Rethinking about Full Time Ministry

For all those who know me they know that one of my big passions for the past 20 yrs or more has to been to challenge people to full time ministry, but more specifically into pastoral ministry (Hmmm. this is a good topic for a blog). There is such a chronic shortage of ‘good’ pastors  out there that it’s a crying shame that churches are not doing enough to raise up more workers. Tragically, it seems that most church leaders and even pastors  continue to live in ignorance of this. Everyone keeps thinking there is an ample supply of pastors in the world and all they have to do is to put an ad in the local or worldwide Christian paper and within minutes (well maybe weeks) they’ll have a truck load of applicants banging on their doors for the job. How wrong can you get. Let me say this to everyone out there and tell all your leaders -there are not enough good pastors around.

This is why I’ve been passionate to challenge people about full time Christian work, but more specifically pastoral ministry. Anyway enough about this.  On the subject of full time ministry  it’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years. Here are some of my initial reflections.

a. Every Christian is called to full time ministry. I think this is something we keep forgetting. Remember Jesus’ words to his disciples

25 ¶ Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27

In other words the call to full time ministry is not just for some but for all. Indeed unless a person is willing to do full time ministry he cannot be Jesus’ disciples. In short to be a Christian is to be in full time ministry. Nothing more and nothing less.

b. While being a Christian is to be in full time ministry, how this works out will vary from person to person. For the majority full time ministry means serving God wherever we are eg in our work place, as a lay person, part time etc etc. But for still others it will mean having to give up their job to go into ‘FULL TIME ministry’. However what is important is that, whether we are in lay ministry or in ‘FULL TIME ministry’ we are all in full time Ministry.

c. Given this how do we decide whether I should do ‘full time ministry’ as a lay person or do full time ministry FULL TIME? I think it all boils down to giftedness. There are some who, because of their giftedness, their ability to teach, to lead others etc etc, that, given more time, they could be an even greater blessing to the church. Doing this FULL TIME only make sense.

d. The difference between full time ministry and FULL TIME ministry then is not essentially, that one has been called and the other has not, but whether one is gifted or not. Everyone, without exception has been called to serve God full time, but only some can serve God in a particular type of full time ministry.

e. How do I know that I should be doing full time ministry FULL TIME? Well this is where we can talk about the call of God but I don’t want to go down that road because I know people are divided on this. For myself I’m not convinced of any divine calling. I do believe that a person needs to be convicted that he should do it rather than be pushed into it. Whether that is a call from of God is a matter of debate but that’s another blog.

However, ‘call’ or not, what is important is the confirmation of the church. We need to remember that it is the responsibility of the community of believers to affirm a person’s ‘calling’. If the church took more responsibility in this I think we could have saved a lot of unnecessary heart ache for the church. That also is another blog.

How do I know I have the gift? I think it comes down to something even more simpler – money. This is not the only test or a full proof test but itis a good test. Are people willing to invest in you? And here I’m not talking about our family and friends. I’m talking about the church community? Does the church see in you something that is worth investing in? But like I said this is not full proof. There can be many reasons why the church would not want to invest in a person? It could be because they are stingy, worldly, basically anti gospel etc etc. But that aside, assuming the church is a gospel centred, mission minded church will they invest money in you? This is not whether they can but whether they are willing. Their willingness is a great vote of affirmation of your giftedness. As everyone knows it’s when we have to talk money that our true colours shows. This is why I like the term Paid Ministry. It brings the whole idea of FULL TIME ministry down to earth and puts it in perspective.

In summary I think we need to think remember the distinction between the full time ministry which is part of being a christian and the FULL TIME ministry (or PAID Ministry) which is part of our own giftedness.

I think the reason why we do not have many people doing FULL TIME ministry is simply because we do not have many Christians doing full time ministry.

If people took full time ministry more seriously, then the question of doing FULL TIME MINISTRY is really a secondary question.

That being said, I’m still on the hunt for more people to do PAID ministry. There are a lot of guys out there who are really gifted in teaching, in leading a church, in evangelism, mission etc etc and they are still giving their gifts to the business world. This is not fair. So if you have the gift then full time ministry should mean doing FULL TIME ministry or at least PAID Ministry.


15 thoughts on “Rethinking about Full Time Ministry

  1. It’s a good practical distinction you’re making, Ying, when you speak about ‘paid’ ministry. I agree completely that all Christians should see themselves as ‘full time ministers’. I also agree with the need for some to be paid full time ministers.

    But I wonder about a couple of things.

    First, the best ministers of the gospel in the New Testament, Jesus and Paul, spent much or all of their time not being paid for it, and in Paul’s case, boasting about it! (1 Cor 9:15) So there is a slightly uneasy thing about highlighting exactly the bit about full time ministry that Paul would prefer, at least in his case, to omit (namely, the pay).

    Second, the argument that we should pay those who are gifted, whilst surely true, manages to turn the spotlight onto exactly the qualification that the NT, esp the Pastorals make little of, whilst at the same time completely omitting reference to the major character questions raised by 1 Tim 3 and Titus 2.

    I’m convinced you would wholeheartedly agree that in terms of who should be in paid ministry, character is massively more significant than giftedness.

    But what is striking about your post is that a focus on the paid aspect of full time ministry has resulted in the loss of any reference to the Christian character of the one who is paid.

    Well, I know you said in your post that the question of money is not a full test of suitability for ministry, and that is surely true.

    But I can’t help think that to focus on pay scales is to miss the point.

    If you spoke rather about full time ministry of the word, that may be a more theologically useful distinction to make.

    “Full-time ministry of the word” of course assumes that the money is going to come from somewhere, or you wouldn’t be able to do it and eat. Possibly from churches or individuals donating funds, possibly through living off the family inheritance, possibly from share market dividends, possibly from working a lucrative part-time job for a few hours a week (or not so lucrative, and slaving through the night like Paul the tent-maker).

    But full time ministry of the word also gives you the distinction I think you are looking for; the one between all Christians (who are, as you say, full time ministers already) and some Christians, who have the job of teaching God’s word publicly and house to house to the full extent that their working week allows.

    1. hi Gordy thanks for those thoughts. Very helpful. Here are some of my reflections

      a. I totally agree with you about the importance of character. I guess I’m assuming this as a given. But, given what I’ve seen around the traps this might be a dangerous assumption. So thanks for that. But I wonder if the issue with Timothy and Titus is while giftedness is a given character is not and therefore needs to be stressed all the more. of course this is an argument from silence so I’m not going to die on this one. Having said, this I’ve also seen so many churches where character is all that is important and the importance of a person’s giftedness is not given enough thought. Sadly one of problems I see in churches today are good godly men who can’t preach for peanuts or who cannot lead a church. They are basically in the wrong job, but because they are in a particular ministry, then people have their expectations of what he should do. Unfortunately he can’t do it and all hell breaks loose. I guess I’m reacting to the emphasis on godliness so much so that giftedness is not necessary. As we all know, what people should do, be it lay or FULL TIME invariably turns on the way they are wired up by God and of course their maturity as a Christian. But again I would assume that anyone going into any leadership role must first and always be a leader in godliness without which I won’t even look at their giftedness.

      b. On the matter of money, again I agree with you that there is tragically too much emphasis on money so much so that it’s all about money. I think your point is a good one given the many warnings against the love of money and particularly Peter’s warning in 1 Peter 5. I guess my point is more that our “willingness” to support someone financially can be a concrete test of how much we trust the person to go into ministry. It’s always easy to tell someone to go into ministry but when asked if they would be prepared to support them financially – it really makes people think very seriously. So this has nothing to with how much we should pay a person, nor whether we can pay a person in the first place. There are many small struggling churches which are good churches but are small and financially cannot afford a minister. Just because a church cannot pay doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for them. I was reminded by a missionary friend in South America that many of the pastors are bi-vocational ie working in a secular job while serving the church. And the reason for this is that the churches are small and poor and simply cannot afford to pay. I think it would be wrong for people not to serve in these small churches simply because they can’t pay them. In fact I wonder if most of the churches in the world are like this. In such cases I think the way to go is to be bi-vocational. So Yes I totally agree with you.

      c. Full time ministry of the word – is this a better theological term. Hmm. Let me think about this. Of course it is important to focus on the word otherwise we might be distracted from the Word. Is it a better term that draws this distinction. Maybe

      Thanks for your thoughts. Helpful

  2. Oh, and once you have that distinction—between full time ministers and ministers of the word—then the question of pay rather fades into the background.

    Into the foreground, where it should be, comes the judgement of the church and, to a lesser extent, outsiders (1 Tim 3:7), regarding Christian character.

    That the church is willing to pay the minister may indeed be an indication of that judgment. Or not. It could (sadly) be an indication that the person concerned is good at persuading rich widows to part with their money.

  3. Am presently having some reflections about doing ministry on a FULL TIME BASIS. My question is that, “Is it possible for God to call one into FULL TIME MINISTRY and later ask such to go back to full time ministry.” The second question is, “How does one recognise if an opportunity is from God.”

    1. It all depends on our understanding of the calling. When I look at the scriptures the reference to “calling” refers to God calling his people to repentance, or to be a prophet or priest, or to the Lord Jesus calling the 12 to be his apostles, or to people to be his disciples. There are no references to God calling people into FULL TIME Ministry. This is not to say that God can’t do this. It is only to say that God doesn’t ‘normally’ do this. So how does a person ‘normally’ go into FULL TIME MINISTRY? It is because he has a conviction or passion to do it. Because he recognises that he has the gift to do it and this is confirmed by the church. In short I would argue that it is a matter of Godly wisdom.

      To your second question the simple answer is to ask Godly wise counsellors what they think and then test and see. If it is not then it will become clear. if it is then this will also become clear.

      1. Hey Randolph.

        This is a good question. Here are a few thoughts

        a. I think it’s worth asking why the church disagrees. Sometimes their concerns may be valid but sometimes it might not be, so it’s important to ask. For this reason it’s also good to get a second opinion from trusted friends who will be honest with you and give you a true assessment of yourself. However that being said, you want to find friends who are not going to tell you to go because they are your friends. You want to consult people who understand what ministry is about and who will be both balanced as well as honest in their assessment of you.

        b. If you have done this and they feel that you should not good, I would think twice about going. Just because we are personally passionate about going is not necessarily a good indicator that we should go. Often times we can be blind to our own weaknesses. One tragedy I see are people with the desire to go into full time ministry but who do not have what it takes.

        c. From our own perspective I guess you need to take a good honest look at yourself and ask whether you truly have what it takes. Full time ministry is so much more than just the desire. We need to be equipped for this. Remember that full time ministry is the call of all Christian. But what type of full time ministry will depend on the type of gifts we have. For some it is best for them to do full time ministry in a lay capacity. For others it means giving up their job and going ‘full’ full time.

        Hope this helps?

  4. Sorry for such a late posting on this (I’m not a subscriber to your blog…)

    I think an interesting thing to ponder is also that in all we do we should be working for God.

    Sometimes God pays us through our (secular or otherwise) employer, sometimes through ministry support, sometimes via our spouse, sometimes through pensions, sometimes donations, and sometimes as a mix of these. God is in charge of all the sources of these means of living. But in all our circumstances we work for our heavenly father and master, seeking to please him in all we do.

    There is no specific biblical evidence that God apportions what we should spend our time (assuming it is all Godly) on based on proportion of our income mix (eg I should spend 80% of time on secular work because that is where 80% of my income comes from), and I am not trying to argue from silence or experience, but I think that to apportion time as such would be a logical fallacy – at least one implcation of such a fallacy would be that if you don’t get paid for something, then it is not work for God. Also that leaves little time for unpaid sleep.

    Another implication of this is that the *quality* of our work should not vary based on whether we are being paid for it or not. So in relation to “volunteer” work for church organisations, or work for our family etc, then the common excuse “I’m not paid for this” is a wrong attitude. It is true that some things require less of a standard than other things, but isn’t it ironic that love for God would tend to drive better effort and quality than simply being paid. As an example I put in so much unpaid effort for to ensure I produce something of excellence for my daughters’ presents, or my wife’s affections as opposed to doing something simply because I’m paid to do it.

    Another wrong attitude is that in some instances demands from a “paid” source of work may not qualify for priority over an unpaid source. Ask God for your priority in such a case, and perhaps it may be that he will pay you by some other means?

    Anyway, enough of my reflections over the years, I pray this might be edifying for people thinking through the relationship between work for God and pay.

  5. I’ve got to say that the blog post along with the discussion that followed is very enlightening. You see, at the moment, I am in the process of deciding and I am seriously considering factors on whether I should quit my secular job and be a staff in a local church. I guess by being exposed to the ideas presented here, I am forced all the more to think critically and at the same time practically.

    This also prompted me to write about the topic of “Answering God’s Call”

  6. I would be in paid ministry if only I had church leaders as mentors who believed in me enough to endorse me by paying me a salary. I’m a naturally gifted public speaker and teacher. But I need money to live. I was with a missions organization for three years and although God provided, it was not the kind of life I want. I had and still have no faith in a church employing me. I have to work.

  7. I found this post tonight and it really related to what i am going through now. I have had a very successful career so far but at the same time I have been “working” at the church. My wife and i volunteer and lead the student leaders.

    My hearts desireis to serve God 100%. this means giving up the income of mycareer to move into full time to the church. I have made it clear that my calling and passion is youth ministry and i want to be a youth pastor. I am taking on more and more reaponsibility and was recently asked to help with the college ministry.

    Ive been in deep prayer because i am not sure what to do. I want to do everything to serve F
    God but feel if i am working 4 days at the church and working my regular job…. How can i find time for my wife and i?

    My heart is to serve god, so i dont want to give any of that up… But i cant afford to quit my job. I know the church desires my involvement but also tithing is low so i feel it inappropriate to ask for money.

    Im not sure my next move. I am praying for guidance here and any info you can shed your light on would be great… 🙂

  8. I want to serve the Lord save people minister to all ii know i can do great things for the Lord so im in search of a way to do so . I hav a job that does not giv me much time at all to do anythin but i do as much as i can im encouraging youth and people out there who need God and im being a testimony of Gods love but my resources are very limited i have work everyday and little time to spare so i feel this job is in my way of working for the Lord… im also worried to lose the job because im in so much debt so i come to the point where i dont know wat to do.

    1. hi Isaac

      Yeah I can imagine the frustration but unfortunately, often what we want may not be possible. If we have a debt then it is important to clear that debt first before we can do anything else.

      That being said we need to remember that Paul was stuck in prison and yet God used that to open “new” doors of opportunity to proclaim the gospel to the palace guards. Joni Erickson was crippled from the neck down in a diving accident and this opened up “new” doors of opportunity to bring the gospel to the disabled around the world. George Whitfield and John Wesley were barred from preaching from the pulpit and this opened “new” doors of opportunity.

      we need to remember the words of Paul in 2 Tim 2:9, that while he is chained like a criminal the gospel is never chained.

      the Challenge is not to find opportunities to preach the gospel. The challenge is to recognise the opportunities around us, within our context, to preach the gospel. It may not be preaching to the masses, but as we are reminded in the gospels, even if one person turns to the Lord, there is a party in heaven. That makes everything we do, even the small things significant.

      Take care

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