I have written much in the last few years about our skewed sense of what comprises “ministry” in the evangelical and fundamentalist world. The results of this warped view of ministry are all around us.
People praise the “sacrifice” of ministry leaders, many of which are in leadership for their own purposes. Raw ambition resulting in workaholism and often cloaked in robes of “serving the Lord” has done much damage to families and to faith. In many cases, real “sacrifice” for these “full time ministry” people would mean turning the lights off and going home to their families and neighbors, not acquiring bigger and better tools to “serve the Lord.”
Also, people praise and follow “discernment” and “worldview” leaders “serving the Lord” in “full time ministry” (yes, a lot of quote marks and for good reason.) Many of these same individuals live dysfunctional and unhealthy lives behind the scenes of their “full time service.” One of my online colleagues committed suicide in the midst of his obsession with “warning about deception.” The idea that he should shut down his writing online and deal with his personal demons was a bridge too far. In the end, he chose to take his own life instead, leaving confusion and despair in his wake. So much for the power of Christ he had been promoting. This had a big impact on me.
In the years I spent growing up in evangelicalism, there was a distinctly superior view of those in “full time Christian service”, as opposed to those who worked a secular job and came home to their families. Missionaries who dragged their children through years of deputation (raising enough money to go to a far flung place) were viewed as higher level Christians than those going to their job of selling insurance or cars or what have you and raising their children at home. The tragedies (sexual abuse making big headlines in recent years) in the lives of some missionary children left in MK boarding schools while Mom and Dad won the naives to Jesus is a prime illustration of wrong priorities. If you make a family, it’s your job to take care of those children, people. Really, it is. If you don’t want to, stay single. Families come with responsibility.
I am not opposed to those who work full time in some form of Christian service. But I believe we are long, long overdue for a return to the doctrine of vocation. Luther and the Reformation presented a far different view than the medieval Roman church that emphasized the clergy/laity distinction. The life of the full time “religious” was viewed as far superior to those just raising a family. Just raising a family. Think about that.
The view that true ministry is most often found in day to day life is something I have come to resoundingly support. I have personally seen the fallout from a distorted view of ministry, particularly when families are neglected or misused in the process of purportedly serving God.
We need a return to this understanding that the unseen, quiet service to others is perhaps even more a form of ministry than standing on corners with bullhorns or hosting your own religious talk show, or holding conferences, endlessly talking about deception and false teachers. There is a place for sincere concern, but even recent harm of other Christians online and on the airwaves serves as a stark reminder of how we need a return to humble service of others as our primary service to God—service in our homes to our own families, to our neighbors, and anyone God brings on our path in the course of a day.
This excellent words by T. Austin-Sparks (one of my favorites lately) points this out. It was written a long time ago (Sparks died in 1971) , but his writing has the sweetness of truth in it.
I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee…(Revelation 2:19-20)
Oh, that we should get some better idea of what the service of the Lord is than that it is platforms and pulpits and open-air meetings. Beloved, service for the Lord is just as important when it is rendering some kindly act of helpful service to some rather depressed child of God in the ordinary domestic things of daily life; just as valuable as getting on the platform and giving a message. You see it is strengthening the hands of the Lord’s children, it is coming in to check the crushing overweight of the adversary, coming alongside to lift up the testimony in some life or home where the enemy is trying to crush the testimony out – and the testimony is something maintained in domestic relationships, in family life, private life. There are too many who want to give up their domestic service and go to Bible College, failing to recognize that that service there may be just as valuable to the Lord as their going out to the mission field. It is spiritual, not technical, not organized, and you may be as much a priest of the Lord in going round to some home tomorrow where the enemy is pressing in, and giving a practical hand in helping with the washing, as you may be a priest in standing on the platform….
There are many priests of God whose voices have never been heard in public, who have never been seen in a public way, who are unknown, hidden very often in the assembly and yet in secret history fulfilling a most valuable ministry. Get adjusted over this thing. We have to come to the point where we deliberately decide as to whether the Lord is worthy of this, and abandon ourselves to it because of our appreciation of Him, the Master. You see, this servant abandons himself freely, voluntarily, for all time to the service of his master because he has come to love his master.
By T. Austin-Sparks from: The Servant and Service of the Lord