From childhood I can remember the stories of Peter, James and John leaving their father's profession of fishing to follow Jesus. Only a couple of times in the New Testament is it mentioned that they ever returned to fishing, and there is no reference of them doing it for a living again.
As a boy I remember thinking of how much faith it must have taken to make such a sacrifice. Thirty years later, I have a greater understanding and much more appreciation for the power that Jesus has over human beings. Like many others, I have cast my fate upon my Lord and Saviour, desiring to serve only Him and to make ministering His word to hungry hearts my only concern.
Over the years, however, the opportunity for full-time service as we generally think of it, has never come to me. Instead, I have supported my family by working in the world the same as most men do. God has been good to me though. I have been blessed to be part of a local church that freely allows me to teach, sing, or share in any other way God directs.
Some of you may relate to the feelings of discouragement and dissatisfaction I have experienced. There is a tendency to feel unfulfilled and maybe even as though you have missed the will of God for your life. Certainly we would all prefer to be released from secular occupations, in order to more fully give ourselves to the ministry of the Word, but we can't all be like Peter. Some of us must be as Stephen and the other deacons who took care of lesser duties in order that Peter could fulfill His calling.
Did this make Stephen any less in the eyes of God? Was he considered to be a sort of second- class preacher? It would seem that some us may feel that way, but perhaps we should look at some other scriptures to see what the nature of true full-time ministry actually is.
In Ephesians 4:11-13 we learn that there are five special gift-ministries whose job is to equip the saints, or sanctified ones for the work of service. A minister is a servant, nothing more, nothing less. (I Corinthians 3:5-7) We are all called to serve both God and man even as Jesus was. He came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and sent us to do likewise. (Matthew 20:28 John 20:21)
It is time for us to lose all of the man-made ideas of what a minister or servant of the Gospel of Jesus is. These have caused a lot of confusion and failure in the church, as both men and women have attempted to conform to an image presented to them that they were never intended by God to mimic. Pastors must attempt to be administrators and evangelists must be nomads, but is God really saying this? Or is He really leading us to release the gifts that He has planted in us in both ordinary and extra-ordinary ways?
Without realizing it, we have become slaves to a system or way of seeing that has limited all of us. The full potential that both the ministry and the people who they serve has been prevented from coming forth. It is time to break free from this into the true liberty of Christ. What is He really about? When we consider this we will realize what we all are to be pursuing.
The local church should have an atmosphere that is conducive to growth in every individual. Then all members of His Body can come to full stature in Him. It is an environment wherein if you are an administrator, you can administrate, and if your gift is prophesying, you can freely speak by God's inspiration. Others are responsible for keeping decency and order in the assembly, but all of us are a team. If we can be liberated from titles and pre-conceived notions, we will more easily see what special gifts His Spirit has given each one of us. Then everyone can be blessed as this gift is shared.
In the seventies I was told by one apostolic ministry in whom I had great confidence that I was an elder, and by a prophet that I was an evangelist. For twenty years I labored under what I thought was an elder, and the traveling ministry never opened up to me as my mind saw it. This can lead to much disillusionment, even though we are told to be patient and wait on the Lord. One thing I have found out is that if the vision is true and clear, and you truly possess the substance of it in your heart, you will be strengthened rather than worn down and defeated while God's plan for you steadily unfolds.
Thank the Lord that today the Truth has set me free from these old ideas and I have given up my natural concept of an elder. Instead of being preoccupied with the decision making responsibilities of the governing body, I am now free to operate in the calling that God has put in my heart. Caring for and meeting the needs of the flock as He directs comes very natural, while the evangelist in me travels to the ends of the earth with good news, by way of the printed page. (I Peter 5:1-4, Isaiah 52:7)
May these experiences I have shared bring hope to many of you who have a strong hunger in your hearts to make a difference. Some of you may feel forever bound to a natural job, not realizing the opportunities it makes available unto you. It not only frees you from the reproach that has come on the ministry that have misused God's people and their generosity, but it also gives you the means to bless those who legitimately need financial help. God is glorified everyday in your work as you do it to please Him, and His heart is truly satisfied in our labors.
Paul the apostle, whose ministry and life has had such a dynamic affect on Christianity and the world, had a natural trade that he took pride in. By making tents, he was able to keep not only his ministry going, but also the brethren that traveled with him. All of this, he said, was to be an example for us. (Acts 20:34-35, 18:3, II Thess. 3:7-9) Think of it! You are in the company of one of the greatest of God's servants, as you labor for God's kingdom and the benefit of others.
This eases the financial burden placed on the people so they can help those who are called by God to make their living in preaching and teaching the Gospel. That is why I have never asked for money to finance this literature. As long as He provides through our business and those whom He speaks to help, we will continue. If the provision stops, we will find what He wants us to do elsewhere. I urge you to support those who feed you, and care for you, as they depend upon your faithfulness. Then we can all trust God to care for our needs as we put Him first.
By some people in our day Paul would not have been recognized as a minister of the gospel at all. Last year I attended a meeting in which the ministers were asked to come up and pray for the people, but there was a restriction made. To be recognized by this well-known preacher you must be either a pastor or a "full-time" minister. Those who worked a traditional job and preached "part time" were not accepted.
Now we know that the recognition of men should not be our goal, but we do need to acknowledge each others' special abilities in God without respect of persons. If I plant the seed in someone that they are inferior I would be better off if a milestone were tied to my neck and cast into the sea. Any system or idea that destroys or hinders spiritual growth and ones ability to effectively serve God's people should be questioned. God help us to stop perpetuating a way that fails to treat every individual as one who is important and needed by the whole church. To fully function in the body of Christ, we need to make use of every gift God has given each member. The foot is not more important than the hand, nor the eye more than the ear. (I Corinthians 12:20-21)
To give an example of how much damage false concepts can do, I would like to share this with you. Fifteen years ago I knew a young man who was very dynamic in the Gospel of the Kingdom. At the time he was pastoring a store-front church in a small country town. The building was supplied by a local merchant who loved the Lord and wanted a place to meet and worship Him. The young man's message was clearly evangelistic, but the only way he could support his family at the time, was to assume the role of pastor and try to make it on whatever offerings came in. He could neither hold the church together, nor could the church adequately supply his needs, so he eventually gave it up and went out into the work force.
The last time I talked to him, he talked as though he had given up on the Lord entirely. I asked him if he would come to our gatherings and participate, but he seemed reluctant. He said he had to either work or preach, but he couldn't do both. This may be just my impression, but I felt as though he lost his faith when he gave up a job in the ministry that couldn't sustain him. To him it was like choosing the world over the Lord. The system he labored under burned him up, but it didn't have to be.
After these many years, I have been thankful for the example I was given by two men who greatly influenced me from my earliest days in the Lord. They demonstrated by example how honorable it can be to serve God out among unbelievers while building up His church with their spiritual gifts. I may never be as eloquent a speaker as this young man was, but the misconception he had about full-time ministry was a much greater handicap. Hopefully, by now the Lord has drawn him back into His service, for we truly need more like him.
Today the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. God is calling us all to full-time service in Him. We serve him every day as we serve others on our jobs, in our families, at our schools, and in our local gatherings of believers. May we all become great in the Kingdom of God, as we learn to be the servants of all.