I’m shedding my priest’s collar for a blue collar attached to a work shirt with my name stitched over my heart…or maybe I’ll put Jesus’ name.

I’m trading my sterile doctor’s office, where I expect the sick people to come to me, for a midwife’s bag, with which I will go into homes and get messy attending the birth (John 3) of new believers.

We felt like people kept us at arm’s
length because of our profession.

For seventeen years, I (figuratively) wore a t-shirt with a big label on the front: PROFESSIONAL CHRISTIAN. My husband and I served overseas, we went to seminary, we worked at a church—all things we had dreamed of doing. It was our job to tell “lost” people about Jesus and to lead “saved” people into greater Christlikeness. But we often felt like people (regardless of their spiritual status) kept us at arm’s length. They guarded their words and apologized for their profanity, they adjusted their behavior and put on their polite smiles, they hid their real lives from us because of the label. All the while, I was just looking for an authentic relationship or two.

There were times when I felt like going on a little rant. It would have sounded something like this: “I’m standing here. I want to be real. I’m telling you that I’m not perfect. I’m letting you see my stains and hear my swear words; I’m showing you my sins and describing my failures. But you still act like I’m some kind of judge or auditor. The Christ-life is not about being good! It’s not about impressing certain people. Can’t we just all be authentic?!?”

We quit getting paid
to be Christians.

So, back in 2014, we quit. We no longer get paid to be Christians, to do what the Bible says all Christ-followers are called to do. There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor or a missionary or the leader of a para-church organization. I have the utmost respect for people in those positions…partially because I know just how hard it is. I still believe that God calls His followers into leadership roles and that we should financially support many of them. Don’t hear my words as a criticism of paid church leaders. Just hear my story of what God has worked in my life.

Jesus “could not consider setting himself apart aristocratically with his disciples and, in the way of great founders of religions, conveying to them, in isolation from the crowd of people, the teachings of higher knowledge and perfect conduct of life. Jesus came, worked, and suffered for the sake of all of his people.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in I Want to Live These Days with You (March 3).

Jesus: That’s the example I want to follow.

“’Secular’ work has no less dignity and nobility than the ‘sacred’ work of ministry.” –Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf in Every Good Endeavor (pg. 52)

I’ve come to understand that, for the Christ-follower, every vocation and every avocation (that means your hobbies) is a calling. The faithful garbage truck driver may be equally as called as the mega-church leader. The excellent hairstylist (I did know this amazing, clearly called hairstylist once.) and the missionary doctor (I’ve known some of those, too.) both receive their direction from the same God and Father. I wrote about this more in a guest post for A Life Overseas, and Os Guinness says it perfectly:

“If all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished. There is no higher/lower, sacred/secular, perfect/permitted, contemplative/active or first class/second class. Calling is the premise of Christian existence itself. Calling means that everyone, everywhere, and in everything fulfills his or her (secondary) callings in response to God’s (primary) calling. –Os Guinness (quoted here by Paul Sohn)

It’s these “dualistic distinctions” that I want to erase. I just want to live out the Christ-life among everyday people in everyday situations.

Clearly, I’m not the only one thinking this way these days.

“You don’t need to be someone else and you don’t need to be somewhere else. You need to be who and where God wants you to be. Because your assigned life is not just about you. It’s also about hundreds of others around you and hundreds of thousands of others who will come after you.” –Jon Bloom at desiringgod.org

Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. 1 Corinthians 7:17

See that “live as a believer”? That’s where career meets calling. (See Paul Sohn’s link above for more great thoughts on this.)

“In the long term I think being a preacher, missionary, or leading a Bible study group in many ways is easier. There is a certain spiritual glamour in doing it, and what we should be doing each day is easier to discern more black and white, not so gray. It is often hard to get Christians to see that God is willing not just to use men and women in ministry, but in law, in medicine, in business, in the arts. This is the great shortfall today.” –Dick Lucas (an English Anglican pastor quoted in Every Good Endeavor, by Keller and Alsdorf)

The above statement by Dick Lucas may be the one that influenced me the most.

All this leads me to one conclusion: I don’t need to be paid in order to be a “full-time minister.” (click to tweet) None of us do. In fact, I think I can be more effective, more useful for God, in a “secular” field as I live out the Christ-life with intentionality and authenticity. And maybe other people will feel like they can be genuine with me as well. Then? Well, we’ll just have to see what happens.

Have you noticed the distinction we make between professional Christians and everybody else? What do you think about it? Are you encouraged to know God can and does use people in every field of work/study? Leave me a note in the comments.

For Further Study

  • Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper (Not only is this one spiritually challenging, but you get Piper’s life story—a real treat. Also, it’s an easy book to read.)
  • Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf (I wish Keller would write a summary of this one. It gets long, with lots of statistics, but the thesis is excellent.)
  • Right Here Right Now by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford (This one will make you curse your garage door opener.)
  • The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. (This one started it all in my heart.)


Update 7.12.16: “One’s vocation is the place where the call of Christ is answered and lived responsibly.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You, trans. by O. C. Dean Jr.

Update 7.22.18: In Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (pg. 50), Eugene Peterson calls it the “sacred ordinary, that we are apt, mistakenly, to call the secular.” He was talking about King David.

6 thoughts on “Escaping Professional Christianity

  1. “There is no such thing as Christian work. That is, there is no work in the world which is, in and of itself, Christian. Christian work is any kind of work, from cleaning a sewer to preaching a sermon, that is done by a Christian and offered to God.” -Elisabeth Elliott in Discipline: The Glad Surrender


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