Many of my students work during their time here in Wake Forest. They serve as janitors, waitresses, store clerks, IT — anything to pay the bills and support their families.
I like to ask them about their work. Occasionally, students will say something like, “I’m just doing this job until I can get a ministry position.” They view their work now as nothing more than a means to a paycheck. They’re biding their time until they get a job with a church.
Sometimes, the implications are more severe. “If I just had a job in the church or an easy position,” they think, “I wouldn’t have to put up with all these knuckleheads I have to work with.”
Biding Your Time
Do you resonate with these statements? Are you, too, biding your time until you get a ministry job? Do you grow weary of working with difficult people? If so, I want to urge you to reconsider.
See, if you can’t stand your job or your co-workers now, you may think it will all be better when you get a ministry position and get paid by a church. But do you really think the people you’ll deal with at church are going to be all clean, nice and easy to deal with? (Let me give you a hint: The church is filled with broken sinners, just like your workplace.)
More importantly, I fear that this kind of attitude reveals that we don’t understand ministry at all. More than anything, ministry is about serving people. And serving people isn’t just for those who get paid by a church. God calls everyone to serve.
So, if you’re preparing for pastoral ministry, praise God for you. Your work as a pastor will be critical. But are you dissatisfied with the job you have, whether it’s cutting grass or washing cars or grooming dogs? Do you think, “If I just get through this season and get a job at a church, then I’ll really be happy because I get to serve people”?
If you are just biding your time until your church job, stop and consider: What about the people who are in front of you right now?
Work and the Great Commandment
Why does this issue matter? Let me refer you to Mark 12:28-34. In this well-known passage, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Keep in mind, the Jews thought there were around 613 laws in the Old Testament. The Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up. So they ask Jesus what the most important command is. It’s as if they’re asking, “Jesus, what’s the most important thing about living in your world?”
How does he respond?
The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31, emphasis added)
The most important things, Jesus says, are loving God and loving others.
No matter what your job is now, you’re almost guaranteed to interact with other people. You may interact over a computer screen or telephone. But the majority of us interact with others face-to-face at our work. There are flesh-and-blood people with talk with, work beside and interact with on a daily basis.
So no matter where you work, God has given you relationships with people there. Let’s be honest: You may not like everyone at your work. But, as my dad would tell me when we went to family reunions, “Son, you got to love them, but you ain’t got to like them.”
The same is true at work. You may not like them, but you can — indeed, you must — love them as Christ does.
God has given you these relationships, and every gift must be stewarded wisely before God. No matter where you work or what you do, God has given you an opportunity every day to hit the bullseye of what Jesus said is the most important thing in the world — loving God and loving others.
If our goal is loving God and loving others, then it doesn’t matter where our paycheck comes from. And if we understand that Paul identifies everyday Christians as ministers and saints in Ephesians 4:11-13, then we don’t have to work at a church to do ministry.
In Ephesians, Paul talks about Christ being all in all over everything. He uses massive, cosmic language claiming that we can’t understand anything in space or time apart from Jesus. And then he comes down and says, “and you are a minister here.” That’s your responsibility. And in every relationship, you have opportunity to hit the bullseye of loving God and others.
So if you want to do ministry, don’t wait until you go on staff. Love God. Love people — especially the people you work with.