ministry is just a job

Seth Godin is shocked.

I was talking to a religious leader, someone who runs a congregation. She made it clear to me that on many days, it’s just a job. A job like any other, you show up, you go through the motions, you get paid.

I guess we find this disturbing because spiritual work should be real, not faked.

I was interested in his perception of religious work because his remarks seem to focus totally on the ‘spiritual’ and not on the ‘work’.

I’m reading Seth’s new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? where he seems to be suggesting that with hard work we can all become the kind of people who create and add value.  He says that we can’t and won’t be a creative genius all day but that the 5 minutes that we are makes a huge difference.  Why should ministry be different?

In his brilliant book Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith Mike Yaconelli tell a story of a preacher he met who was counting the days to retirement, like counting telegraph poles along a long road.  This minister was fed up, tired, drained and burned out.

I’ve met many people who feel like that some days.  I’ve felt like that.  Often.

Spiritual work is hard word.  Some days it feels very much like work, mostly because it IS spiritual work and you feel the pressure to inspire people, to lead and to bring them into the presence of God.

Some days you turn up and go through the motions because it’s work… and we are human.

5 thoughts on “ministry is just a job”

  1. Didn’t Jesus often go off on his own to get away from the crowds; to pray, to refresh himself. Doesn’t that imply that what he was doing was tiring? Just because something is spiritual doesn’t mean that it’s easy and effortless, it can, as you say, be really hard work. But that aside, sometimes ministry does and can come under the heading of “a job like any other”, especially in this day and age – the paperwork, the administrative work, the reports, the meetings, the presentations you have to put together, the endless emails, the queries to be responded to from outside agencies, the phone calls, the various additional groups and schools that you become a representative on the board of, the new rules and regulations and laws that you have to become familiar with, and yes, some days it feels as if you are then having to remember there is a spiritual side of people that is waiting to be addressed too. If someone is “running a congregation/church” then we have to recognise that it may well mean that they will be called on to use different gifts and talents, not necessarily their main ones, and just because they have to draw on them does not mean that when they stand before and alongside people, that their approach to spiritual work is in any way fake. Truthfully though, I don’t see what I do as “just a job” I may see part of what I do as ‘a job’, but I see it from within the context of my calling.

  2. In the ‘charming’ way that wives have to gently deflate their husbands and bring them back down to earth, I was leading a groupwork training session one day and was introducing myself. I highlighted that I was a full-time Christian worker and who I worked for… when my good lady chimed in, “Neil, we’re all full-time Christian workers — it just so happens that you get paid for it”. The crux lies here.

    For a long time I’ve come to realise that I don’t have a church-life, a work-life and a home-life. I just have a “life”. The jargonistas might call it an “integrated life” but it’s just my “life”. I am a Christian for all of it. When I retire from things people pay me to do in some 15-20 years, I will still, God willing, serve His kingdom. I believe that God does not do P45s, bus passes or pension annuities.

    I can’t speak for other folks, but, as for me: I am grateful that sometimes I get paid to serve God’s kingdom; other times I pay [money, time, talent, effort] to serve God’s kingdom. That’s how the Christian economy works.

    I, too, have heard of other folks for whom the phrase “just a job” is associated. And I’m disappointed for them. Really saddened. I don’t blame them though. My guess is that behind every dejected minister is an unsupportive congregation and leadership team. I blame them. “No minister is an island, entire of itself…”

  3. Stewart,

    I was about to make the same point as Neil – that there’s no segregation between those who “serve the Lord” in ministry and those who serve the Lord running a small business, stacking shelves at a supermarket or looking after their kids. That our living is to be enriched by the light & life of Christ in and through us. Neil made the point better than me tho…

    But I don’t think that was your point. I echo what Mary said too – that we run on for a long time before realising that there was plenty time to rest on the way, but we thought “next time, I’ll stop”.

    I’m finding it tough though to live the life of Love 24/7, expecting to be doing great exploits (whatever they are?) but not leaving room to rest. I like that Seth bring out that 5 mins of impact is better than 1440 minutes of mediocrity.

    There’s a great (sarcastic) line in a Steve Taylor song “better off to burn out than to melt away”.

  4. Hi Stewart,
    This has been a very interesting and informative blog.
    However I find the reasons given by many of your respondents, for perhaps being unable to devote as much time to the principle part of their calling as they would like i.e. the administration of their church, a bit overcooked. Most churches have an elected eldership who are there to assist the minister in nearly all aspects of their “job” .Are they being used to the full. If they were then surely life for the minister would become that much more bearable.

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    Rod, I think that in some ways you are right. Some ministers aren’t good at asking for help or allowing their congregations to take responsibility (that’s possibly a whole new post) but, some are very much subject to a ‘We pay you so get on with it’ attitude.

    I think the root of this is our understanding of ‘ministry’ and of the role of the ‘ordained’ ‘Minister of word and sacrament’. I’ll post more on that soon.

    There are more from Facebook that add to the discussion:

    Rod Adamson
    Hi Stewart you certainly are getting into cotraversial areas these days or is this deliberate? To rattle our cages . I am perhaps naive in thinking that ministers have a calling. Not just a job. Nobody thinks it is easy but then what job is.What about an inspiring story or two, Stewart.
    Sun at 19:07 ·

    Stewart Cutler
    Just writing about what comes up. If that gets people thinking then great.

    Are ministers the only people who are called? What about you? Aren’t you called to work with young people? I would say so.

    What makes that different? If anything…
    Sun at 19:57 ·

    Eilidh Forsyth
    That’s not the first time I’ve heard that ministry is just a job. While I fully believe in doing something that you are passionate and excited about, sometimes it is “just the job.” People are accountants because they are good at it and have the right skills, surely then a minister can be a minister because they are good at it and have the right skills too. To be a “minister” in someone’s life doesn’t mean you have to be ordained – maybe that’s just the job part?
    Sun at 20:20 ·

    Avril McIvor
    I think it would be more of a calling Stewart as the money isnt great/the uniform is hardly mmmmm comfortable and it can be a continous slog to get folk in this cent to agree about the price of fuel never mind a god.

    Also might be dependant on how you define ministry which Eilidh is referring to. However I can imagine that ministers have bad days to and see it as groundhog day so therefore a job.
    Like this post though.
    Sun at 20:25 ·

    Rod Adamson
    Congratulations Stewart. You certainly stirred me. Never thought of my work as a calling but all we do in life for the good of others is inspired by a higher power.
    Just as your blog is. God bless. Hope to see you soon.
    Sun at 21:08 ·

    Stewart Cutler
    I hope so too Rod! November is way too long to wait!

    Avril and Eilidh… yeah it’s a calling but some days it’s a grind. That doesn’t make it less of a calling, just hard work. I think we need to think more about Eilidh’s idea of ministry which is one I’d share. We have beocme way to caught up in Ministry with a big M rather than each person finding their ministry.

    Thanks for the comments!!! Interesting stuff.
    Sun at 21:12 ·

    Kathryn Price
    Well – yes ministry (in all its disguises) is a calling and it is a spiritual task, but there are other parts of this role/vocation/postion(?) that are very much like jobs. Filling in funding application forms, dealing with property issues, some of the practical things we do in the community. Theological college doesn’t really touch this kind of stuff and it’s very hard to remember the spiritual side when you are dealing with OSCR!
    Fortunately there are the other times too!
    Yesterday at 10:38

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