This post will be a bit of a rant, so I apologize in advance.

Let’s assume you wander into a church. I know. Few people do these days, particularly in Canada, but bear with me.

In this church, there is a bit of singing, some announcements and then a message.

The message may take 20 minutes. Or 30. Or 40. Or longer. And it may not seem to make sense if you don’t have the ability to decode the religious jargon. But increasingly, if you go to enough churches and listen to enough messages, you will hear a variant on this theme:

Career is bad. Career is selfish. Career interferes with service to God. The only noble pursuit is service to God through ministry.

I have some difficulty with the model that empowers certain individuals to do “ministry” through the financial contributions of those that do “work”. This artificial separation of people who do “ministry” and people who do “work” makes no sense to me.

I have listened to numerous messages over the past several decades where I have been told that the family that decides to do “ministry” without a source of income is said to be living on faith, trusting God for His provision. And that the family that decides to support themselves through paid employment becomes self-reliant or independent and therefore not living by faith.

This separation of “ministry” from “work” seems to hinder many pastors from understanding the struggles that most human beings who do “work” go through in the workplace. It is a very tough ask in North America to work full-time and effectively balance demands of church, family, career and community.

The “work” of the church should be to equip people to “minister” in their homes, workplaces and communities.

And for those who aspire to “minister” without working, perhaps a review of 2 Thessalonians 3 is in order:

7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

4 replies
  1. Bill Peel
    Bill Peel says:

    Compare the Great Commandment (Love the Lord your God with all your heart) to Paul’s command to do one’s work with “all your heart” and you immediately see the problem. If God’s work and our work are separate departments (which they’re not) then you must violate one to obey the other. On the other hand if God’s work includes all “good work” one of the ways we love and worship God entails how and why we do our work no matter if it’s in the place of worship or the workplace.

  2. Stephen Meyer
    Stephen Meyer says:

    I don’t disagree with your synopsis of these messages. However, I think you’ve created the same dichotomy between “work” and “ministry” as you argue against. All work we do is ministry, and so I don’t think that Paul means to say that if a man does not do work that generates income, then he should not eat. The passage is a response to those who believe that because they are saved they don’t have to work, or maybe they’re determinists! But in 1 Corinthians 9, I think Paul makes it very clear that ministry entitles one to a living, even if he himself did not exercise this right. Surely Jesus was fed by others, and given places to stay, but no one could accuse him of being a sluggard. I think the problem comes from a misunderstanding in the church in terms of “what’s mine” and “what’s yours”, as the church in Paul’s time had a much different view of these things than we do today. So really, you’re right; it does not take more faith to live while working in ministry, so long as you are wise in the way you organize it. In no way should anyone depend on the miraculous provision of God more than any other. If God calls someone into “ministry,” then God provides regardless of where or how that ministry (and work) takes place.

    **I didn’t mean to step on Bill Peel’s toes, I wrote this before I could read his comment**

  3. Richard Cleaver
    Richard Cleaver says:

    Hey Steve,

    I think it is exceptionally clear what Paul is teaching in this passage. Regardless, the point of my post is that the choice of career or ministry is not a choice between serving ourselves or serving God. Life is not that simple 😉

  4. Stephen Meyer
    Stephen Meyer says:

    hmmm, at second (and honestly, third) glace I think I understand better what you were saying. And yeah, it’s very true; and after reflection, is quite an issue. Thanks for the response 🙂


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