The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

I got this email today from a friend, Michael Simpson who has been a missionary in Russia for the last season of his life. But now they are back in the States as God has taken their life a bit of a different direction. I love this, what they have learned and how God has asked them to live. What I really appreciate is how much more effective they are in God’s purpose outside the “job” of a ministry:

God has led us in some very interesting directions. By June, I will change my status and leave my salaried position. I’ve recently been working as an executive coach simply helping people with their goals, character, relationships and balance in life seems to always lead to meaningful spiritual conversations, and deep spiritual change for those that have that desire. It’s interesting, and frankly a little sad, how that was always my greatest passion as a business executive, but I thought I had to become a missionary to do it full time.

After six years in Russia, what I’ve realized is that I didn’t need an organization, a particular structure, or a particular “calling” to a group of people or geography to live my life in that amazingly fulfilling and purposeful way. God had already given me everything I needed with His Spirit to guide me into the conversations and relationships that he willed. What I did in Russia as a missionary was exactly what I did in America as an executive, but dragging around all the baggage that a salaried missions worker carries. It’s just MUCH more difficult to get over the trust barriers when you are being paid to talk to someone about God.
 
My wife and I will continue to visit Russia, but as business people, not missionaries. We are now setting up a business there, as an extension of our U.S. coaching business. This group of life and business coaches I work with want to help believers in very corrupt societies, like Russia, become coaches to help develop the character and even spiritual lives of business people there, but doing it through legitimate businesses, not fronts for ministry. After all, isn’t life ministry?

I have begun to abhor the false delineation the church has put on ministry vs. life. I have seen first-hand the negative effects on young believers who think they can’t serve God without being “IN” ministry, instead of simply being IN relationship and following Father’s whispers to wherever he leads. As an example, one of the greatest impacts to the people we’ve been helping in Russia for so many years is telling them the stories of changed lives and great spiritual conversations with the people we do business with, live near, and bump into at the grocery store. Our little seasonal chocolate business has created so many relationships and friendships and the most Spirit-guided conversations I could ever hope for.
 
The result has been that the Russians we know have realized that we were in Russia helping them grow in their relationship with Father because of our relationship with Father – not because of our job and organization. It has clearly inspired them to live similarly. Sadly, as a missionary, I could never have gotten that message across so credibly as when I was living it as a “normal” person filled with the Spirit of God, working out life and relationships just like them. Ironically, us being with them less has influenced them more. I’ve found they didn’t need ME as much as they needed my example.
 
Thanks again for slinging freedom (and) letting us know that it is okay to go with what we really sense in our spirit, has created great freedom to live as listeners who do not ignore what they hear. It certainly is never boring living that way, and there are WAY less politics to deal with. 

I know this makes people nervous who are or who want to be in “full time ministry”, but what this unmasks is the myth that you’ll be more effective there, or that we all who follow Jesus aren’t at his disposal every moment of every day touching people he gives us. How he resources our lives is not the issue. It’s living as an expression of Jesus however he invites us to do that and however he chooses to provide for our lives and families. As one who has been free in this season to live with a full-time availability to Jesus, I’m not threatened by letters like this; I’m deeply blessed. When ministry was “job” for me, rather than the result of a fullness in my own life, I was far less helpful to others.

“I’ve found they didn’t need ME as much as they needed my example.” Those words just leap off the page. I love that line, that insight and that freedom!

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26 Comments
  1. Dwight P February 15, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Love this.

  2. Vonnie February 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    This is marvelous! What a great paradigm shift for many of us in ministry!! This is our calling – to be who God has formed us to be, where God has called us to live the Spirit-filled life, however He wants that played out and affecting the lives of others, especially those who do not know Him yet!

  3. Frances February 15, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I love it too. So freeing.
    I’m recognising the same thing as I teach English to business people and children – amazing opportunities crop up to listen to people’s problems and be a friend. I have more opportunities to allow the Lord to shine through me than I ever had being busy in church.
    Just as a small example, last week I was able to pray with an 8 year old, who had left his brother’s expensive, brand new handball shin pads at school. His mum was upset with him, and we began the English lesson with him very downcast, as mum drove off to school to try and find them, convinced that they had disappeared. So we prayed. 10 minutes later, mum turns up again – with the shin pads, and a huge grin. Ronald exploded with relief and joy. What a lesson of the love and provision of God for a little chap. He’ll never forget it. His mum was thrilled too.

  4. Jeremy Myers February 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    What great timing. A fellow blogger of mine wrote a post today called “Be Like Bob” asking where the church leaders are who do things like this. Here is his post:

    http://thesidos.blogspot.com/2011/02/be-like-bob.html

  5. John February 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I will have to admit that for years I sought after some kind of full-time ministry position because my heart was passionate about the Lord, but also because it gave me a sort of “status” as one of the “special ones”. It was a great fig leaf, so to speak, because I could hide my inadequacies behind my title, and everyone would just assume I was doing well spiritually because, after all, I’m in FTM. As the Father has brought me to a place of living in His love, one of the freedoms I have enjoyed has been freedom from needing a ministry to validate me. It really is awesome to see that He can and does work through my life in the lives of other people in ways that bring Him the honor, without being a wall of supposed honor I can hide behind.

  6. Silvio February 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    It’s so good to read such stories ! I wish there were many more of them ! Our life IS ministry if you want that ! With friends, colleagues, neighbours, that’s it ! It’a full time job ! And no pressure from anybody ! Dad loves me anyway ! Isn’t that great ?

  7. Dwight P February 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Love this.

  8. Judy Gale February 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I came to a similar conclusion after “serving” in China. Thanks for sharing this – freeing indeed!

  9. Peggy February 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I love it too! Just sent the link to this post to a dear friend of mine to explain “what I’m doing” since walking away from professional pastoral ministry.

  10. Vonnie February 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    This is marvelous! What a great paradigm shift for many of us in ministry!! This is our calling – to be who God has formed us to be, where God has called us to live the Spirit-filled life, however He wants that played out and affecting the lives of others, especially those who do not know Him yet!

  11. Frances February 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I love it too. So freeing.
    I’m recognising the same thing as I teach English to business people and children – amazing opportunities crop up to listen to people’s problems and be a friend. I have more opportunities to allow the Lord to shine through me than I ever had being busy in church.
    Just as a small example, last week I was able to pray with an 8 year old, who had left his brother’s expensive, brand new handball shin pads at school. His mum was upset with him, and we began the English lesson with him very downcast, as mum drove off to school to try and find them, convinced that they had disappeared. So we prayed. 10 minutes later, mum turns up again – with the shin pads, and a huge grin. Ronald exploded with relief and joy. What a lesson of the love and provision of God for a little chap. He’ll never forget it. His mum was thrilled too.

  12. Jeremy Myers February 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    What great timing. A fellow blogger of mine wrote a post today called “Be Like Bob” asking where the church leaders are who do things like this. Here is his post:

    http://thesidos.blogspot.com/2011/02/be-like-bob.html

  13. John February 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I will have to admit that for years I sought after some kind of full-time ministry position because my heart was passionate about the Lord, but also because it gave me a sort of “status” as one of the “special ones”. It was a great fig leaf, so to speak, because I could hide my inadequacies behind my title, and everyone would just assume I was doing well spiritually because, after all, I’m in FTM. As the Father has brought me to a place of living in His love, one of the freedoms I have enjoyed has been freedom from needing a ministry to validate me. It really is awesome to see that He can and does work through my life in the lives of other people in ways that bring Him the honor, without being a wall of supposed honor I can hide behind.

  14. Wayne February 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    And not so rare either. This week I was with a man who burned out in the pastor role and now owns a business in the area. Today I had lunch with a man who is leaving the pastorate for private sector employment. With both we discussed how much more opportunity they will have to touch lives since (1) people won’t perceived they have to because it’s their job and (2) because they won’t waste endless hours in business meetings and planning sessions to try to manage a group of people. Now they’ll have time for the real conversations that can be so transforming.

  15. jon February 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Cool stuff.

  16. Silvio February 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    It’s so good to read such stories ! I wish there were many more of them ! Our life IS ministry if you want that ! With friends, colleagues, neighbours, that’s it ! It’a full time job ! And no pressure from anybody ! Dad loves me anyway ! Isn’t that great ?

  17. Judy Gale February 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I came to a similar conclusion after “serving” in China. Thanks for sharing this – freeing indeed!

  18. Peggy February 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I love it too! Just sent the link to this post to a dear friend of mine to explain “what I’m doing” since walking away from professional pastoral ministry.

  19. Wayne February 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    And not so rare either. This week I was with a man who burned out in the pastor role and now owns a business in the area. Today I had lunch with a man who is leaving the pastorate for private sector employment. With both we discussed how much more opportunity they will have to touch lives since (1) people won’t perceived they have to because it’s their job and (2) because they won’t waste endless hours in business meetings and planning sessions to try to manage a group of people. Now they’ll have time for the real conversations that can be so transforming.

  20. jon February 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Cool stuff.

  21. Bill Ooms February 16, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Wow — thanks for posting that.

    When I did an “early retirement” a number of years ago, I thought perhaps I would do some kind of formal mission work. That never worked out (fortunately) and for some time I was confused as to why it didn’t. Now, I’m glad I didn’t get side-tracked into going that direction.

  22. Bill Ooms February 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Wow — thanks for posting that.

    When I did an “early retirement” a number of years ago, I thought perhaps I would do some kind of formal mission work. That never worked out (fortunately) and for some time I was confused as to why it didn’t. Now, I’m glad I didn’t get side-tracked into going that direction.

  23. Doug February 17, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Interesting timing on this post, I was supposed to be “leading” a bible study on Job last night. It seemed pretty clear however that that was not what was suppose to be discussed, if often happens that way and it is always wonderful to go where it seems Father is leading. We talked about authentic walking with the Lord and how that is never a program. The Pastor mentioned that the average “life span” of a pastor in this country is a little over 3 years. We kind of think that is what happens when you try and do this “stuff” out of your own strength. The people in history who’s walks I admire sometimes were “full time ministry” sometimes they were doing full time ministry while making tents, but they truly appeared to be doing God’s ministry not their own. My pastor and good friend works full time in a “secular” job that is very unsatisfying and would love to spend more time in the scriptures and fellowshipping and yes full time ministry. I have been involved in part time ministry for about 8 years, I never sought it, have periodically sought to back out completely and only try to take on those things I think Father really wants me to do. I have been “hosting” a homegroup for about 6 years. It wasn’t my idea to start it, since I travel in my job it goes away periodically and I have remained open to getting that week night back permanently, but I do love what Father often does with it. So it continues to meet for now. I have felt a growing prodding over this time to go even deeper and so starting this fall at age 58 I am quitting my job and going to seminary. People ask me what is the plan? I tell them I don’t know and I really don’t. I suppose my point of this long ramble is that God never seems to want us to develop a principle or box to contain what He wants to do and that might be calling people into what might be called full time ministry as well as calling them out. Even if that full time ministry doesn’t look like the traditional model. Been reading the Remarkable Replacement Army and loving it. Blessings. Loving learning to live loved.

  24. Doug February 17, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Interesting timing on this post, I was supposed to be “leading” a bible study on Job last night. It seemed pretty clear however that that was not what was suppose to be discussed, if often happens that way and it is always wonderful to go where it seems Father is leading. We talked about authentic walking with the Lord and how that is never a program. The Pastor mentioned that the average “life span” of a pastor in this country is a little over 3 years. We kind of think that is what happens when you try and do this “stuff” out of your own strength. The people in history who’s walks I admire sometimes were “full time ministry” sometimes they were doing full time ministry while making tents, but they truly appeared to be doing God’s ministry not their own. My pastor and good friend works full time in a “secular” job that is very unsatisfying and would love to spend more time in the scriptures and fellowshipping and yes full time ministry. I have been involved in part time ministry for about 8 years, I never sought it, have periodically sought to back out completely and only try to take on those things I think Father really wants me to do. I have been “hosting” a homegroup for about 6 years. It wasn’t my idea to start it, since I travel in my job it goes away periodically and I have remained open to getting that week night back permanently, but I do love what Father often does with it. So it continues to meet for now. I have felt a growing prodding over this time to go even deeper and so starting this fall at age 58 I am quitting my job and going to seminary. People ask me what is the plan? I tell them I don’t know and I really don’t. I suppose my point of this long ramble is that God never seems to want us to develop a principle or box to contain what He wants to do and that might be calling people into what might be called full time ministry as well as calling them out. Even if that full time ministry doesn’t look like the traditional model. Been reading the Remarkable Replacement Army and loving it. Blessings. Loving learning to live loved.

  25. Ian Stapleton February 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I love this, and it has happened to us since we have left “the Ministry”. We have found that leaving this so called “ministry call” behind there has been a lot more freedom in the relationships God is building. We have been led to serve our community in real and effective ways rather than just serving our church in a way we deemed to more effective to get a desired result. People are not shying away from us because we are a pastor and might want them to come to our church…lol, but are seeing that we are just normal people and trusting us as friends, letting us into their lives.
    I think one of the biggest things to come from it is that we have learned to do these things completely free from agenda and/or reward. How wonderful is that, its not only freeing for others involved but for us also.

  26. Ian Stapleton February 18, 2011 at 12:28 am

    I love this, and it has happened to us since we have left “the Ministry”. We have found that leaving this so called “ministry call” behind there has been a lot more freedom in the relationships God is building. We have been led to serve our community in real and effective ways rather than just serving our church in a way we deemed to more effective to get a desired result. People are not shying away from us because we are a pastor and might want them to come to our church…lol, but are seeing that we are just normal people and trusting us as friends, letting us into their lives.
    I think one of the biggest things to come from it is that we have learned to do these things completely free from agenda and/or reward. How wonderful is that, its not only freeing for others involved but for us also.

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