Let Fruitfulness Overtake You

I get this question a lot, from people who are growing a bit dissatisfied with their job and hoping to find a way into what they think is ministry and they hope a more fulfilling life.  Here is what someone recently wrote me:

I believe that the Lord wants to use me to help others to discover their destiny and identity that He has for them, and how to live in community. To be real honest, I’m still trying to figure all of this out myself. I find it very interesting that I was given Finding Church just a few days after I had received some clarity about what it is that the Lord is calling me into. I have been de-institutionalized for some time. I think that after reading your book I will be even more so.

I’m not real interested in serving anyone’s vision anymore. What I want to do is serve the individual according what the Lord wants for the individual. I’ve never been in “full time” ministry, so to speak. I’m a carpenter by trade, who has been able to travel the world some with mission work. We are in the process of becoming ’empty nesters’, and seeking the Lord about what it is that He would have us pursue. I have never been very happy about being a carpenter. I’m good at it and it pays the bills, yet it’s not what I want to do. I want to devote my life to bringing the kingdom of God to the Earth. This is a struggle for me right now. Having God use me to bless others is so much more fulfilling.

I love that people have a hunger to help others embrace a more relational journey and be fruitful in the world especially when they are serving other people’s visions and not their own. That’s a desire God has for all of us, for the fields are still ripe for harvest and God’s kind of laborers are few. Turning that into a vocation, however, can be problematic in many ways.  (See my recent blog on Monetizing Ministry.)

In the end I don’t think we help people live in community by giving them a set of guidelines and motivating people to fulfill them. Instead we help them know the love of the Father and that allows them to live in community.  People who are loved well, love well. And you can help those around you right now in whatever field you’re already in. Most of this is done person-to-person in our spare time among friends, family, work contacts or people we know. It is best if we don’t try to make it vocational and and create the opportunity for others.  Remember, Paul made tents, even as he was helping others find a way to live in the Father’s fullness.

I understand why people want to be available full time to help others on this journey. It seems incredibly rewarding and more fun that most jobs will provide, but that is more mirage than fact. If God is calling you to something, you’ll already be doing it in whatever time you have available in whatever relationships he has already given you.  I’ve known many people who grow unsettled in their job and think that it is God leading them into “full time” ministry.  Often it is laced with a need to find fulfillment and feel significant in his kingdom.  They quit their job and jump into a ministry and then struggle financially trying to figure out a way to do it and pay the bills. They try to raise support from their friends, or create some kind of product to sell to others, hoping it will finance their dreams. It rarely does. Instead of serving others, they will spend significant time getting others to serve their vision.  Real ministry gets flipped on their head before they start. (If you want to see what ministry can look like unhinged from a need to make money at it, listen to this week’s podcast: Living as an Elder-at-large.)

I’d ask God if this is what he is truly putting on  your heart or if it results from some kind of frustration due to the fact that you’re empty-nesting, a bit bored, and needing “ministry” to lend a purpose to your life. If he is truly calling you then you will already be doing that what he desires simply for the love of it, not for income.   In time you may find a growing surplus of people wanting your help and a way God will resource you so that you can do it freely.

In other words we are better off letting the fruitfulness of your life overrun our need to work, not the frustration of our job leading us to try and create a ministry enterprise we hope will will pay the bills. Sharing the life of his kingdom is a way of living first, not a vocation. When the opportunity is there, so will the resource be.

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14 Comments
  1. Terry Prince March 28, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I was saved 35 years ago and had a job in audiovisuals. While I was still in that job, I found that God blessed my work with favor in many ways. I had a lot of success, built a good reputation, and still had time to serve Him in many ways through the church I attended.
    Then I left that job to complete seminary and enter full time ministry. Wayne, I totally agree with your answer here. I was in the ministry as a vocation for 18 years. No matter how you try to be faithful, your flesh works at you daily about ‘how will I pay the bills?’ Yes, I did see God provide in many ways and I raised 3 children. Yet the stress took a great toll on my marriage. And though I planted a church that I pastored all those years, I can honestly say that I was doing just as much for His Kingdom BEFORE I entered full time ministry. If I could go back and still be in my original job with its benefits, pension, and success, I’d do it.
    When a person asks me about leaving their vocation to enter full time ministry, I always tell them, “Do NOT do that unless you are absolutely certain it is God leading you. Better to stay where you are and find ways to serve Him that aren’t connected to your finances.” Its much easier when you can focus on staying true to the message He gives you to share WITHOUT it being tied to money.

  2. Ruth Bartlett March 28, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I feel for your correspondent Wayne. There is a complete of change of culture in our hearts when we step aside from the ‘institution’ of church and seek to feel fulfilled in serving others. The old patterns and attitudes often motivate our thinking, and it takes a long time to be rid of them. I was ‘churched’ in an environment of ‘doing stuff” to be considered a good member and worked diligently to fill that expectation. so when I found myself outside of that and wondering where I was going and how I could serve my Lord, it was jolly hard! Now in my 7th Decade and I have finally learned to let Father take the reins. And He has led me into wonderful places of serving which I would never have even thought of in my wildest imaginings. But I can see His hand was with me, equipping me and guiding me through those tumultuous years of conforming to other peoples expectations in spite of them. I pray for your correspondent to let go and wait on the Lord and He will fulfill his hearts desire.

  3. Susan Adams March 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Fantastic article, I for one have seen too many and so many get into ministry just for the gain of “blessings” in $$$ so they have no need to work. It is a shame it took me so many years to see, and even then spent few more years thinking I could make a difference to others of what institutionalized church was, ha, that did not go over well to say the least. I walked away not in defeat but in tack with my sanity and my identity in Christ of knowing who I am.
    I am now speaking into individuals as I am led, but most of all taking care of my health my home and living life to the fullest.

  4. John March 29, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    I, too, feel for the person writing to you, Wayne. I think the last two paragraphs of your blog are really key, here. I had sent you an email regarding your post and you encouraged me to share some of my thoughts here in the comment section. I think I will. 🙂 I’m just going to post sections of what I wrote instead of trying to rewrite it. Hopefully it will be a help to someone who visits your site. Blessings.
    I just read a couple of your recent blog posts and enjoyed them very much.
    The most recent, Let Fruitfulness Overtake You, still rings many bells from the past.
    I think I mentioned something like this in a recent email, but I haven’t thought about “full time ministry” in a long time. Not seriously, anyway. I work a very, very stressful job with lots of long hours and weekends and all that fun, corporate stuff. I’m pushing about 70 hours a week at this point. It’s those nights where I’m still working at 11:00 pm that those “old ministry thoughts” try to creep back in.
    “Surely there is a more fulfilling, and easier, way to make a living?”
    Well, you know, sometimes, work is just that… work. I definitely cannot keep up this pace forever. My blood pressure is through the roof and I hardly ever see my wife and kids. She is NOT happy about that, I can tell you. But for now, this is where I am.
    I do have a gift for teaching that goes mostly unused in the traditional sense. And I do have a heart to point people toward the Father in ways that will allow Him to reveal Himself more clearly. I believe that He has put things in my life that have helped me greatly and that I think can help others as well. But I’ve also found the thoughts about, surely God has more in mind for me than THIS?, can be frustrating and confusing. I have to just trust Him to put all that together in His timing.
    I do my best to remind myself not to be led by fatigue or frustration or the crazy hours I put in every week. Or the idea of a dream job or ministry where all my gifts can be utilized and I can be completely fulfilled. I’m not saying that God won’t open doors for opportunities to share with others in a way that is more fulfilling than pricing electrical components all day, but He showed me long ago that if I haven’t learned to be fulfilled simply by who I am in Him, what I do certainly won’t bring the fulfillment I seek. Maybe for a short time, kind of a honeymoon period. But over the long haul, it just won’t cut it.
    I don’t know if I remember the quote word for word, but I think it was in the Jake Story, or an article you wrote, but it went something like: If you don’t learn to live it for yourself, teaching it to others will just become a substitute for living it.
    The hard times can be just that; hard. And they always last longer than we want them to! LOL But I’m old enough to look back at some of the hard times I’ve been through and realize how much I’ve grown through those times. But He has also been dealing with me about my perception of what I consider hard times. Overall, I have a really, really good life. Look at the big picture.
    One mind set I’ve had to get out of is that there is some kind of destination out in front of me. There is no final destination. There is no, “I’ve finally arrived”. It’s all part of an everlasting journey. There are some periods of the journey where we seem to stay in one place for a while, but even that is kind of an illusion. Every minute of every day we are on a journey. Even if the job I do hasn’t changed, or I still live in the same house I’ve been in for 15 years, I’m still on a journey.

    I will add here that one of the things that has been very helpful to me is learning to be where I’m at. Mental and emotional suffering often comes from being here, but wanting to be somewhere else. The current popular buzz word is mindfulness. Be mindful of what’s going on right now. I heard a wise man say, “God is in the mundane”. I’ve found that mindfulness practice helps me to recognize God in the mundane. There are some simple teachings by a man named Thich Nhat Han regarding mindfulness that have been very helpful to me. I like the way the Message Bible translates what Jesus said in Matt 6:34 – “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
    To me, that is a wonderful way

  5. Dave Rader March 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Wayne, thanks for this. A friend/mentor of mine and two others (sound familiar) wrote a book entitled, “Our Work Loves Our Neighbor – Did Jesus Waste Most of His Life?” As you might imagine, it speaks the same language you’ve shared here. It made an great impression on my view of work as ministry –a very important book for me. Thanks again! Dave Rader- Wichita

  6. Stephen March 29, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    I may be wrong, but my feeling is that the model that Paul was showing us was that we should try to work to pay the bills unless the demands of what God is doing through us mean that we have literally no time to do so. Full-time ministry is, therefore, the exception, not the rule.

    If you are in the middle of a revival with hundreds coming to know Jesus and needing teaching, or if you are overwhelmed caring day and night for refugees arriving on your Greek island, to name two examples, then I think it is OK to step away from your paid work for a season to focus on that, and to ask others to support you in it.

    If that is you, then I believe that God will provide for you miraculously. However, I do think that unless (1) you really have no waking hours left for economically useful paid employment, and (2) this time away from paid employment is not open-ended, then I suspect this will not happen and you should not consider full time ministry.

    Interestingly, if the demands of bureaucracy were removed, I believe that a large majority of currently full-time Christian workers could quite easily continue their ministry while holding down a regular job or operating their own business.

    Finally, before taking the leap into full-time ministry, I think that it is worth considering how many resources paid ministry staff actually take away from ministry. Most obviously it is in the finances required for salaries, benefits, healthcare, dedicated office space, support staff etc.

    However, there is also the issue of what economists call “opportunity cost”, that is to say, in this case, the giving resources that these people would be generating by having paid employment if they were in so-called secular jobs. In other words, by working a “secular” job or business, instead of taking from the pot of resources that could be going to help the poor, the widows and orphans, printing bibles etc, you end up contributing extra finances to it.

  7. valeri miller March 29, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Hey Wayne, Hope all is well in your corner of the rock. I wonder if you would care to comment on something that I hear frequently. People say they want God to Use them, or they want to be Used of God. Maybe it’s semantics, but it sets my teeth on edge. I think God wants to spend time with us, grow us up, bring us into the life He has for us, but Use us? Humanly speaking, being Used is a bad thing, so I wonder why we think it is a good thing where God is concerned? Any thoughts? Am I over reacting?

    • Wayne Jacobsen March 30, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Brad and I have had a number of discussions about this on the podcast. Seeking God to “use” us is a bit weird in my world too. I can’t imagine the context in which my thirty something daughter comes to me begging me to use her that is not severely twisted. I agree, Valari, that God is not a user. He wants to share this planet with us, invite us into his life and his purpose, not for the sake of using us, but for the sake of sharing his love with us. I know some people want to be used by God so that they have some kind of valuable place in his purpose. They don’t mean it in a twisted way, but it nonetheless weirds me out. We don’t need to be used by God, we can simply walk with him as his life flows in and through us.

      • Ruth Bartlett March 30, 2016 at 4:58 pm

        Interesting thoughts about being ‘used’by Father. I think that we understand words differently depending on our culture, and maybe folk just use an expression like that to mean they are seeking Father’s will for their life? We are His vessels in the sense that He made us and has a work’ prepared for us, but as in the world, a good boss or Father does not ‘use’their employee or child, rather he guides, trains and leads them to do the best they possibly can. I wonder if some of the songs that have been sung in earnestness in congregations like ‘Use me, Mold me’have led to this expression? WE do not expect Father to use us, but if we truly love Him we will be falling over our feet to serve Him and others, with the gifts He has given us.

      • Wayne Jacobsen March 30, 2016 at 6:14 pm

        Hi Ruth. I get that some people mean it positively as you suggest, but we just got to find a better word. Sharing his purpose, working with him, but the language of use isn’t Scriptural and I think it often comes from a place of insecurity where God “using” them gives them some sense of value.

  8. Aaron Gitthens March 30, 2016 at 8:53 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more Wayne. I worked my way up in emergency medicine and became an ER nurse. I was constantly being told by my family that I had a call for full time ministry on my life. I began by doing some preaching in my local gathering. I had one evangelist call me out in a revival and tell me that I need to walk away from being a nurse and go into full time ministry. I thought about it and tried to juggle both professions for a long time. I finally posted my resignation at the local hospital to pursue ministry. I went into financial ruin almost immediately. My wife got sick, we didn’t have insurance. The bank foreclosed on our house and to top it off all of my supporters were no where to be found. I learned a valuable lesson in that transition. I prayed to Father and asked him if he would restore me back to my original place in the emergency room, I would blossom there in my ministry. We had to relocate in order for me to re-establish my self. Thankfully, he did that and now my wife and I are slowly rebuilding but Father is with us every step of the way. Oh about my so called Supporters, they told me as I was packing the moving van, you are out of Gods will and I will fall on my face. Two years later Father continues to bless and grow us right here.

    • Wayne Jacobsen March 30, 2016 at 10:52 am

      What a painful story, Aaron. My heart goes out to you and your wife. I’m glad God has taken you beyond it, but what a painful lesson. And it is often true that those who “support” you the most to take financially risky pathways aren’t there to help when things turn sour, except to judge you that you’re out of God’s will. May the Lord restore to you all that the locust has devoured… and then some!

      • Aaron Gitthens March 31, 2016 at 8:30 am

        Thank you Wayne, words can’t express Fathers faithfulness in rebuilding our lives. God is good in so many ways!

  9. Ben March 31, 2016 at 1:52 am

    Hi Wayne, I absolutely love what you have to say in this article! My journey outside the institutional church has led me to question so many things, I suppose full time ministry probably needs a rethink too.

    From my observations, one very practical way that Christians can ‘serve’ or ‘minister’ is to simply be available to spend their lives with each other. Jesus spent enormous amounts of time in his 3 year ministry with His disciples. Most times churches will run ‘discipleship courses’ but I would argue these are completely inadequate. Nothing can take the place of spending large amounts of time with other believers and sharing the Lord’s life with them. Rather than going into ‘full time ministry’, believers can start by giving up their free time to meet and share our Lord with one another. As you said, if paid ministry comes from the outflow of that, that’s great.

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