I want to put a flea in your ear. Some of you will hate me; it’s irritating and distracting to have a flea in your ear. You can’t quite concentrate on the immediate tasks before you.
Disciples of Christ are restless, dissatisfied souls. Once we have grasped the grace of God in Christ, it is our God-given desire that all should hear. The world is full of beggars, and we have found the bakery. The gospel radicalizes us, cutting to the root of reality. What is more important than telling others the news of Christ and building his church?
It’s not that our other responsibilities are unimportant. After all, it is God himself who has given us family life, work and our roles in society. It’s just that when the stakes are the glory of Christ and the destiny of people, when we know that Christ has died and will return in glory, we want to do all we can to proclaim him and save others.
So Christ’s people are not only restless and dissatisfied, but also tired. We work hard in our jobs, families and communities, and then add on Christian ministries. It’s not unheard of to be busy in ministry in our lunch hours, during several evenings in the week and on most of the weekend. We’re going too fast to even see the roses, let alone smell them. In our darker moments we envy the full-time pastor or evangelist who can integrate ministry, work and family, and be freed from other things to serve Christ.
However, this is a call to increase your service of Christ and his people. We are created in Christ for good works:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)
And we are to increase in love for each other:
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. (1 Thess 3:12)
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. (Phil 1:9)
But what about our ‘structured’ ministries, such as teaching classes, evangelism, schools ministries, one-to-one training and so forth? Can we re-organize life to give more time to these activities? Imagine if 10% of our church was free for two days a week to do specific ministries. That would be a significant increase in gospel work and an enormous boost to the paid ministers.
We tend to think that ‘going into ministry’ means full-time, paid and probably ordained. But it is better to think in terms of a spectrum between two poles. At one end is ‘spare time’ ministry where we serve as unpaid volunteers in our spare time. More than any other institution, the church has and will always depend largely on this volunteer workforce. At the other end is ‘full-time’ ministry where the ministry is the job for which you are paid. We need increasing numbers of these leaders who can devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer, and provide ‘umbrellas’ under which others can work.
It is a liberating perspective to see that there are not just two alternatives, but a spectrum of possibilities. It is interesting, at this point, to reflect briefly on the economics of ministry in the New Testament. In summary, the Apostle Paul established the right of ministers of the gospel to be financially supported (1 Cor 9:1-12, Gal 6:6, Phil 4:10-20). But on occasions, this right is to be forfeited for the sake of the gospel (Acts 18:1-4, 1 Cor 9:12-23, 1 Thess 2:1-9). From Paul’s pattern in Corinth comes the common term ‘tent making’ to refer to ministry funded through our own labour. After the apostles, nothing is said about the financial arrangements for their immediate delegates such as Timothy and Titus, and the only possible reference to the payment of elders is 1 Timothy 5:17-18. So the general principle of paid ministry is established, but ministry is not defined in terms of any specific economic arrangement. Unpaid ministry is no lesser ministry.
So let me put a flea in your ear:
- Why not move one step along the ministry spectrum?
- How can you make one or two days a week free for specific ministries?
Now that that flea is buzzing around, already annoying the life out of you, you may have a few questions to ask—polite ones, of course:
“You are totally naive about economic realities.”
For many, unpaid ministry of this kind will always be economically impossible, and you must never be made to feel guilty about working hard in your job to be responsible to your family. For others, you just need the flea in the ear to think creatively about how to rearrange life a little. You are the ones who have more financial flexibility.
“How can I work less and still have enough to live on?”
I don’t know. You might work for a family business that provides flexibility. Developing your own business might provide long-term possibilities. Some workplaces have increasingly flexible work arrangements driven by economic necessity. Some forms of shift work make time free for ministry. Some jobs—such as teaching, consultancy, selling, or client-based work—can be organized at your discretion—say, over four days. It’s a matter of not being locked into the traditional 40-hour week model for the whole of life.
There are definite financial seasons in life, especially as children arrive and depart, job promotions come along and the superannuation is realized. It may be a matter of choosing the right season. Maybe by long-term planning, you can earn more now so that you can reduce your time in paid work later.
Some of you might be able to raise some financial backing from Christian friends to allow you to start a two-day-a-week ministry project.
“Has anyone ever done this?”
This is not a new idea. It has always been a part of our evangelical culture. Some brief case studies from recent times might help.
- One man I know has set up a computer programming company to fund his way through theological training.
- Another has a furniture business with low seasons, during which he takes a day a week to train others in evangelism. A solicitor with a large firm organized a four-day working week, and gives two days to his church, partly for his own training.
- A woman in Sydney’s western suburbs teaches ESL classes at the local TAFE College to provide an income and make contact with students.
- A nurse found she could live on four days’ work and evangelize through church contacts on the other days.
It can be done. It is being done.
“What could I do in one or two days a week?“
The opportunities are only limited by your inventiveness. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I a teacher?
You may have recognized these gifts in church life, school, while undertaking other education or at work. You can understand ideas and explain them to others so that they listen and understand. That means you are a teacher! And teaching is the essence of Christian ministry, for we are to communicate the gospel.
There are loads of teaching opportunities: small groups, one-to-one, evangelism, children, youth, schools and so forth.
2. Am I a leader?
Do I naturally lead or follow others? Again, you can discern this by looking at your various life situations. If you are a leader, should you set up and organize a ministry team to reach a particular group?
3. Am I a trainer?
Many secular jobs involve training others, and these skills can be applied to training Christians in life and ministry.
4. Am I an administrator??
Administrators play a key role in church life. They keep the show on the road, and free pastors and other staff from organizational matters so that they can be at the coalface, preaching, teaching, training, and so forth. Most churches would only need a two-days-a-week administrator, and probably can’t afford to pay for one—at least in the early stages.
5. What groups in society can I especially reach?
If you are from a particular ethnic background, you have a special responsibility and opportunity to bring your ethnic group the gospel. You could develop a ministry to the local school community through parents, or evangelize people at work, or tell the gospel to members of your club.
6. How can I turn my problems into gospel opportunities?
In recent times, the non-Christian world has done this better than us. Think of the many organizations that have been set up for both sufferers and carers of different diseases and disabilities. We don’t have to set up large scale organizations, but just gather together with those who share the same distress, love them, build friendships, provide practical help and share Christ.
“But I don’t have any training.”
There are various ways to train for ministry. On-the job training with your pastor is a great way to get started. There are lots of training courses in basic ministries (check out Matthias Media’s catalogue). Bible and theological colleges provide a range of external and evening courses on the Bible, theology and ministry. They also provide one and two-year full-time programmes.
And remember, the fundamental training for Christian ministry is in our knowledge of God through the Scriptures and in godly example to others.
“If I start more ministry, will it get out of control?”
I hope so! In some cases, it might represent the first step toward the other end of the ministry spectrum—into ‘full-time’ paid ministry. This is a good way to test whether you might undertake full-time ministry. If you have seen your ministry grow under God’s hand, that is a good indication you can do the job with the gifts he has given.
“I would rather make a lot of money to pay for others in ministry”
This is a great vision, and many need to do this. If you are a wealth creator through running a business or exercising your profession, then make long-term plans to invest in gospel workers. Become a patron of gospel ministry.
We tend to teach only one side of wealth—the negative aspect of greed and idolatry. The positive side is the right use of wealth that comes from God in his generosity (Gal 6:6-10, 1 Tim 6:17-19). Maybe you should set up a business with the specific aim of funding gospel work. It will require a godly mind to stay focussed on the goal.
Sorry about the flea in the ear, but don’t swat it just yet. May the grace of God goad us to increase our ministry.