So You Must Be In Full-Time Ministry? (IBTR #59)

Have you ever been in a meeting where the strong impression is given that any life other than being in full-time ministry is a failed one? Have you not particularly felt that call on your life but been pressured, or even guilted, that if you were where you should be you would go into ministry? I am not sure what level this happens in other areas of Christianity, but it is widespread in the Independent Baptist world.

This is a problem, a problem with many implications. I say that even though I love being in the ministry and think it is an awesome life. I also love seeing young men go into the ministry and fear we may eventually face a crisis where there will not be enough in ministry to meet all the need.

Still, to say that one must be in full-time ministry to please the Lord is wrong on many levels. It degrades those you who are called to other noble lives. It overlooks that we need Christians in every honest field. It misrepresents Scripture as well. Think of some great Bible characters who were preachers.

The most collateral damage with this problem materializes in misspent lives. It could be as minor as a young person being forced into Bible college. That is a minor thing as Bible college could do you some good even if you did something else. Then, though, there are those highly-charged services where the aforementioned pressure is put on and many respond to “the call.” Then some fine young will not want to be the one who doesn’t love the Lord and in an emotional moment he will go forward and say he is called.

This will go wrong in some way as “the call” is real but must come from the Lord and not emotions. That young man may graduate and then either fail completely, not because he is bad or undedicated, but because he is uncalled. Or he may never land in a pastorate and feel like a failure when he is only uncalled. Some of these guys make wonderful Christian layman and thrive in some career that they thought was only to pay the bills. They may do pulpit supply, or be a deacon or song leader and do fine. Why? Because it was where they were called. I hate to see young men who finally stumbled into their real calling still feel like a failure on some level. It simply isn’t true.

The lesson for us is that we should encourage those who faithfully serve the Lord even if they once thought it was to be in ministry. We should also quit putting undue pressure on our young people. Our counsel should be that they find God’s will, no matter what it is, and give it their best. It is far better to pray for God to call more men than to push young men into a call they did not receive. This would spare a lot of pain on many levels.

Find all articles in the series here.

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47 thoughts on “So You Must Be In Full-Time Ministry? (IBTR #59)

  1. Another needful article. Thank you. I would add to this, the pressure is also real that among the called they must be “Full Time” to be authentic or “successful”.

  2. I can resonate here. Ever since Jr. High it was my plan to be in full time ministry. But that hasn’t happened. Not that I think it should have, mind you, but when you spend all those years thinking that calling is your calling, only to find out God has other plans for you, you feel inadequate anywhere you are. If you feel your greater worth is found in a church pulpit, when you’re NOT in the church pulpit, you feel a sense of emasculation. And where you ARE, you are not the best you can be because you don’t feel you CAN give yourself to that lay-person job, and even if you did, would it even be worth it? After all, you aren’t doing the “Lord’s work.” But then wait, you could earn lots of money so you can keep the ministry going, right? But what kind of a goal is money? It is fleeting, unsatisfying, and if it’s the only thing that you think is worth anything about your position, it will end up adding to your sense of emasculation. It’s common for preachers to try to validate the lay-people by saying “Without you, missionaries and pastors would be going hungry.” Basically “we need you for your money! So go out there and work to the glory of God!” And what you just did was reduce the value of the lay-person to the value of their money.
    We need to realize that the lay-person has a much bigger part in the Kingdom of God than just the money that lets the “real” ministers do their work. The lay-person is a purifying agent in the world. They are the Gospel beyond the borders of the church assembly. They are the trench-diggers and fighters. They are often the ones with a greater sense of submission than even the pastor, because they are the ones constantly surrounded by the sinfulness of the world, yet they STILL choose Jesus rather than the world. The pastor (not that this is the way it should be) often spends his days confined to churchy things. The lay-people are the ones that live among the dead who need brought to life. And they are the Life-givers to our society. Yes, we are more than our money. We are just as much the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus as our Pastor is.

    • And to add to a bit of the irony about laypersons. Many times, we in full-time service are quite disconnected from the real-life struggles that those sitting in the pews must face on a daily basis–the typical work-day chat topics and language, the temptations and frustrations in the work place. Add to that, the extra hours, and the difficulties with spending time in God’s Word and in prayer (work at 7, home at 6 or 7pm… who has time or energy?) I think that if those behind the pulpit had to bear more with these things, our sermons would reflect this perspective and these needs more.

      And then there is the simple truth that it is getting harder and harder for many small churches to be able to support a pastor full-time, so bi-vocational pastors are becoming more common.

      Thanks for all the food for thought!

  3. Pastor Reagan:

    I’m not so sure that the stance is that one must be in full time ministry to have any service, but you are most certainly correct that the system is presented that one who is called to the ministry is more noble and holy than one who is not.

    But I think this observation speaks to a larger phenomenon within IFB culture. We have utterly eviscerated any vision that our people can have for Christ outside entering full time ministry. And our churches are dying because of it. Our vision is limited to attending church whenever the doors are open and going door knocking once a week. That is the sum and totality of ministry for everyone in the church who is not a pastor or missionary.

    The rank and file in our congregations have no idea how to engage their neighbors, coworkers, and secular friends in any meaningful discussion of how Christ interweaves with their lives. Our idea of witnessing and sharing Christ is to hold a tract out at arms’ length at the same time holding our noses at the stench of the world emanating from our proposed convert.

    The question this generation of IF baptists needs to ask is where is the zeal and passion of our members to enter schools and communities and build relationships and friendships with the lost and those who need Christ.

    My answer to that question is that we have failed to nurture any of that desire by our unrelenting focus on building and maintaining what goes on inside the church instead of what could go on outside it.

    We are glorifying those entering full time ministry because they are so steadfast and faithful in building the inside. And while that is not a bad thing, there is no balance in this vision. Our churches are simply getting generationally older and weaker because of it.

    • JBL, it’s because our pastors are disobeying God. Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry”
      It’s clear that it is the JOB of the pastor to train the Lay People how to do the work of the ministry. But what pastor wants to essentially do so well at his job that he no longer needs the job because the people are doing it all so well? So we just ignore that part. Because it’s not really about the people as much as it is about MY ministry.

      • I like to remind people–sheep produce sheep, not shepherds. 😉

        As to this comment: “The question this generation of IF baptists needs to ask is where is the zeal and passion of our members to enter schools and communities and build relationships and friendships with the lost and those who need Christ.”

        It comes back, I think, to a misunderstanding of separation. Paul said it best: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
        Yet not altogether the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
        But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat.
        For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
        But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1Cor 5:9-13)

        There’s a whole lot more one could say about this, but I shall leave it with these words.

      • Krakowian, I am convinced that the primary reason for the lack of community outreach from our members is not truly any sort of conviction (false though it may be) about separating from sinners as much as it is a FEAR of sinners. We have isolated ourselves so much that we don’t know how to live among them. So we just don’t. Our interaction is limited to the essentials of the carnal life (those things that HAVE to happen in order to live in this world), when it should be according the the essentials of spiritual influence and the natural interaction of compassion and hospitality. Our lack of involvement in this world is due to the fact that we are AFRAID of it. I have young kids, and they like to watch Tangled from time to time. One way Mother Gothel keeps control over Rapunzel is that she tells her that men have long sharp teeth and are all around horrible people, so the fear keeps Rapunzel comfortably tucked away under the pretense that she is being kept safe. I think we suffer from a similar false pretense. Everyone out there is nasty, wicked, and will lead you astray. YOU NEED TO STAY AWAY! And this fear of (watch out, christianese coming) “backsliding” because we spent too much time in the world and not enough time in church. But Wait! There’s more! We can just require people to come to 4 services a week to even out that worldly influence. And if you’re really wanting to be spiritual in this dark world, you need to come to Saturday prayer, thursday bible study, Tuesday women’s missionary fellowship, and Monday homeschool group. The less you spend out there among the filth, the more you will be like Christ.
        Little do we know that Christ spent ALL his time among the “filth” – aka “us.” The ones for whom He came to save. If He hadn’t given himself to the base of this world, we would have no hope. And we, as the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus (The BODY, the CHURCH), if we don’t give ourselves to this world, it will have no hope. We cease being the church when we cease acting like the true Body of Jesus. So as far as I’m concerned, these Mother Gothel churches are not churches at all. They are cults.

      • Dave. I certainly agree with your portrayal as more fear than any real “conviction.” Like I said, there’s a lot more I could say on the topic, but I’m trying to keep my comments at least somewhat manageable. 😉 Fear, oddly enough, is a huge motivation in Christian circles these days, which is the opposite of what it should be. 🙂 In fact, fear was, I believe, the primary motivating factor behind the beginnings of the modern IFB movement back in the late 50s and 60s. A fear of people different from us… Rather than engage and be a counterpoint to the world, we escaped, and spiritualized it, but the real roots were fear, and not spiritual. So it’s not surprising that even today, fear is the primary motivating factor in why people “separate” (though a better word would be segregate).

    • Yes! Well-spoken, JBL!

      And David Cochran, that has been my contention for years! Too often it seems like pastors and deacons believe the purpose of the church is to have its members invite people to come and get saved rather than equipping its members to go out and be ministers of the Gospel. Since joining our local fire department, although I have expressed having had opportunities to share the Gospel and the love of Christ with people who do not or rarely attend church, I was informed that people within my church were gossiping about me and my involvement as a woman, rather than praying for strength, boldness and faithfulness in something I strongly believe God has called me to do. Have I faced temptations? Absolutely! Which is why I need my church family to support and equip me rather than gossip about and ‘shun’ me.

  4. I think almost every youth conference I attended had this kind of pressure. If you surrender your life to the ministry then you are a good Christian. If you don’t then you are somehow a second class Christian.

    I also attended a church that would make a big deal about teen boys that surrendered to Gods call. They never did a thing for the kid who decided to join the military, be a doctor, or a mechanic. Teens feel a need to be validated and if only those who are “called” get it then there will be a lot of false calls.

    • I was there JHB! I was the one who came up to the stage every time the camp speaker would call up those who wanted to serve God in full time ministry. And as we stood there on the stage we’d get a sense of superiority and (ironically) greater humility as we peered on those who remained in their cold, hard metal folding chair. Cold and hard like their heart, apparently. We were the soft ones who were on fire for Jesus. How foolish of us. And how foolish of those speakers to drive a wedge between the teens like that. To give those standing a sense of greater worth, and those sitting a sense of inferiority, ultimately driving some away from Jesus. It made them feel like they had no place in Jesus just because they were honest and didn’t believe God was calling them to be a missionary.

  5. Another thing that makes me feel weird is when sons of pastors are basically expected to become pastors. Why do we expect that in our churches? Why do we think that pastoring runs in the family? All we are doing is creating kingdoms where a man starts a church then passes it down to his son without question. God may call the son to pastor but he also may not.

    I think this is a main reason why so many pastors sons I know have left church. They don’t feel called but they have crazy pressure put on them. The only ways to escape these pressures are to move or leave that church.

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  7. Excellent points all around. P.K.’s, camp meeting pressures, “My Ministry” (That really offends God), passing the mantle, proper training, unrealistic expectations, etc. Thank you for taking the time to post.

    For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.
    (2 Corinthians 12:13)

    Notice Paul said, “I myself was not burdensome to you?” He freely preached the Gospel to them, took no wages of them, but chose rather to WORK with his own hands, and supply his necessities, than to be troublesome to them.

    I had no problem as a pastor working a full-time job and then driving 3 hours up and 3 hours back every Sunday to pastor a church that requested my help. Was I a full-time pastor? The church consider me to be so and that is all that matters.

    Even now as a volunteer missionary serving in Asia I am sometimes full-time with more work than seems possible to handle and at other times it seems more part-time. All-in-all it is a nice mix that keeps me from being pressured.

    I am extremely thankful for having the opportunity to counsel young men who are entering the ministry. One aspect that I teach is that they remain ever be mindful of the congregation…for without people coming to hear the Word of God…”there would be no need for you.”

      • The more I think about this, Bro. Jimmy, the more I see how MUCH my pastor worked at keeping everyone – more so for “staff members” – ISOLATED from everything BUT the church. He literally despised the thought that anyone could – or would – experience the leading of God without HIS express permission.
        I sometimes wonder what the Judgement Seat of Christ is going to look like when this “uber-authority” business gets sorted out. I know I will be accountable for NOT departing much sooner. But I cannot imagine how difficult it is going to be for those who abused their authority, supplanted the Spirit of God, and built their OWN kingdoms rather than God’s. And my pastor was NOT alone in this; he kept company with those of like mind, and they are LEGION.

  8. TWO problems: First, the world of independent Baptists has redefined the term “ministry” (incorrectly) to mean “only those things which are done in, through, and for the local church and ONLY when the pastor approves”. This is how people become “enslaved” to the church, rather than “addicted to the ministry”… which can be as mundane as calling someone to check on their welfare… or shoveling a sidewalk… or replacing the battery on a smoke alarm. These things are ALL “ministry”, if they are done for Jesus.
    Invalidating these things as “ministry” brings us to the SECOND problem – we now have a “special class” of people who are now “professional ministers”. That brings us into conflict with the SCRIPTURES – Revelation 2:15 – “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.”
    The same people who would castigate the Roman church for their “preisthood”… end up duplicating their PRACTICE. Jesus NEVER intended for there to be a “clergy” and a “laity” in the Church. I am CERTAIN this offends Him GREATLY.

    • I would add that ministry is not necessarily even stuff done FOR Jesus – sometimes what we do, we do because we are being LIKE Jesus, and just like Jesus served people, He did so because He had compassion and love, and acted upon it. We don’t have to be thinking “this is really for Jesus even though it is for Mr. Smith” in order for it to be ministry. Sometimes we are just acting out Christ’s love for people, because that Love has taken root in our hearts and compelled us to act. In Matthew 25, we read “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
      You can see here that these righteous people did not even know they were serving God. They were just in the business of sharing the Father’s love. And that is how we serve the Father. Not necessarily by doing things FOR Christ, but by living LIKE Christ and humbly submitting to the Father’s life. This goes back to your first point – people become enslaved to “church” rather than being a bondslave to Christ Himself, and therefore seeing the world as Christ sees it and loving and serving it.

      • “Spot-on” comments, David. I often ask my friends “in the ministry”, “Do you want a congregation that acts like Christians, or people that act like JESUS?”
        Doesn’t make me the most popular guy around… !
        John 13:35 – By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

      • Some of the best material on marriage comes from Paul David Tripp. As you evaluate what is “driving” your relationship, the oft-asked question is “MY kingdom or HIS?”.
        And I think this is the question pastors/teachers/elders et al must ask when evaluating “ministry” and/or discipleship.

      • I wrote a “white paper” on “The Pastor and His Work” a while back and could not help but notice the similarities between a husband and wife… and a pastor and his church. Let me know if you would like to see it and I will send it to your email address.

  9. This is excellent. Another way to look at this—We (Christians) are *all* in “full-time ministry,” though some may be doing that in the role of pastor (and husband and father and friend and neighbor), while others are doing that in the role of layman (and husband and father and friend and neighbor). Without discounting the important, distinct role pastors (and evangelists, etc.) play, we shouldn’t create a division where the Bible doesn’t contemplate one (i.e., the “ministry of reconciliation” is “ministry” no matter whether the person receives a paycheck from a local church).

  10. My husband, daughter and I are in full-time Christian service at Fort Faith Baptist Camp in Morley MI. Have been for almost 6 years. We love it, but it isn’t for everyone…they have had several families out here before us and none of them lasted for more than 18 months. It’s a lot of sacrifice of time, money, possessions, the whole nine. With God’s grace and provision, we have made it work.

    All this to say that if EVERYONE were in full-time Christian service, there would be no doctors to take care of us when we were sick, no waitresses to wait on us when we have the occasional night out, no teachers to teach our children in schools, no bank tellers to help us do our banking…etc. There is a place for everyone in our society and we would do well to remember that. We should be seeking God’s will, whatever it may be in our lives. And (GASP) it may not be full-time Christian service for everyone.

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