Why Being in Full-Time Christian Ministry Is More Important than Being a Doctor…and Other Lies Christians Believe

Have you ever felt like a second-class Christian because you weren't engaged in full-time Christian ministry? If so, this article is for you.

Why Being in Full-Time Christian Ministry Is More Important than Being a Doctor…and Other Lies Christians Believe

For years, I would have told you Christians could be any occupation. It didn't matter if they were a plumber, lawyer, or nurse.

But in the back of my mind, I also thought, But of course, that's not for me. Secular work is great for some people, but to make a real Christian impact, I need to speak from a stage, teach a Bible study, or write a life-changing book.

Yeah, sometimes people believe dumb things.

And maybe this is your story. Perhaps you've bought into the myth that the only way God can use you is if you're in full-time Christian employment. Sure, you might not say this out loud, but that's what you believe. Consequently, you feel trapped by this limiting belief, and you don't know what to do next.  

If that's your story, I dedicate this post to you.

First, let's start with an honest look at full-time Christian ministry.

The Pros and Cons of Full-Time Christian Ministry.

One of the greatest pros is clarity of purpose. If you were born in a pastor's house, attended a Christian university, and transitioned into full-time Christian ministry, chances are you take many things for granted.

Serving as a pastor, Christian teacher, or worship leader brings a sense of clarity. There is a sense of divine purpose and a direct correlation between what you do and the impact you have on people's lives. Other pros include:

  • A stable environment for your family. If you work in a church or Christian school, you're able to help shape a culture that will mold your family.
  • Free stuff. Some Christian communities are stingy, but many are generous towards people in full-time Christian ministry. Free meals, shared resources, special trips, and the recognition you are doing God's work.
  • The ability to shape a space. It's wonderful to work with other people who share your values and are headed in the same direction. You can pray together and share personal struggles you wouldn't think about sharing with others in a secular work environment.

Of course, full-time ministry also comes with its own set of cons. This last week, Pastor Alexander Lang preached his last sermon for his large Presbyterian congregation. In an article he wrote titled "Why I Left the Church," he identified several reasons why he stepped down from his position.

I'd encourage you to read Lang's perspective, but to build off what he said, some of the primary cons to full-time ministry include:

  • Unrealistic Expectations. Most full-time Christian ministry positions demand a whole lot of work for very little pay. It's not uncommon for full-time Christian workers to spend the peak years of their earning potential earning much less than they could in a secular work environment. And, to top it all off, some people will still think they're overpaid.
  • Overwhelming Spiritual Opposition. Sometimes I'll hear people make statements like, "I wonder if God and Satan are real." But when you're actively engaged in full-time ministry and genuinely seeing personal transformations and attacks of the enemy, you stop wondering.
  • Painful Relational Losses. I've heard it said that the average person loses seven meaningful relationships in their lifetime while the average pastor loses seven in one year. I don't know that this number is precise, but it feels about right.

The Pros and Cons of a Secular Job.

After pastoring for ten years, I took a step back in 2019 and have spent the past four years as a freelance writer.

At first, this was a bit of a mind warp because it felt like I was taking a step back. In some ways, I felt like I'd lost my sense of identity. And there was part of me that felt like a second-class Christian. But I also realized I'd unconsciously embraced an unhealthy mindset that elevated full-time Christian ministry above secular work.

Recently, we had Barry Rowan on the podcast to speak about The Spiritual Art of Business. Barry is a Harvard Business School graduate and has built multiple businesses with one of them selling for over $10 billion. He has also leveraged his wealth to love people like Jesus, mentor others, and care for the poor.  

In his latest book, Barry makes a powerful point when he writes, "We don’t derive meaning from our work; we bring meaning to our work."

That's a massive difference. If we're a Christian and we derive meaning from our work, there will always be part of us that will feel less than whole when we're not doing something explicitly Christian. But if we are bringing meaning to our work, then everything changes.

What The Monday Christian Is All About

It's been a process, but God has changed my heart in this area. Today, I can honestly say I am just as content in my secular work as I was when I pastored. In fact, taking a step back was one of the best things I could have done. I might still go back to the pastoral world, but if I did, my perspective would be very different.

I'd think less about building a church and more about transforming a community. I'd preach sermons that were more firmly anchored in Scripture and connected to culture. I'd find creative ways to tell the stories of quiet Christians who don't say much on Sunday but set a Christlike example for their employees on Monday. I'd use less insider language and talk like a regular person. I'd value people's time by not creating meaningless programs. And I'd be more creative to use technology to disciple my people outside of Sunday morning.

[Side Note: I think one of the reasons so many American pastors are quitting the ministry is because they've embraced an unsustainable model that doesn't hold up in secular communities. They know how to share Jesus with people who fall on hard times and say, "I know I need to get right with God." But they don't know how to relate to the successful entrepreneur who already believes in some form of god but says, "My life is good, so why should I believe in Jesus or be part of a church community?"]

Right now, I love what I do. And through The Monday Christian, one of my goals is to bridge this gap between Sunday belief and Monday action. In other words, I want to shine a spotlight on Christians who are living their faith Monday - Saturday. Adding to Barry's thoughts, I want to encourage a generation of Christians to bring meaning to their Monday-Friday lives.

This means I want to help you and other readers like you be so anchored in Christ that your faith works in any situation, not just in a Christian bubble.

Byer's Choices

So where are you today?

Maybe you find yourself in one of two camps. Perhaps you're in full-time Christian ministry and you've unconsciously adopted a snobbish attitude towards those who haven't followed the path you've chosen. You think, Yeah, secular work is great for some people. But I am doing what really matters.

Or, maybe you're working a secular job but you feel this tension. You love what you do, but you feel like a second-class Christian because you're not "all in."

If you're in either of these two camps, here are some choices you can make.

Choice #1 | Read Your Bible and Revisit Church History

First, most main characters in Scripture worked regular jobs. That's just a fact. The Apostle Paul was a great example. On one hand, he lived off the support of others. But he was also a skilled tent maker.

Also, as a casual observation, throughout church history, the most vibrant Christian movements were not comprised of professional full-time Christian workers but everyday men and women who were living out the teachings of Christ in their communities. In other words, they weren't just inviting people to church (although that's a good idea). They embodied the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus in every aspect of society.

Don't believe me? Check out Tom Holland's book Dominion and read how the teachings of Christ transformed Western civilization for the better. It's powerful!

Choice #2 | Anchor Your Identity in Christ

Several years ago, I interviewed Pastor Daniel Im. Daniel is the author of You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies About Work, Life, and Love. During our exchange, Daniel shared his journey of moving to South Korea to pastor a large church, only to return to Canada after some disappointment and struggle to find employment.

As Daniel learned the hard way, this painful experience revealed his identity was more rooted in what he did than who he was. Today, Daniel pastors a large church in Edmonton, Canada. But as he shares, his value doesn't come from his position. It comes from his identity in Christ. The same is true with you and me.

You are not a doctor, plumber, nurse, or actress. Your primary identity is who you are in Christ. And that is enough.

Choice #3 | Bring Your Meaning to Work

I'll go back to that quote from Barry Rowan. "We don’t derive meaning from our work; we bring meaning to our work."

As a freelance writer, here is how I bring meaning to my work. First, I start each day with God. I ask him to bring me the right clients and give me opportunities to share his love with them. Sometimes this means clear conversations about God. And other times it's just trying to be the best representation of Christ that I can be through being honest, kind, transparent, gentle, professional, and attentive.    

Choice #4 | Change Your Theology

As Barry points out, "The sacred/secular divide is an artificial distortion devised by humans. The truth is, everything is under the lordship of Christ."

He's exactly right. If you don't break this divide, your work will tear you up and you'll live this compartmentalized life. You'll have a work life and a church life. You'll feel better about yourself when you volunteer at church, but diminish the impact you can have on others by being the hands and feet of Jesus throughout the week. You'll never let these two worlds merge.

Along with this thought, I think one of the reasons some Christians fixate on full-time Christian ministry is because they have an unhealthy view of reality. They see life as doing everything they can to get people to heaven, rather than bringing God's kingdom to earth. As a result, menial tasks such as repairing a leaky toilet have no value whereas preaching on a street corner is the highest value. The logic says Task A is pointless while Task B is priceless.

If that's where you're at, there's this guy named NT Wright. He likes to write books. And a good place to start might be Surprised By Hope.  

Choice #5 | Strive for Conformity

The ultimate goal of every interaction or task in your job is to conform you to the image of Christ. That's it.

Quoting from Barry one last time, he writes:

God makes everything new, including us. Through his transforming process, we are set free from the ways we have visibly or invisibly been held back. Our careers are realigned from self-centered motivations to God-centered motivations, so our work becomes an authentic expression of who God is making us to be.

That's well said, Barry. Roll the credits.

So what about you? Have you ever felt like "real Christians" are the ones who are engaged in full-time Christian ministry? Or, is there something you'd like to add to this discussion?

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