I often get asked why I decided to spend my life living thousands of miles away from the place I grew up to teach the Bible. Though seldom said, I suspect the question often comes with a number of assumptions. Today I would like to address those assumptions, not for my sake, but for the sake of my brothers and sisters around the world who have given their lives to full-time ministry.
Assumption 1--You must be in ministry because you could not cut it in a secular line of work:
This is a common misconception that stems from two flawed assumptions. The first assumption is that ministry organizations are so desperate for staff that they would take anyone even if they are utterly incompetent. I cannot speak for every Christian group out there, but I know my employer has a very strict screening process. It is true there are people in ministry who do not belong there and should find another line of work, but the same could be said of any vocation. In fact, I have been in many places of business that seem to be so desperate to find staff that they will take anyone. You are much more likely to find incompetent employees at a secular job where they just need someone to man the counter and care little for the credentials of such an employee. In my experience, most mission organizations have very strict hiring policies and would not knowingly hire someone who can't cut it.
But there is another assumption that goes with this line of thinking. That assumption is that ministry is a kind of last option for a vocation. Perhaps the ministry worker tried business and didn't have the savvy to make it. Perhaps he tried teaching but didn't have the smarts. Perhaps he tried to be a doctor but couldn't make it through pre-med.
I was once asked what lucrative career I gave up to serve in ministry. My answer was that I gave up all of them. I'm not saying I could do any job out there. There are many I could not. But there are hundreds of other roads I could have taken.
Many of my fellow ministry workers have masters degrees. Many are doctors. Many of them could be making a lot more money if only they would work in the secular world.
So why don't they? Why not go for money over ministry? Why not seek fame or accolades and instead become a little known Bible teacher in a far off part of the world? Because these very smart competent people also believe that money, fame, and trophies are all meaningless in the end. They truly believe what they teach, and thus they give up what cannot be kept to gain what cannot be lost.
Assumption 2--Trying To Earn Heaven Points:
Many are willing to accept that we in full-time ministry do indeed actually believe, and they pity us. They think we are trying to earn favor with God. Perhaps they think we are trying to earn our way into heaven. That thought may be true of some religions, but it has no place among Bible believing Christianity. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It also teaches that all people (apart from Jesus) are sinners (Romans 3:23) and deserve death for their sins (Romans 6:23). We are saved by Jesus death and resurrection, and this salvation cannot be earned.
Some may agree with these key theological points, but then assume that we are somehow trying to gain special favor with God. If you fall into that category, remember this important point: There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or love us less. He loves us, not because of what we do, but despite what we do.
As a self professed sinner who messes up on a regular basis, I find this comforting. If God's love for me was based on my performance, I would fall short. Every day, I would find myself falling further and further from God if He was looking at my actions to justify His love for me.
Assumption 3--The Ulterior Motive:
The idea of giving up all the things that seem so important to the world is so far out there, that sometimes ministry workers get accused of having less that good intentions. A while back, a neighbor of mine told me that he avoided church because if you go to church they will learn how to manipulate you. Sometimes ministry workers are believed to be after something bigger. Almost as if we are part of some vast conspiracy.
I will not deny that there are religious groups out there with the primary intent of manipulating people. For that matter there are secular groups that do that. Internet companies gather information to sell you customized advertising. Businesses learn the local culture with the intent of selling you their products. Entertainers include messages of their political agenda in their movies, music, and TV shows. Governments develop programs to encourage some actions and discourage others. Religious leaders seek power by trying to create followers who will give them their time, resources, and even lives.
The entire world is full of people trying to get us to live and act in certain ways, and they all have one thing in common. They are trying to get you to do something that will in some way help them.
I entered ministry, not to get others to do what I want them to do, but to get them to follow God's plan for their lives. A skeptic may ask, "How do you know God's plan for my life." I would answer that I do not. I am not out to teach a set of rules or a specific behavior. It is my goal to show people how to have a personal relationship with God. We were made for this. I do want someone influencing the lives of those around me. I just don't want to be the one doing the influencing.
No doubt we can easily find ministry workers who are control freaks. I have been known to try to take control of others myself from time to time. However, this comes as a result of my sin, and is not a reflection on why I am in ministry.
Why I Entered Ministry:
If the above assumptions are all false, they why do people go into full time ministry? I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself.
The story of how I came to be in ministry is a long one, that for me began when I was about 6 years old when a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. But that's a story for another time. My motive for being in ministry is not wealth, fame, power, or anything else that will be nullified by my eventual death. My motive for being in ministry is because I know the meaningless of life apart from God, and I do not want anyone to experience that. I want people to know, as I do, why they were created, and live the full and eternal life they were intended to live.
To that end, I gave up the possibility of ever being rich to serve the owner of everything. I gave up the chase for respect and fame to give glory to God. I gave up the quest for power to serve the omnipotent Creator.
Why did I give up my life to do full-time ministry? Because that is what I was created to do.