Previous to pursuing paid ministry work, I made a living as a professional graphic designer here in Campbell River. While I enjoyed my work, I longed to spend my 50-60 weekly work hours leading and serving others to know Jesus and helping the the larger community enjoy the fullness of life in him.
Since getting my feet wet in paid ministry I’ve learned that it is more than just a privilege to work in paid ministry. It’s actually a real job. Real work! There are real problems. It requires real skill, competency and discipline in order to do the work diligently and effectively. Of course there is the monotonous work like replying to emails, preparing resources and administering the website. But there is much more than I first imagined.
My first taste of real ministry work came through my seminary program intake assessment. I received a stern recommendation; that I make a more determined and consistent effort to pursue and befriend people outside the church. Sharing the good news with unbelievers had once been a spontaneous part of my every day. But at some point I began “riding the wave” of following my dreams (so to speak). I needed to be reminded that their was more to serving the church, than enjoying her company and keeping her entertained. A lot more.
The apostle Paul compares his calling with a skilled master-builder, often commenting about his ministry as hard work, toil and labour. He almost always identifies his team of ministers as fellow-labourers further emphasising his strong work ethic towards vocational ministry work. (1 Cor 15:10, Col 1:29, Gal 4:11, 1 Cor 16:16, 1 Tim 5:17.) In fact many of the “labourers of the faith” (that’s my job) diligently served the church to their death!
So have things changed? Do I think that the calling of todays elders and church leaders is to serve the church to their death? Yes I do!
The highest priority for the elder and church leader is to live as an example of life transformed by the gospel that others in the church might imitate. (Php 3:17, 2 Th 3:9, 1 Tim 4:12, Tit 2:7 1 Pet 5:3.) And one of the most basic implications of the gospel is that we no-longer consider our own lives as our first priority, but in worshipful submission we set our love and service to God as first priority, others as second priority and ourselves as last. (Php 2:3-8.) For the church elder, this principle means laying down his own life for the sake of building others up in Christ. While this is of course moderated by the qualification of caring first for his family with the same devotion (1 Tim 4:5) it is the proper labour of the church leader to exemplify spiritual maturity with joy and love, not fear or drudgery. (1 Pet 5:1-5)
However, a conscientiousness example of life is not the only work required of an elder. The leadership, teaching and shepherding of the church are to be stewarded by them as well. Keeping watch over the flock, guarding them from wolves (those who would lead them astray from within and outside the church), and cultivating it’s growth is also charged to the elder. Each aspect having it’s own set of challenges. :: The work of searching and discerning the text under the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and then appropriately delivering it to the body of believers. :: The challenge of identifying the sheep from the wolves and carefully combatting ravenous damage. :: The feat of thoughtfully integrating the diverse gifts and strengths of the community for service while simultaneously building up it’s weak spots and working through sin-patterns.
Just a brief description is exhausting. But like a physician takes great joy in delivering a new child into the world, so the elder is overjoyed to have the honour of caring for that which is precious to God.