The three worst times to quit your job and go into ministry

You have a lot of skills and a lot of energy. And as a Christian, you’ve wondered if you should move into professional Christian ministry. Perhaps, for a long time you’ve toyed with quitting your job and going to seminary or hooking up with a missions agency.

But, is now the right time to quit your job and go into ministry?

Having simultaneously led both for-profit businesses and non-profit ministries for nearly two decades, I’ve met often with business men and women contemplating a move into ministry. And I’ve met a with a number of folks transitioning the other way, moving from ministry to business. Nearly all of them express an intense desire to follow God in their new vocation and many have been contemplating a move for some time.

When I ask what circumstances are motivating the desire for change, I sometimes receive a less magnanimous response, however. That’s when I advise against a transition into ministry.

From my experience, the three worst times to quit your job and go into ministry (or visa verse) are:

  1. Following an immediate setback. This is particularly true when you’ve just lost your job, or been demoted or reprimanded. A sudden jolt to the ego can leave anyone looking for some kind of cover—longing for some affirmation that you have something valuable to contribute. But ministry, by definition, is not the place for the wounded, no matter how much affirmation you may get from those you serve. You need time to recover from your setback, to be renewed, so that you don’t turn a ministry opportunity into a dispenser of affirmation for you. You are there to serve others, not the other way around.
  2. Following the pressure of the saints. As a committed follower you are, no doubt, serving in some capacity in your local church and/or other non-profit. You’re likely getting a lot of affirmation in it as well. This can be particularly alluring when it’s lacking in your current vocation. You might even have the impression that’s more noble to be in “full-time ministry,” that you’ll be more blessed if you are, and perhaps, even, that you’ll amass a large following. None of these notions are supported by scripture. In fact, the man described in the Bible as most after God’s heart was a king (David), responsible for ruling a people, not a professional minister. God is pleased with a serving heart regardless of the context.
  3. Following burnout. You’ve been pushing hard in your work and you’re exhausted. You’re not sure you can keep up the pace. A “rat race” would be a mild way to describe your daily grind. The idea of dumping the pressures you face and serving God in ministry sounds like winning the lottery. You’re in burnout. And it’s among the worst times to make big decisions, especially about your vocation. Before you get a new vocation, go on vacation. No good decisions arise out of fatigue. As the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi put it, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t pursue a professional ministry role, or even a bi-vocational role as I have. What these motivators have in common is that they are reactive; either to situations of failure, the allure of others, or the desire to escape pressure. Alternatives always look more appealing when we’re in a weakened condition. The grass may look greener on the other side, but as one wag noted, “so is the water bill.”

What are some of the reasons you may have contemplated going into professional ministry?

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5 thoughts on “The three worst times to quit your job and go into ministry

  1. Leary, Absolutely Right on!!! Too many guys have told me that since they just lost their job so they are convinced they are to go into ministry. If God will let you do anything else then do it. Lovin your steady flow of rich material!!

  2. I tend to disagree. I went into the full-time ministry under these conditions. I got laid off. I was encouraged to look for a job, but also, show my reliance on God by committing myself full-time to him. I had also been told that my mother, aunt and cousin were all dying from chronic illness, so I had lots of fatigue. So, I felt like I had lost lost control of everything…financially, mentally, emotionally and physically. The only thing I hadn’t lost control of was my spirituality. It was the one thing that stayed constant and consistent. In fact, I studied the bible more. I’m in my 4th year as a full-time minister. I’m looking to go apply to evangelizing school in less than 1.5 years. So, I’m prepping my mind, body, heart and finances to take on the new journey soon. I have always been fed up with secular work since I started the full-time ministry. It gives me incentive to move on knowing that, yes, I have to do secular work to live. But, I don’t live to do secular work. But I do live to do God’s work.

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