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.