I’ve always viewed my call from God to vocational ministry as a high privilege. Since I turned 19, forty-eight years ago, my only means of earning a living has been ministry venues: church staff, denominational trainer, writer, and Christian university professor.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of hazards.
1. Daily immersion in sacred activities poses a subtle threat to our spiritual vitality and intimacy with Christ.
Constant attention to Bible teaching, mentoring young Christians, training future church workers, and church programming can actually desensitize us to the gospel of grace we communicate. Excessive familiarity with religious duties may cause our faith to lose its luster. This happens to some seminary students, too.
We tend to take for granted what once generated a sense of wonder. We’re so overexposed to gospel-related activity that we’re immunized to the intended effects of our identity in Christ. It’s easy for serving Christ to usurp seeking Him.
Questions often haunt me: If I weren’t “paid to be a Christian,” would authenticity still characterize my faith? If I didn’t teach God’s Word as often, would I still study it regularly? If I didn’t feel dependent on the Lord for ministry effectiveness, would I pray anywhere near as often?
I’m not saying a majority of vocational workers and seminary students succumb to this threat. But it’s more prevalent than you think.
2. Our devotional lives may become too utilitarian, rather than a means of cultivating an intimate relationship with the Lord.
During the set-aside time we call “devotions” or “quiet time,” we tend to seek God’s power for the day’s ministry opportunities instead of just reveling in His presence. We’re prompted to be with Him because we know we need Him: not just to live right, but to serve well.
We know we need the Spirit’s illumination when we study for our next sermon or teaching session. We realize our need for wisdom for an upcoming counseling session, or a planning session with the elders.
Don’t misunderstand. Praying for God’s empowerment of our ministries is essential to their efficacy. Yet subtly, perhaps imperceptibly, our quiet time becomes a way to prepare for the day ahead instead of a time when we worship and enjoy the Lord (Psalm 16:11).
Robertson McQuilkin, who died in 2016, was a prolific writer, a veteran missionary, and once the President of Columbia International University. During my last private conversation with him, when he was 86, he said his health no longer allowed him to engage in public ministry as a writer or speaker. Here’s what he told me about his private time with the Lord:
When I’m with my Savior early in the morning, I no longer have the day’s agenda on my mind. I pray for others in ministry, but there’s no longer any personal public roles to pray for. Since I’m no longer “doing,” I can concentrate on “being” and enjoying the Lord’s presence through His Word, prayer, and singing to Him.
During his decades of ministry, Robertson started his day with an hour in God’s presence. But I got the sense that he was enjoying that hour more than ever.
I left Robertson’s house thinking, “How can I enjoy the presence of the Lord without using Him primarily in a utilitarian manner?”
Father, in addition to the pleas we send Your way for ministry competence, give us the capacity to reserve time for “being” with You without the clutter of “doing” eclipsing our view of You. Enable us to worship You without the propensity to use You.
When it comes to “professional Christian hazards,” what would you add?
See Terry’s post honoring Robertson McQuilkin. Check the Blog archives on his website (www.terrydpowell.com) and go to the post for June 17, 2016, titled, “3 Lessons I Learned From Robertson McQuilkin.”