this post. It was the following: Was Paul in full-time ministry or did he work. The answer is both. He was full-time in ministry. Ministry can be sharing the gospel, helping someone, feeding someone, all of these things are ministry. Paul often had to supplement his finances by making tents, so he did. That did not stop him from witnessing and teaching while he was doing it. One can talk and make a tent at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. Often the churches would give him money so that he didn't have to spend his time in tent making, which allowed him more freedom to wander about finding people to whom he could witness such as the philosphers on Mars Hill, but there was no time when he wasn't in full-time ministry. That was the point of this article. Any occupation can be full-time ministry. The question becomes, are you doing what the Lord has told you to do, and are you using the opportunities that present themselves in the job to be a witness for the Lord. Every Christian should be in full-time ministry no matter what their occupation. They are not mutually exclusive.

*Note: It has been some time since I wrote this article, and I have been able to find out what is going on with the Christian Academy classmates of my children mentioned at the beginning of the article. All of these young people went to the approved Christian colleges and majored in the approved Christian subject matters as I mentioned, while my children went on and finished in their secular/"wrong denomination" colleges, majoring in their respective sciences. To date, my children have not been swayed from their belief in a six literal day creation, and in fact, they have stood strong. Both seek the Lord's will for their life and agonize over decisions for their lives, wanting to make sure they don't put themselves outside the Lord's will. They have been sexually pure and wait on God's will to give them a mate for their lives, rather than getting involved with anyone who is not going to follow the Lord as they are doing. As for their classmates, several have been divorced, (one who was going to be a missionary) one already remarried, one had an illegitimate child, (with a married man and she still remains with him as he awaits a divorce so they can marry), one (who had taken a public vow to remain pure until marriage) got a girl pregnant so is now having to get married and discontinue his plan for further education, one gave up on her four year college degree and works a blue collar job (rather than in the ministry), and one has adopted New Age practices and is currently under investigation for a serious infraction as a teacher. Only one of the classmates has gone on to "full-time" Christian work as a home missionary. The rest I have not heard about, so do not know what is going on in their lives, but one of them was a wild child in high school, so I can't imagine that has improved. The point I am making here is that it is not whether you are going to Christian schools, or in a job that is classified by the world as full-time Christian work that determines your walk with God and how He can use you. It is your personal relationship and being where He wants you to be that counts. Going to Christian colleges did my sons' classmates absolutely no good whatsoever. They did not have the Lord first in their lives. Nor did not going to one hurt my sons, as they do have the Lord in their lives. That is the crux of the matter.

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