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Home > 2013 > October Web Exclusives > Shelf Life

I'm a 48-year-old professional minister. I have two master's degrees and a doctoral degree in Bible and practical theology.

And I'm out of work.

I possess six years of experience as a senior pastor, 12 years preaching cross-culturally, and nine more teaching in a Christian college.

And I'm out of work. Again.

This isn't the first time I've been in this position. It may not be the last. But it sure is frustrating.

Some ministers go an entire career without any downtime between their places of professional service. Ministers like them may find it unthinkable to imagine that God would ever shut the door where they currently serve without already having lined up their next assignment.

Truthfully, I envy those ministers. A long-term, full-time ministry position provides a sense of identity, stability, and success. Being able to say "I am the senior pastor at such-and-such church" or "I serve as associate professor of Christian ministry at such-and-such university" makes you feel like you've arrived, that you're a person of value. When you can't make those sorts of claims, especially after obtaining all the credentials that should have positioned you to be able to make them, it leaves you scratching your head and wondering, "What the devil is going on here?! Why did God call me to the ministry only to place me on the shelf?"

Vocational Presumptions

We who grew up as males in traditional homes with working dads and stay-at-home moms, reached adulthood assuming, "When I get married, it will be my job as husband to bring home the paycheck." That's what I presumed. Dad worked outside the home. Mom worked inside. He brought home the bacon. She fried it. I'm not necessarily saying that's how it should have been. It's just the way it was. And it seemed biblical to us. After all, didn't God tell Adam that by the sweat of his brow he, and presumably his family, would eat? Didn't Paul say, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat?"

I also assumed that if God called me into ministry as a career, I should be able to expect to support my family through the ministry. Again, the Bible seemed to back it up. "If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?" Paul asked in 1 Corinthians 9:11. Then, in 1 Timothy 5:17-18: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.'"

How can it get any clearer than that?

The summer after I graduated from college, I worked as an intern at a small town church in Alabama. One of my responsibilities was to take our kids to camp and work with them there for a week. One of the little boys who went with us attended our church semi-regularly but did so without his family. Consequently, he knew little about how churches operate. At lunch one afternoon we talked about where his mom and dad worked. He then asked me what I did. I told him, "I'm a preacher."

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Related Topics:CareerFailureFearPerseveranceVision
Posted: October 21, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Rick Dalbey

November 02, 2013  1:36pm

What a perfect opportunity. I would get over to Bethel Church in Redding CA, enroll in the school of supernatural ministry. I would learn to lay hands on the sick for healing, learn to prophesy, learn to cast out demons, learn to expect the miraculous. And then go out with teams of average believers, young people, people in their 60s and preach the gospel, prophesy and heal the sick in the marketplace. I would take the time to worship and get to know the Lord more intimately. Don't rely on your qualifications as Frank says. Depend on the power of the Holy Spirit as Paul did. Then let the Lord guide you either into a ministry or pioneering a church, home meetings or just being a fire starter wherever you are like Philip.

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Frank Heyward

October 25, 2013  1:07am

Like so many people today, the writer is primarliy relying on his ambition, degrees, and credentials to gain employment in "his" chosen field. Saul was also relying on his "qualifications" as he went about doing what he thought was right. To open Saul's spiritual eyes to God's plan, God had to do something so radical in Saul's life that it even occasioned a name change! The question has to be asked - why all the scholastic acheivements? Is it to be like Saul and say "look what I have?", or to glorify God? It is in our old nature to climb the ladder of personal achievement, but what about putting on the new nature to let our hand do whatever it can so as to glorify God (instead of self)? Perhaps God wants Gregory to find a correctional facility and do some chaplaincy work! Ha, unfortunately one can not "understand God from the Executive Summary and get on with doing" as Mark (above) thinks. Martha, in Luke 10:38-42, thought that and Jesus rebuked her!

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October 24, 2013  11:13am

I really appreciate the honesty and transparency that can be found within this article. I have been concerned myself with the same type of thoughts especially since I will be graduating soon with my BA in Urban Christian Ministries. I am concerned that as I pursue my Master of Divinity that I am putting all my chips in one basket because I have done the research and the M.Div is not the same degree it once was. THe M.Div was a degree that Churches looked for in a preacher or pastor but now with unstable economies and a different type of culture, we see that the preacher must sustain his own financial income by being bi-vocational for the most part. I understand that this job has a lot to do with faith, but what happens when you are like the one in this article that has done what you where suppose to do and your degrees are only good in a church, or Christian setting? I am still on the fence about continuing my education in such a narrow field. WOW

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Paul Horne

October 24, 2013  10:15am

I thought this article was very transparent. As a man called to ministry myself I have a BS in Religion and I am currently working on my MDiv. I have sent out over 60+ resumes/applications to hear nothing back. It is a hard road to walk knowing you have been called, doubting that calling at times and returning to trusting the Lord knowing that he is ultimately in control. It is good to see someone else who has greater credentials than mine having similar struggles and not losing hope. I hope all of us who are called can find joy in the in between times and hope knowing that God has a plan for us, even when we cannot see it nor understand what is going on. God Bless you Gregory and thank you for writing such a timely article.

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J Rheingans

October 22, 2013  4:17pm

I know rural churches in the Midwest in danger of closing because they can not find ministers; other ministers are doing 3 and 4 church charges. What struck me as I read the article, was the references of how "learned" and many degrees and ambitions to have titles and live in just the right city, etc. I didn't get the feeling there was compassion and concern for the "average Joe and Jane" attending the rural parish. Are not their souls as important as the college president; Wall Street executive?

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