6 Joys and Perils of Full Time Ministry

1. The joy and peril of being on the inside track.

I think it was CS Lewis who said that everyone thinks there is an “inner circle” and everyone thinks that someone else is a part of it and they are not. Being in full time Christian ministry allows you the opportunity to peer behind the curtain at the inner workings of other Christian ministries, churches, conferences, and, at times, the personalities of leading Christian figures. This is a joy: you get to see the inner workings. You get to be in the inner circle. You get to meet some godly people and rejoice at how God is using them.

But this is also a peril. You get to see the inner workings of Christian ministries, churches, and meet some Christian leaders who do not always appear to be as godly as their reputation. Cynicism, disillusionment, sarcasm, hardness towards spiritual vitality at a personal level, can all set in from knowing more about the inner workings of something that other people celebrate.

2. The joy and peril of being held to a higher standard.

It is a great joy to have to read your Bible, live reasonably holy lives, avoid pornography, adultery, stealing, curse words, intemperate rage, and other matters that are not only acceptable in certain Wall Street offices but positively expected. This is a joy because you “get to work with Christians,” and there is an expectation that you will be growing in your spiritual life and becoming more like Christ. Iron does sharpen iron.

The peril is hypocrisy. Have I read my Bible this morning? Am I growing in godliness in all the various ways I am expected to do so? Who can I talk to about some area in my life that may leave my job in jeopardy? Inadvertently, the high moral and spiritual standards can easily lead to play acting.

3. The joy and peril of success.

Making money, being effective, being celebrated by other people, and doing well in ministry are all real opportunities for joy. Are we not to rejoice when a sinner is saved? The angels certainly do. Should we not rejoice when a ministry is flourishing? Of course we should.

But such success is also a peril. As Jesus said to his returning disciples, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Why is such a perspective necessary? Because the peril is that your very soul will be damaged otherwise.

At some point, your ministry will be taken from you. You will die. Or you will be fired. Or you will retire. Or you will fail. Or other people will attack and abandon you. A servant is not above his master. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It will happen to you.

If you are rejoicing primarily in ministry success then, when faced with inevitable failure, you will be miserable—and your very soul will be in danger. The opportunity in the peril is to learn to treat success and failure, praise and criticism, growth and decline, the celebration of your gifts and the rejection of them, all as relatively unimportant compared to the fact that you are in Christ and will certainly spend eternity with him.

If you are rejoicing primarily in ministry success then, when faced with inevitable failure, you will be miserable—and your very soul will be in danger.

4. The joy and peril of doing something that matters.

The great joy of full time, Christian, vocational, ministry of any kind is that it is pretty clear to you—and to anyone else who is a Christian—that what you are doing is important. Gone are the temptations to view your God-given vocation as unimportant. You may listen to Martin Luther King telling street sweepers to sweep the streets as if all heaven were watching (for it is), but you are not tempted to view your vocation as insignificant since it’s directly related to the gospel, which you believe is of primary significance.

The peril is that all the rest of your life gets out of whack. There is the peril of abandoning a sensible work-life balance and burning out. Robert Murray McCheyne, the great Scottish preacher, said on his death bed, “God gave me a message, and a horse on which to deliver it, I have killed the horse and now I can no longer deliver the message.”

It may be better to burn up than rust up, but it is better still to burn for Jesus brightly until old age. Perseverance is the Christian virtue, not burnt out wrecks of brief ministry effectiveness along the highway. But the peril doesn’t just relate to your own soul, but also to the health of your family and your close friends. If it is a rare man to reach his sixties who still has one good friend, it is an even rarer successful Christian worker who does.

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5. The joy and peril of money.

I wish it were not so but money in ministry matters. “Follow the money,” they said about the Watergate scandal, and the advice has been good for investigative journalists ever since. This is why Paul handled the Jerusalem Collection so carefully—to ensure that all was administered in a way that was not only right, but also seen to be right.

Avoiding the appearance of evil, avoiding actual evil, not reflecting the American dream with your lifestyle, and neither reflecting the monkish negativity that falsely separates body and soul—it is to this that we’ve been called. Money is a wonderful tool that can be used for great good. But the appearance of evil, as well as actual evil, has brought down more ministries than heaven cares to remember.

6. The joy and peril of familiarity with theology.

Theology is rightly, according to the medieval universities, the queen of the sciences, and is the valuable possession of every Christian. Indeed, it is impossible to do any kind of ministry at all without some sort of theology, whether you like to call it that or “no creed but the Bible” (which is itself a creedal statement). Theology is a joy that can equip you to worship God with more insight, helping you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

It is also a great peril. Theology is the study of God. Even that statement has the whiff of, not just hubris, but idiotic impossibility. Can an ant study a man? Obviously, we believe God has revealed himself in creation, Scripture, and ultimately in Christ, and so we study that which he has told us in his Word. So theology is a legitimate study. Indeed it is a necessary study.

But it is also a peril for those who become familiar with the doctrines they profess without experiencing any life change. There will be those, Paul said, who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Theology without the power of the Spirit is not just dry orthodoxy; it’s the religion of Hell.

The Solution

Six joys that are also six perils. What’s the solution? It’s quite simple, really.

Emphasize the joys and resist the perils.

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