Tag Archives: Para Church

Vocation and Ministry

Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
1 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV)

Work has been a little crazy for me in recent weeks. I’m in the midst of my 25th year with our company and completing my first year at the helm, leading the operation. Year-end means wrapping up current year business for clients, writing and managing proposals for the coming year, Board meetings, year-end financials, and all of the administrative work that comes with all of it. Beyond that there is the vision casting and strategic planning for where I hope to lead the company in the year(s) ahead.

When I was hired back in 1994 I left 6 years of working in full-time pastoral and para-church ministry. At the time, my mother was a bit disappointed in my vocational change. For several years she would occasionally ask “Are you ever going to go back into the ministry?” My response was always, “I never left ministry.” She would roll her eyes and say, “I know. But, you know what I mean.

What she meant was that “ministry” means working full-time for a church; That “real ministry” is a higher spiritual status reserved for those employed in an institutional church organization. I have found this to be a very common belief, especially in previous generations. I still, on occasion, have someone approach me after I teach on a Sunday morning and ask, “Why aren’t you in ministry?” Once again, I always respond with, “I am in ministry.” I always would like to add: “And, so are you!”

I love an appreciate the incredibly gifted and driven full-time staff members of our local church community. The operation couldn’t function without them, and because of them it functions remarkably well. Because of them, the operation accomplishes abundantly more than most of our community’s members even realize. I’m quite certain, however,  that even they would agree with me that “ministry” is not confined to those individuals on the organization’s payroll.

I find it a dangerous notion to place a label of “ministry” on those in full-time employment by a church or non-profit para-church ministry. The implication is that any believer who is not in one of those two vocational silos is not in ministry. This means that those of us not in full-time church or ministry employment are not in ministry (and comfortably off the hook from having to think about all that it might otherwise mean).

This is, however, contrary to the entire paradigm that God’s Message teaches. Every believer is a part of the body of Christ. Every believer is spiritually gifted by Holy Spirit regardless of age, gender, background, education, or training. Why? Because every believer is part of the ministry of the Body of Christ. We, all who believe, are His hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. There are no exemptions or exceptions. I find this to be a radically different paradigm than what the institutional church has taught and exemplified for centuries. I believe it’s time to rediscover the fullness of meaning in the “priesthood of all believers.” We’re far overdue to rediscover the inherent ministry of every vocation.

I couldn’t help but read today’s chapter in context of yesterday’s chapter, in which Paul urged the Corinthian believers to surrender their right (to eat food sacrificed to idols) in order to lovingly honor fellow believers who think differently. In today’s chapter, Paul explains how he has done the very thing he’s urging them to do. He had a right to be married, to travel with a wife, to receive a full-time income for his preaching and service to the church just like all of the other apostles were doing. Paul, however, chose not to be married. Wherever he was living in the moment he chose to work at his family trade (making and repairing tents) to provide his own income. I can guarantee you that Paul leveraged his day-job of tent making and manual labor into opportunities to meet strangers, build relationships, have conversations, be an example, and extend the reach of his ministry. Tent making wasn’t separate from Paul’s ministry. It was a central and crucial part of it.

This morning I’m thankful for an amazing company I’ve had the privilege of serving for 25 years. I’m thankful for a host of relationships with colleagues, clients, and coworkers that I’d never have had were it not for my vocation. I’m grateful for the honor and privilege to lead and serve in both business and among my local community of Jesus’ followers. This morning in the quiet I find my spirit echoing Paul’s sentiment to the believers in Corinth:

What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 23

My own Work کار شخصی
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When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want until you’re full, but you may not put any in your bucket or bag. And when you walk through the ripe grain of your neighbor, you may pick the heads of grain, but you may not swing your sickle there. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 (MSG)

Readers of my personal blog may not know that I write a professional blog, as well. I have been blogging about our business in customer satisfaction research and quality assessment in contact centers for several years. The blog is a way of establishing our presence in the marketplace and developing potential clients. The idea is simple. I share a few morsels of wisdom and knowledge for free with the hope that companies may appreciate what they’ve been given, respect the knowledge and experience, and pick up the phone to give us an opportunity when they need the services we provide.

What has been interesting over time is to be faced with those who expect me to give everything away. I gave them an inch of advice and they want me to give them a mile of my experience without charging them for it. I find it highly disrespectful when people refuse to realize that I’ve got skin in the game here. I’m sometimes amazed at the incredulity I face when I tell people I’d be happy to give them a proposal for my time. I don’t mind sharing, but I’ve got to make a living.

What’s been even harder for me over the years is to watch both churches and para-church ministries do the same thing in taking advantage of their own members, followers, and supporters. If  you do something for a living, we’ll be happy to have you give us your services free in the name of the Lord. In fact, we’ll expect it of you. I’m sure it’s not a big deal for you. You’re good at it. It’s what you do for a living, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t take too long and it won’t be hard for you. Come on, give us your time, energy and talent for free (but please don’t expect anything in return – it’s all for God). There’s a tipping point at which gratitude for gifts freely given turns to expectation that takes advantage of others.

I thought it fascinating that God made it very clear in today’s chapter that we are to be careful not to take advantage of others. If they give you a inch, don’t ask them to give you a mile. They may share a grape from their vineyard, but don’t expect them to give you a bucket to take some home. Be careful with your expectations, compensate people for what they give you, and don’t take advantage of the goodness of others.

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