Monday, December 20, 2010

A note to my brother’s seeking vocational ministry. Part 2

Dear brothers, I have learned very little in my walk but this much I know: success in ministry can come and go. If I place my joy in my “ministry” I will waiver from one Sunday to the next. Also, if my financial security is placed in my “career” I will live in fear of losing my standard of living .
3) Never forget that your security is in Christ.
                My position is in Christ- not in ministry. My security is in Christ not in my career.My joy is in Christ and nothing else.
                What about bi-vocational ministry? In a word: It isn’t good. A dear pastor friend of mine once said “I have a full time ministry but only part time pay.” The career of ministry is not stable. For each pastor that has been in the same church for the last twenty-years there are ten who have an average stay of only three years. I recommend that you learn to live below the standards of the culture. This is not done out of piety but necessity. As a ministry of God you cannot afford to be shackled to the things of this world. The pressure of debt will tempt you to shrink back and to compromise.
                This is not easy for the one who is married. Paul knew of what he spoke when he wished that all were single like he was. He also knew that not all can receive that. If you are married, do not fear. God has the power to bring comfort to the heart of your wife. If you are expressing love to her, leading her and serving her as you should be the chances are good that she will come to understand the need for simplicity.                                     
                I heard the story once of a missionary who was losing his financial support. The supporting church had carried him for three years and his church had grown. When he expressed his continued need for the money they suggested he get a job. He replied “I know that God has called me into full-time ministry.” There is no doubt that ministry is full time but the pay may not be. Guard against the danger of growing lazy. Be diligent in your ministry, trust the Lord to provide and never consider yourself above having to work. This goes back to my previous point: live simply. 

4) Forget the modern model.
                A group of interns were reading the biography of Howell Harris. One of them asked the question regarding open air preaching: “Why don’t preachers preach like he did?” A man who was on staff at the church quickly replied “We live in a different culture.” I was shocked but not surprised. One faith…one God…one baptism…but a different culture? If we really believe that then we are relativists.
                                “The more profession we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.”- John Piper
                We are no longer prophets and priests but we are professionals.
                Several years ago while working as a painter, I was sitting in a restaurant with two carpenters. We were on lunch break from a job. A large group of men came in. They were talking and laughing loudly. We turn to see who it was. One of the carpenters said to me, “They are preachers. Do you know them?” Unfortunately, I did recognize them. They were local pastors and associational officials. I watched them as we ate and saw the most bizarre thing.
                The high-ranking associational man got a phone call. He answered his phone and in a matter of seconds all the other men at their table took out their phones and began to talk and fiddle with them. I wondered if the men at the table were calling each other so that they could look as important and busy as the associational official. How grieve I am to recall the number of times I have sat in a restaurant with professional clergy. The conversation is loud and their behavior is coarse. How many times have I seen the professional minister raise his glass and shake the ice to indicate to the waiter his need for a re-fill. Four refills later, he needs coffee and a “to-go” cup.
                We have lost our Biblical model of the prophet and exchanged it for the worldly model of the CEO. We judge the man on the basis of the clothes he wears, the car he drives and the size of his church. The success or failure in ministry is numeric. I can recall a time when I served as an intern and was working as a janitor in the church. I saw one of the church members at a fast-food restaurant. He turned and warmly greeted me and asked how the mission’s ministry was going. I said “I suppose it is going well…as far as I know.” He said that he saw me around the church and assumed I came there as part of the mission. I explained that I worked there as a janitor. He got a big laugh out of that…until the expression on my face revealed that it was not a joke. He quickly tried to recover. “Oh…oh...yeah, you work with them…right.” I said “Yes. You know the toilet that you use on Sunday morning? I cleaned that.” He quickly grabbed his phone and said “Excuse me.” When he thought I was part of the missions’ staff he was interested in me but when he found out I was part of the janitorial staff he could not be seen talking with a person of a lower caste.
                We further see the professionalization of preaching in the education system. No longer are we students of Divinity but we are trained professionals. The man entering seminary today will not be taught to think grand thoughts of his God and to herald in such a way that the listener is brought into that Divine presence. Rather he will be given a “skill- set” (devoid of the unifying principle of the knowledge of God) in order to be an effective administrator of the organization that has become the church. David Wells (No Place for Truth) points out how seminaries now offer the Doctor of Ministry degree to give the pastor social legitimacy. Wells said of the D. Min. “...a degree that not too long ago was called a Bachelor of Divinity. It is a case of professional elevation not by accomplishment but by linguistic inflation.”
                I am not opposed to education. A man of God will be educated either formally or informally. Some will learn in seminary. All who are effective will learn upon their knees. God has different paths for different men. That is not the point. The point is the danger of seeking a professional position in the name of being a minister of God.  Brothers- flee professionalism. Your earthly pursuit of success will render eternal ruin.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A note to my brother’s seeking vocational ministry.

                Dear brothers, there are two types of wisdom: the wisdom we gain through our own experiences and the wisdom gained through the experiences of others. I am of the opinion that it is better to learn from the experiences of others. I say this because of my own folly. The majority of what little wisdom that I have gained has been mostly through my own experiences and I have the scars to prove it.
                In the last few years, many men have asked me about entering into the ministry. By “entering into ministry” they mean that they desire a paid position as a pastor, preacher, evangelist, or missionary. Many want a methodology for breaking into this “career field.” They believe that if they went to the right seminary or acquired the right training they will have the qualifications for ministry. While it is true that for some men it appears to work out that way, we should not judge the outward appearance of success with being effective for God. My advice to those who are seeking a cushy, well-paid ministry position is to simple find a cushy well-paid secular job.
                I will relate a story I heard recently from a pastor friend. He had gone to interview a young man who was leaving the church he currently served in to join the pastor’s staff. The man wanted assurance that he would not face opposition if he came to serve in this pastor’s church. It reminded me of another story I heard a few years before. The young man had left his involvement in a church plant to join a more Biblical church. Naturally, upon moving he needed a job. He was offered many jobs by the church and by members in his new church. I asked him why he had not taken the jobs he had been offered and I was shocked by his answer. He said, “Well, I have a lot of education (M.Div.) and I think I would be wasting that. I also have students loans I need to pay off. Besides there is not a lot of security in the types of menial labor jobs I have been offered.”
                I chuckled inwardly. In both of the above cases my first thought was, “If you are seeking security then the Gospel ministry is the wrong place for you!” There is no security in Gospel ministry only in Christ. The Gospel minister must truly be willing to forsake all. Frankly, Christianity itself is a call to leave behind the comforts of this world but the Gospel ministry requires even more sacrifice. It is not possible to build your kingdom while laboring to forward God’s kingdom. You may have one or the other but you will not have both. 

1) Count the cost.
                If you must have a certain standard of living that resembles “normal” in Western society you may wish to consider another “profession.”  If you (or your wife) must have the “best” of everything you will have a problem. If maintaining a standard of living to look like everyone else is important to you then you will face difficulties and be limited in your use by God.
                Gospel ministry will cost you your life. Certainly, some will die for the sake of the Gospel but that is not the norm. All men who are effectively pursuing God will pay with their lives minute by minute. By that I mean it is a time and self consuming endeavor. Prayer, personal devotion, private mediation, study, preaching, outreach, evangelism, counseling, visitation, etc., etc. will eat up the minutes in your day. Add to this the necessity to provide materially, emotionally and spiritually for your family and you will find that there is no time for self. The Gospel ministry will only cost you everything. 

2) Avoid debt.
                Debt is a harsh master who calls the tune. By placing yourself in debt you will be pressured to make compromises. When forced to choose between standing for God and possibly losing your ministry job the pressure to capitulate will be great. Rather than acquiring debt and hoping you will not be placed in that position, you would be better off to avoid the issue. Some would argue that it is acceptable to go into debt for major “necessities” (education, home and a car). Are these truly necessary for your survival or are they mere desires and comforts? Food and clothing are necessary and the Lord has promised to provide them. Anything else is extra. There is no scriptural support for voluntary debt but there are many scriptures in opposition to debt. You will either be the slave of God or the slave of money. You cannot serve both.

Next time we will look at Part 2: Security, Bi-vocational and Modernity