Hello, my name is Titus…and I am a professional Christian.
There are thousands (maybe even millions) of others like me out there. We’re called pastors and ministers and missionaries. We run nonprofits and charitable organizations. We feel called to serve the Kingdom vocationally. We’re not better than anyone else, and most of us don’t think so, but we are different from others. It’s just kind of a weird thing, this Professional Christian stuff. Some of you won’t understand what I’m about to say. For some, though, it’s a tension we face daily.
For professional Christians, it’s hard to tell when we’re at work and when we’re not. It’s difficult to take off our capital-M ministry hat and just exist with a lower case-m. We get paid to do churchy stuff. When we’re kind to a neighbor we can’t tell if we’re doing that because we love Jesus or because it’s part of our job. In truth, it’s kinda both.
Being a professional Christian is hard, primarily, for two reasons:
1. It’s Easy to Find Our Worth in Our Job Instead of Jesus
If you’re good at what you do, you get a lot of pats on the back. Pats feel good. Feeling good makes you think certain ways about yourself. If you’re not careful, you start thinking you’re good because you’re good. As a Christ follower, you know the only way you’re even close to worth something is because Jesus said so. But when you’re good in ministry, that can get confusing.
In the same way, if you’re not good at what you do, or if you make a big mistake that makes you look bad, you start thinking you’re sort of worthless. You forget that if Jesus says you have value then you preaching a stinker of a sermon doesn’t change that. It might change the way Joe Member looks at you, but not Jesus.
It’s hard being a professional Christian because it’s easy to equate your performance with your relationship with Christ. That’s dangerous.
2. Our Mission is Reviewable
Being in vocational ministry is tough for another reason: the way we live out our calling can be critiqued.
Most Christians don’t have an annual review with their pastor. Most members of churches don’t get together with their Sunday school teacher where they are challenged to improve in certain areas or are disciplined for dropping the ball.
When you don’t work at a church or in Ministry, people don’t make demands on your performance. When you get paid to be around, it can sometimes be a different story.
In capital-M Ministry we answer to someone. We do annual reviews with bosses or we fall victim to the court of public opinion. What we do is visible by congregants and by leaders. Sometimes there’s a decision that you have to make and it’s a tough call. Sometimes what you think is best and what is expected of you are different. What do you do then?
I know of churches (thankfully, not where I serve) where there were certain data-driven objectives that staffers were expected to achieve. If they didn’t they were put on probation. If you’re counseling a kid who isn’t ready to commit to a decision like baptism, for instance, but you’re expected to baptize 30 kids a year, what do you do?
I know what I’d do, and I’m thankful to not serve in a place where that is a pressure I feel, but I understand the position. Having a God-given calling and mission is exciting. Having the added pressure of that mission being reviewable can be daunting.
The truth is, I’m not really a professional Christian. Not even when I feel like I am or get confused about it. Ministry may be a worthwhile profession, but it’s not where I get my worth. My job as a minister may be reviewable, but it’s what God knows about me and says about me that matters most. If you are tempted to think of yourself as a professional Christian, remember this:
Jesus doesn’t love you more when you’re crushing it or love you less when you’re crushed. Consider this paraphrased question from Jesus:
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole Ministry, but forfeit his own soul?”
It’s a good question with an obvious answer, even if it is an answer we must fight to get right some days. To that I simply say…Fight on, “professional Christians.” You are not what you do. You do because of who (and whose) you are.