A friend recently started a conversation with me in which he asked me to post my thoughts on the topic of the ministry as a profession, and the effects of secularism upon it today. He also asked that I share some of my personal experiences as I have been a paid minister of the gospel for 8 years now.
I must say that there are some “occupational hazards” working in the vocation of the ministry. The office of the pastorate is typically referred to as something that one is “called” into, which I would agree with generally, although that terminology is usually more ambiguous than it is helpful. Obviously God rarely “calls” in some physical or audible way, but I believe the “calling” essentially means you feel completely confident and determined, to do the work of the ministry, no matter how hard it gets. And hard it can be. Dealing with people, it is most always messy, and hardly ever goes according to plan. Therein lies the inherent beauty, and the inherent frustration, depending on your perspective. However, there can be an enticing appearance of glamour and glory (particularly in some denominations and church cultures) and an allure to leadership because of it’s spot light. But we would be wise to remember how Christ dealt with the spot light (Jn 6:15, Mrk 10:45, etc.).
Even the ways in which ministry success is judged holds with it an inherent pitfall, the pitfall of secularism and humanistic thinking. Much like the business model of the capitalistic West, ministry and pastoral success can be measured by the size of the church, numbers in attendance, public speaking ability, financial prowess, political and social influence, the rate of “growth” in the church, or even the numbers of people that “get saved” at a particular event or gathering. These things are all fine and good to judge the trajectory of a company by, the only problem is; they are not of God. Nor are they found to describe Jesus Christ’s ministry, the church in the New Testament, or God’s prophets and proclaimers throughout history.
Think: who was an eloquent speaker or some influential leader when God called them (Ex 4:10-12, Acts 4:13, 1 Cr 1:26)? Even Jesus’ ministry itself ended with only a hand full of disciples around His cross, the rest fleeing for their lives (Jn 19:25). Even after His resurrection (the greatest miracle of all time) there were only 120 disciples still willing to devote themselves to His cause and follow (Acts 1:15). Does it mean that if someone leads a big church they are a better Christian (or one at all) than one who leads a small church? Does it mean the guy that has more books, Facebook friends, or Twitter followers is more spiritual than the guy who has less (or none)?
I know I struggle with these very things. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with big churches, books, Facebook, or Twitter. But what’s wrong is what is in my heart (Mat 15:19). The selfish ambition, the desire for recognition, acclaim, prestige and prominence. And yet in the ministry, particular “occupational hazards” offer just those things: public speaking, being in front, people looking to you for decisions to be made, giving you the credit when things go well, and conversely the blame. Do I think I am spiritual and being fed by God’s word when I am only studying the bible in order to teach it to someone else? Do I look at the scriptures through the lens of how to apply it to someone else’s life, instead of my own, to my own peril (Mat 7:21-23)?
A word to those who are interested in pursuing ministry as a vocation: allow your heart to be sifted, test to see what impure motives lie inside of your desire (Prov 17:3, 27:21). The mark of true leadership is suffering and humility (Phil 2:5-8, 2 Cor 6:4-10, 2 Cor 11:16-30). Both, I fear, we can desperately lack.