So, I’ve made one of my biggest changes in life and ministry outside of getting married and having a child. As of last Sunday I stepped away from the church I have been attending regularly since I was born. I have been actively involved and serving at the church since High School and served on staff as the youth pastor for seven years. Recently I have been leading Sunday morning services as needed and have been teaching a regular Sunday school class. Things have been good, very good as church life goes. Visitors to our church say it is one of the most welcoming, we have had minimal drama, consistent and awesome pastoral staff, and a generally great community of faith. Some might think I am crazy to leave such a great community and there is a small piece of me that constantly says I’m crazy too. However, I have been feeling a little restless over the past year after graduating from Fuller Theological Seminary and have been doing a lot of soul searching over what the next step might be. I have applied to positions at other churches and nothing has really come to fruition. For almost the past 5 years my 9-5, “payin-the-bills” job has not been with a church. The last year has been spent working in said non-church job while holding my Masters of Divinity from Fuller which when explained to my coworkers always elicits a confused tilt of the head and usually some questions about the church I attend. If I was honest with myself, I was usually questioning the whole situation myself.
I struggled with my desire to be identified as a minister (church work, Masters of Divinity) but always feeling like I had to identify or explain myself as my income was not derived from ministry work. When asked what I do for a living, I would explain my secular job first and then explain my volunteer ministry work second. I wished it was the other way around, but I felt compelled to identify myself from where my bread was buttered…and it slightly was depressing me. Then, I had a sort of epiphany.
I was attending the Unconference (Unco for short) at San Francisco Theological Seminary and we were discussing this temptation to identify ourselves by income stream and the confusion that arises when you try to do otherwise. Trying to explain that what you “do” is not where your money comes from can elicit equally confused head tilts that people were already giving me. But…if we truly feel called to this ministry thing, why should we identify ourselves any other way? Does our job as ministers have to be tied to our income stream? Is there an alternative? Thankfully, we agreed that there was, and my new friend Tripp Hudgins proposed the idea which I inspires this post today.
I am a freelance minister.
While, my 9-5 job may not be overtly ministry related (not within a church or with a church organization), I can always be a freelance minister. In a way, I always have but I have never really had a name for it. Once people find out I’m a minister, they will usually start some kind of faith related discussion. Some will ask me questions about family or friend issues, others will stop me in the hall asking for prayer. I have a sort of unofficial pastor status with many people here and I’ve never truly appreciated that role. Funny thing is, I’ve done this with so many other things in my life and I’ve just never applied the concept to ministry. I freelance photography and graphic design from time to time because they are things I enjoy. Why not give the same consideration to ministry? So, as I move into this new path of the sacred journey I’m on (thanks Carol Howard Merritt), here is what being a freelance minister means to me:
- I am not limited to ministry in a special time and place.
It’s easy to expect ministry to be done at church. However, I think we sadly miss the opportunities for ministry outside the walls of a church building. My goal is to try and not miss those opportunities, especially at work and in my neighborhood.
- I am not limited to ministry with a special group/tribe/set of people.
I interact with different groups of people all the time. One of the things I’m uniquely positioned for now is to serve those groups in their own unique ways and maybe even try to bring them together from time to time. Sometimes, the people who need the most ministering to are those who wouldn’t set foot in a church on Sunday. I will try to not restrict my ministry perspective to people who enter a church or who know the language spoken there.
- I am not (should not and will try not to be) limited by income source as a validation of vocation and ministry.
If this ministry thing is something I truly feel called to, then income shouldn’t be the way to validate it. Income and money can come from all sorts of places but I shouldn’t fall into the temptation that what I “do” is determined by what fills my wallet. Perplexed head tilts aside, ministry effectiveness is rarely determined by financial success. Ministry is about people and as long as I am open to serving people, the opportunities will more than likely be endless.
When Jesus called his disciples, they left their homes, their families, their fishing nets and boats. They left what was safe and their known source of income to follow around a poor traveling teacher. Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” (Luke 5:10). As I step away from what I’ve known to be safe and reliable, there is a twinge of fear in my heart, as I’m sure there was with the disciples. However, I pray that my eyes would be more open to the people and opportunities around me. I pray that I can learn to see people as Jesus taught his disciples to see them. I pray that I will no longer define myself by my income but instead by the people I am able to serve and the lives I can touch.