Growing up in church, I came to believe that God’s highest calling in a person’s life was to be a missionary overseas. Second best was to go into “full-time” ministry in the States. To be a Christian working a secular job was a distant third; an also-ran of sorts. When I was awakened to the realities of my faith, I automatically set my sights on becoming a missionary. I wanted to prove to God that I was really serious, so I was willing to go all the way. In the end, God had a different path for me to walk.
50 years later, this subtle message still permeates the church. If you are really serious about your faith, you will go into some kind of “full-time” ministry. To settle for working a normal, secular job is somehow second best spiritually. I have talked with a number of young adults who, in their desire to serve Christ, are convinced that they have to change their course and go into “full-time” ministry. Sadly for many of them, this does not work out at all the way they thought it would.
Many people who are part of a church embrace the reverse version of this fallacy. They have come to believe that ministry belongs exclusively to those in “full-time” service, and their role is to cheer them on from the sidelines. This mentality has created an artificial divide between “clergy” (those in full-time ministry) and the laity (everyone else).
There is a story in Mark 5 that blows a huge hole in the fallacy of “full-time” ministry. It is the story of the demon-possessed man. Let me summarize the story. Jesus and his disciples have been out on the lake in a storm, which Jesus calmed. They landed their boat at a place called the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as they stepped onto dry land, they were confronted by a demon-possessed man. He was so violent that he could not be restrained even with iron chains. He lived by himself “among the tombs and in the hills.”
When this man saw Jesus, he ran up to Jesus and fell at His feet. The demons within the man cried for mercy from Jesus. Jesus cast them out of the man and into a herd of pigs that were nearby. The man was freed from his bondage, much to the surprise of the local residents. Now here comes the point about “full-time” ministry.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:18-20
This man had experienced a “conversion” that most of us could never imagine. His first response was to sign up to be on Jesus’ ministry team. But Jesus would not let him. Instead, Jesus sent him back to his family. Jesus instructed him to tell people about what Jesus had done for him, and that is what he did.
As it says in Ephesians 4:11-12, Christ has called some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. The key word here is some. Some are called into “full-time” ministry to prepare all to be full-time disciples of Jesus. Like the demon-possessed man, most believers are called to go back into their normal life to be witnesses to the power of Christ to transform a life. If we want to see our world transformed, we need more full-time disciples living out their faith in every corner of society. Some of us are called into “full-time” ministry positions, but all of us are called into full-time service for Christ, right where we are.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.