Marie Curie is the first woman to win the Nobel prize and spent her life pursuing a deeper understanding of the atom. In fact, Marie Curie discovered the elements radium and polonium, coined the term radioactivity, first assigned radioactivity a unit of measurement, and was one of the first to prove that the atom was in fact made of divisible parts. Her commitment to her work cost her greatly. She worked in a dank woodshed without a formal salary. Fellow scientists who interacted with her reported that her hands were weathered and burned from the daily work with radioactive materials. She died at the age of sixty-two from complications caused by her radiation exposure.
Why did Madam Curie sacrifice so much for the sake of science? One can presume she understood how significant her work was to the advancement of science and the modern world. Curie ranks with Rutherford, Einstein, and Oppenheimer. In other words, she is a founder of the nuclear age. The calling to serve the church of our Lord Jesus is just as significant, influential, and dangerous. You are likely to find yourself without a salary while working in the proverbial woodshed with the proverbial burned hands.
While Scripture affirms that your desire to serve the church is a “good desire” (1 Tim 3:1), Scripture also affirms a litany of dangers.
Danger 1: The Danger of God’s Judgment
James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
One of my greatest joys in ministry is standing up to teach on a regular basis. My study and preparation forces me to meditate on God’s Word, thus doing my soul much good. I also enjoy bringing compassion, confidence, clarity, and conviction to the saints. It is extremely rewarding. Yet, it is work I cannot get wrong. Souls are at stake. Much like engineers must triple-check their calculations, so those of us who teach—whether regularly or occasionally—must triple-check our own calculations. This is especially true because the Lord himself will check every word that we speak. And he will hold us accountable.
Danger 2: The Danger of Suffering
2 Corinthians 4:7-12:, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
You need to read that last verse again: “Death is at work in us.” The Apostle Paul wrote these verses and the narrative of his life includes many sleepless and hungry nights, multiple beatings, and multiple shipwrecks. When you give yourself to Gospel ministry, you don’t protect yourself from severe trial, persecution, and suffering. In fact, you invite it to come closer. As our culture becomes more and more hostile, relational persecution is only going to heat up. Please do not let me scare you away from ministry. The rewards are much greater than the difficulty, as Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” (Matthew 5:10).
Danger 3: The Danger of Self-Idolatry
3 John 9: “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”
Our knowledge of Diotrophes is limited. It appears that he has some leadership position and might even be a pastor of a congregation under the Apostle John’s care. Diotrephes is not the first church leader to let his influence get to his head. Pride is more dangerous than suffering because it is internal, abstract, and difficult to detect. You will want people’s praise. You will court people who you think are your ally and can help you implement whatever vision you have in mind. You will bristle against someone who questions your wisdom. You will become embittered toward those who leave your church over preferences about your preaching or leadership style. All of these things will at least be very strong temptations and you likely will give in to them at times. Unchecked, these wicked attitudes can become wicked habits. We all will do well to remind ourselves that the fruit of the spirit is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Danger 4: The Dangerous Financially
In service to the kingdom, the Lord of the kingdom did not have a home in which to sleep: “And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
The days of the moral majority and the reign of evangelical life as we presently know it is coming to an end. Countless articles, books, and surveys all document that younger generations are giving less and less to the church. We are likely entering a time when bi-vocational pastors are normative practice. You will not get rich serving God’s people, whether you are a senior pastor, missionary, children’s minister, etc. In theory, ten wage earners should support one pastor. In practice, it is never that simple.
A few years ago, I spent some time with a freshman student in Bible college who was paying his entire way with private loans. He was borrowing over $20,000 a year and the loans began compounding interest at a rate of over 8% immediately. I explained to him that his career choice would likely never pay him enough to allow him to pay off four years of school. As I explained to him, he broke down in tears. It was a very hard reality to swallow. Since then, he canceled his loans, dug deep, got a full-time job, and continued in his classes. Amazingly, he says he is better for it. He has found that in his great need, the Lord has greatly provided.
Danger 5: Danger to Your Family
There is no verse that directly says, “Hey, if you go into ministry, your family is in danger.” Yet, can you imagine how Moses’ son felt when the entire congregation of Israel opposed him? The ministry is often very hard on families. Late night phone calls, early morning hospital visits, and Saturday night sermon prep are the expected interruptions to family routines. Critical church members, hard-to-please neighbors, and difficult situation after difficult situation can take its toll on families. If you are in ministry or headed to ministry and have a family, they must be equally committed.
Is it worth it? Yes!
Absolutely. The point of this post is not to dissuade you from ministry. Instead, it is meant to prepare you for the dangers you will face so that you will remain faithful in it. In fact, it is our weaknesses that God will use to demonstrate his power.
Here is what the apostle Paul thought of all these dangers and weaknesses:
“9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).