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?"
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."
"No," he said, shaking his head, "what's your job?"
"I'm a preacher," I repeated.
"No," he said again, "what do you do for a living?"
Once more I told him, "I work at the church. I'm a preacher." Wide-eyed and incredulous, he exclaimed, "They pay you for that?!"