There you are, standing and the crossroads. Down one road is a life of full time ministry with all of its joys and sacrifices. Down the other road is life in the secular workforce with all of its benefits and drawbacks. Pressing down on you are huge questions, “Am I cut out for full time ministry? What about my college degree? What about my parent’s hopes and dreams for me? Is full time ministry always God’s best option for us? Is the choice to do secular work an unspiritual one? How can I make the right decision with so many seemingly good options?” Sound familiar? If so, know that you are not alone in wrestling with these questions. Many have stood right where you are standing. God took care of them. He will take care of you.
In fact, Jenny stands right where you are standing, now. Jenny graduated 6 months ago and she is still struggling to figure out her next step. She has changed her mind 3 times already. She really likes the idea of being a missionary in Central Asia. She also sees a lot of practical good in working for a while to pay off her college loans. And then there is the chance to join InterVarsity staff. They all seem like good and right options. She feels stuck and overwhelmed with the weight of the decision. It’s so hard to decide. She is stuck wondering why God doesn’t make it easier?
Discerning God’s will for our future is a heart wrenching crossroads. If only God would just clearly write the answers in the sky for us. This would make the whole process a no-brainer, right? But then it would also be a no-faith-er, too. And maybe that’s the point. Being stuck at the crossroads doesn’t mean hope is gone and God has checked out. You can be confident that God is not distant and aloof. He is always present and available to you. His silence is not a lack of care. Just the opposite is true. His silence challenges us to trust Him and lean on Him in the middle of the uncertainty and struggle. His presence is our confidence to move forward and take positive steps towards discerning our path.
The good news is that there is help with all these tough questions. While there is no surefire spiritual formula for discerning our calling, there is a way forward. There are solid principles in Scripture that can help us discover God’s intent for our lives. In particular, Romans 12:1-8 gives us solid principles to follow when we, like Jenny, find ourselves stuck at the vocational crossroads.
The first 2 verses lay the groundwork for our attitude and motivation. Our lives are meant to be worship to the King. No matter what we do in life it should be worship to the King. We cannot move forward until we first have our minds and hearts set on pleasing Him. George Mueller said it best, “Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.” The world has a completely different agenda for us. We cannot serve God by following the world’s agenda. We must submit ourselves wholly to the King and His agenda. This is the first and biggest step to discerning God’s will for our lives.
The next step is critical. Paul spells it out in verses 3-8. We need to view ourselves with sober judgment. In other words we need some self-knowledge. We need to understand God given design; our abilities and strengths, as well as our weaknesses. When you lack self-knowledge you put yourself in danger of making really bad decisions about your future. Viewing ourselves wrongly prevents us from connecting into that natural divine groove that God has made us for.
Steven had his mind set on going to seminary. Yet, none of his closest friends or ministry leaders could confirm that Steven was really cut out for full time ministry. Steven had convinced himself that he could do full time ministry even though he had never had much success in the ministry that he had been involved with throughout college. Steven lacked sober judgment. And despite reliable counsel to do otherwise, Steven went ahead and entered seminary. Unfortunately he did not last long. He dropped out after a year. All he ended up with was a large school bill.
Steven, like many of us, made the mistake of viewing ministry as a more spiritual path than a secular job. This is a false dichotomy, though. Here in Romans 12, Paul is very clear that there is no difference between those in full time ministry and those in the secular workforce. Janitors, CEO’s, Doctors and full time ministers are all equal in the body of Christ. It is all a matter of gifting. And gifting is a matter of grace. Grace is the sovereign work of God. There isn’t anything that we can do to determine our spiritual gifting. So there is no room for boasting no matter how we are designed.
Sober judgment requires us to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves. Before we can choose between ministry and any other profession, we need to look at our gifts and abilities as God sees them not as we see them and especially not as we want to see them. We need to look for our actual gifting not the gifting that we have always thought would be really cool. And we must avoid dismissing abilities out of self-doubt. We hurt ourselves when we think more or less of ourselves than is genuinely true. Both pride and low self-esteem are enemies of accurate discernment.
Here are five key questions that you can ask yourself in order help view yourself with clear levelheaded judgment in relation to full time Christian ministry:
- What kind of a leader are you? This is a question of character not produce. Are you teachable and faithful? Have you done well with previous ministry roles and assignments? Are you able to serve humbly and care for others needs above your own? Your character as a leader is everything in ministry. Good ministry leaders are faithful, available and teachable.
- What has been your ministry experience? Have you seen fruit from your service in previous ministry positions? Do people follow your leadership? Have you been able to influence people to make key decisions in their lives? Do people come to you for advice and help? People gifted in the area of ministry will stand out in a crowd. If you were to ask a random participant in your previous ministry who the most influential people were, that list would point directly to who is gifted in ministry. Would your name be on that list?
- What do others think of you? We often have a lot of trouble seeing our own strengths and weaknesses. We need reliable friends to speak truth to us in order to see ourselves more clearly. Do others think we are cut out for full time ministry? What about those that know us best? When asking people for their opinion it is critical to ask them to be honest and not just tell us what they think we want to hear.
- Why do you want to do ministry? This is a question of motives. Assuming that you have some desire to do ministry, you need to dig a little deeper. It is important to remember that we will never have pure motives for anything we do. Still, we need to check our motives as much as we can. Why do you really want to do ministry? Too often there exists a false dichotomy in our minds between full time ministry and lay leadership. The truth is that one is not more spiritual than the other. We are all missionaries in God’s Kingdom. It doesn’t matter what our job or role is, we are all equal in the body of Christ. Do we want to be in full time ministry because we think it is more spiritual than secular work?
- Do we have a genuine concern for people? Ministry is primarily about people. Ministry is about influence. If you have trouble developing relationships and interacting with people then you will struggle to influence people in ministry. In the course of normal conversations, do you struggle to ask people questions about themselves? Or do you pull most conversations back to yourself? Do you wait for others to ask you questions? It does not matter whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. Both can do ministry. However, the critical question is how well you pay attention to the needs of others above your own. A minister is a shepherd. If we struggle to care for others practically then we will struggle in full time ministry.
Here is the really good news about this crossroads: If you set your heart on pleasing God, He will not let you make the wrong decision. He has promised to lead us in the direction that He wants us to go. (Psalm 32:8, Proverbs 3:5,6) His guidance may be slower and more in direct than you want, but He will keep you on His path. After all, we are His workmanship, created to do His works (Ephesians 2:10). If we are eager to do His will, why wouldn’t He want to direct us?