The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

By: Mike Bishop
*originally published on September 8, 2020
“Let me tell you about the night I was called into full-time ministry!”

Pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, worship leaders, and evangelists have all started conversations with those words. They have a story about how they were set apart by God for ministry. In other words, their calling.

Where is that in the Bible?

Well, it’s all over the place. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Martha, Mary, the disciples, Paul, all were called by God and were used by God in spite of their weaknesses or lack of authority.

Does that make them special? Is calling exclusive to those who earn their living as ministers of the gospel?

The Apostle Paul would argue vehemently no.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29, NIV)
It’s hard to imagine a grimy Galilean fisherman named Simon or a sleazy tax collector named Levi placing any religious significance to their call to become a disciple of Jesus. They were asked to follow, and they obeyed. Saul of Tarsus, while trying to kill or imprison these followers of the Way, received the same call: Follow Me. From murderer to the Apostle Paul.
We elevate people who are obedient to the call of Jesus because they are our leaders and are in positions of authority. But what if I were to tell you that the calling of Jesus is not exclusive to them? What if we are all called, but only a few listen and obey?

The fact is, if we have been called to follow Jesus, we have been called into his ministry. There is no special class of full-time-ministry Christian. If you claim allegiance to Jesus, you are called.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30, NIV)
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we cannot rely on our institutions or businesses to save us from harm or provide for all our needs. As followers of Jesus, we are instead taught that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) and if we seek first his kingdom, “all these things will be given to us as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Do you believe this is true?

If so, trust that God will provide for all your needs, even unto death. In spite of the fear that grips the world, a follower of Jesus can stand in the truth that God is intent on bringing heaven and earth together. Every injustice, every sickness, every pain, every evil, even death itself, is being made right in Jesus and his ministry, by his death on the cross and his resurrection.

     Your calling is to join Jesus.

Naturally, this is not something God has left only to the professionals. He has called all his disciples to join him to bring heaven and earth together, not just a chosen few.
So, where do we begin?

Jesus started by announcing the Good News.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14–15, NIV)
It may seem curious that Jesus didn’t say anything about salvation, heaven, hell, sin, or forgiveness in his Good News. He didn’t talk about law or grace, atonement, or justification. To Jesus, the Good News could be summed up in one sentence.

     The kingdom of God has come near.

Consider the common atheist’s challenge to the existence of a loving God. “If God is so good, why does he allow evil to happen?”

God’s kingdom is God’s space, where his will is done perfectly. His intent, as the Eden story illustrates, is for the world to be a place where God, humans, and all of creation live in harmony and intimacy, working and delighting in all he has created. We are made in God’s image and called to govern the earth with love and justice.

But we failed to live up to that calling.

Evil exists because of our failure, but he is not going to allow evil to reign forever. The kingdom of God is invading earth. God is using his agents, his image-bearers, to prepare the world for the inevitable. Evil, in all its forms, will be judged. Heaven and earth will be joined together eternally.
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14, NIV)
Is this good news to you?

If so, you are called.
Now here is the beautiful truth. Your calling is not confined to what is typically defined as Christian “ministry.” Do we need pastors, worship leaders, and missionaries? Absolutely, but the kingdom of God needs faithful, wise business owners, compassionate medical professionals, and trustworthy financial planners.

The kingdom needs fathers, mothers, young, old. It’s open to all races and abilities. You don’t need a big organization or budget to do kingdom work. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them these instructions:
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. (Luke 10:2–4, NIV)
If churches took Jesus seriously at his word, they would be consumed with training their congregations to live as lambs in a world full of wolves. Instead of elevating the few who are called to ministry as an occupation, all of the church’s resources should be focused on those who are called to bring the kingdom to a hostile world.
The myth of full-time ministry is its uniqueness. All followers of Jesus are called to full-time ministry. Not all will get paid for their labor, and many will serve the kingdom at great personal cost. But, “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18) and Jesus himself has promised to be with us every step of the way.

So the next time you hear a story about someone’s calling into full-time ministry, tell them about yours:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)
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