When I was a little girl, I watched the woman who played the piano on stage and the ladies who led worship and knew that’s what I wanted to do. Before I even knew that you needed money to live, I wanted the church to be my profession. I started serving in church as a little girl in the children’s choir, and I never looked back. For all of us who love the church and have been serving and leading for years, joining a church staff seems like a natural next step. What could be better than spending all our professional time building what we love and serving Jesus with our lives?
It’s hard to consider getting paid cash money to do something awesome as a bad thing, but sometimes, the money doesn’t make your serving easier, but harder. I have been privileged to chat with many people who have taken ministry jobs for the first time, and without fail, after the honeymoon is over, there is a transitional season that isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it’s so rough that people don’t make it. I know more than one person who has come on and off their church’s staff multiple times because the transition was so difficult that they didn’t make it the first time around!
There are unique challenges for churches both from hiring from the inside and hiring from the outside. When I first started in full-time ministry fifteen years ago, it required a move half-way across the country. My husband was a college buddy of the pastor’s son, so we were an outside hire, not an inside hire. Most churches would prefer to be able to hire one of their own if they can. People we have gone the journey with and built trust and culture with slip so naturally into staff roles. There is an easy dynamic of trust that happens when a church hires one of its own. There are, however, inevitably some important mental transitions that we have to navigate if we accept a staff position at our own church.
These are some of these challenging thoughts that new staff, hired from within their church, will likely have to grapple with. I have come across these struggles in leaders who answered the call to ministry both at home and in the churches that we work with. They are challenging and might give you pause if being hired by your church has been your goal.
1. A loss of freedom and control: the transition from, “I control the level of my serve;” to “My participation is mandated.”
2. A potential loss of morale: the transition from, “I get to; I want to;” to “I have to.”
3. A change in relationship: the transition from, “You’re my pastor;” to “You’re my boss.”
4. A loss in finances: the transition from, “If I could just get paid to do ministry, life would be just amazing;” to “What?! This is how much I’m getting paid to do this much work?”
5. An increase in responsibility: the transition from, “I’m a supporter;” to “I’m responsible.”
6. A loss of confidence: the transition from, “I’m the best volunteer we have; I rock this;” to “I’m super green, unsure of myself, and intimidated by successful leaders who are now my peers.”
7. An increase in pressure: the transition from, “I get celebrated as a volunteer;” to “I have to celebrate volunteers that I need, but I don’t feel celebrated. In fact, I feel pressure now from my leader like I’m not good enough.”
8. An increase in frustration: the transition from, “Everything this church does is fantastic;” to “Can I get a little help around here??”
9. A decrease in sanctuary: the transition from, “This is my happy place;” to “This is a demanding place.”
10. A shift in motivation: the transition from, “I serve Jesus because he died for me;” to “Jesus is my career.”
(This one is subtle, but WAY important in how we view church. When your sense of professional accomplishment depends on the church, it’s easy to let our motives slip from where it all began if we are not vigilantly guarding our heart.)
11. A loss of personal value: the transition from, “I feel valued and respected in my career by my pastor;” to “I feel owned and less valued because I work for you.”
All of the people I have talked to who joined their church’s staff have felt at least one of these things in the transitional season. That season can last differing amounts of time for different people. None of these feelings or thoughts of themselves are shameful, and none of them are disqualifiers if you have felt them. They do, however, require that we process through them with Jesus and with our pastors. If we let these thoughts and feelings fester, they will cause us to do and say things that will disqualify us. Ministry is not easy. Many, many pastors don’t survive it. If we will work through these challenges and pop out the other side, things do get much better! There is nothing more fulfilling than doing full-time ministry if we are called to it!
We just have to be very sure that God has called us, and to be very real with ourselves about the demands of the lifestyle. Regular heart checks and motive checks are vital. If our ministry motive is to build our personal profile or make our mark in history, we will wind up as ministry road kill. These motives will cause us to fall, and our hearts to be trampled, if we don’t keep love for Jesus and his heart for his people at the center of what we do.
Many of the most effective leaders I know are also volunteers. It doesn’t take a church check with your name on it to make your contribution valuable, and it doesn’t take a staff title to validate your ministry. The apostle Paul worked many times without pay and maintained his business as a tentmaker, and he never viewed pay as any measure of his ministerial success.
“7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. 8 We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow.” 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 NLT
For all of you who are volunteering the equivalent of a part-time job or even a full-time job, bravo! You inspire and encourage so many, even if you don’t hear it often. There are significant rewards for the level of service you give. I am one hundred percent convinced that when we make God’s kingdom a priority, he will make certain that our needs are more than met. I volunteered thirty hours a week all through my teenage years. God made sure that I got scholarships I didn’t deserve to more than pay for my college education. I am so grateful!
I’m sure you are living in a blessed place because of your serve. Those blessings may or may not be overt, but you can see them if you look for them.
“31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31,33 NKJV
When we make a priority of building God’s house, he will build our house!