Have you two met? Full-time ministry, this is Work Ethic.

You know what drives me nuts? (Granted, there are so many things on this list that, whatever you said, you’re probably right.) Today, it’s people that work in full-time ministry.

Yes. I know. I’m one of them. Just hear me out.

This hasn’t always been my life. Before we became missionaries, El Chupacabra and I, we were normal people. We had jobs and stuff. Ok, he had a job (he was a cop), and I occasionally took on something part-time for extra cash. And we had kid stuff, too. Homework, and soccer, and cub scouts, and karate, and science projects, and book reports, and dentist appointments, and play dates. And we served in ministry. Youth group, small groups, one on one discipleship, retreats, and all the relentless and mostly pointless meeting associated with all of those things. And we had house junk; repairs, remodels, re-mess-it-all-up-and-start-overs. Oh, and there was family stuff. Grandpa so-and-so’s birthday, Cousin so-and-so’s such-and-such, Aunt so-and-so’s graduation. And then throw in the occasional wedding, baby-shower, neighborhood barbeque, poker night, random get-together, PTA fundraiser, or whatever. That was life back then.

It looks like chaos when you write it down, but it’s, pretty much, doable. Ok, maybe there’s so much to do that you double book yourself, by accident, once in a while. And maybe you have to worm your way out of something wretched, like a baby-shower, because you got a better offer, like the PTA fundraiser. (Which sounds like a needle in your eye, but is in fact awesome – IF – said fundraiser features a fully catered dinner and an open bar – AND- you and your “Mom friends” allow all of your husbands to graciously bow out of the occasion so you can have a “ladies night” which means arriving early to get a table near the dance floor so that you’re close enough to see the drunken swingers heaven that is about to play itself out right in front of your face. What happens at the PTA fundraiser, stays at the PTA fundraiser! Except for the herpes. That happens for a looooong time after. I’ll say nothing more. Except that women in their 30’s should not be doing shots in the bathroom…Or dancing on tables…Or under them.)

Anyhooo, we had a LOT to do. And we did it. We figured it out. We arranged and rearranged our schedules to make it all fit. And it did. And then we left all that and became missionaries. And everything changed.

I”m gonna be totally honest here and just say this: It’s RIDICULOUS how flexible our lives are now. RIDICULOUS.

People that work in full-time ministry have it so so so easy. I’m not even kidding.

Here’s why. All of those things that we had to fit into our lives before, all that stuff we had to jam in, all that crap we did around work? Yeah, now it is our work. For real.

When we were normal people, our work schedules did not include “Spending time with our sons”. El Chupacabra’s boss didn’t give two shits if he spent enough time with his kids. It was not his employer’s problem. It would have been absurd for him to go to his Sergeant and say “Hey, Sarge, I’m gonna be taking off every Friday afternoon to hang out with my kids”. And if he just didn’t show up, he would have been fired. Fired. Because he had a JOB to do.

He couldn’t get paid to spend all afternoon on Facebook and call it “communicating”. Or, balance his checking account and call it “finance”. Or hang out with his church-going friends, youth group guys, Bible study partners and call it “discipleship”, or non-churchies and call it “outreach”. He couldn’t write a blog about being a cop and call it “public relations”, and get paid for it. That’s just not how it works. The sheriff’s department would have said with a smile, “That’s all well and good, you go for it, you do those things, but you do them on your own time. Son. And if you do them on work time, you’ll be fired.”

In our house we call it “the real world”. Churches aren’t part of it. You know this because on Mondays, churches are ghost-towns. Sure, you’ll find the secretary there, answering phones, and maybe a few others who prefer working on Mondays because “the office is so quiet”. But a lot of people who get their checks from the church don’t work on Mondays. You know why? Of course you do. Because for them, Sundays are a work day. They arrive early, and leave late. They’re tired from all the serving, and shaking of hands, and praying. They need a break. And this may be true.

BUT, it makes me so mad that in the church we constantly say “You need to Serve! You need to be serving!”, and the ones we hear it from the most are the ONLY ONES getting paid to be there. That guy? The one who runs the sound equipment for every service on Sundays, he has to be at work bright and early on Monday morning. And, depending on the size of your church, there are hundreds more like him, serving many hours a week outside of the hours they put in at their actual jobs. Pastors and missionaries should be the last people to be out of touch with “the real world”. The very last people to be unaware or indifferent to what “serving” looks like to people who aren’t getting paid to be there.

It’s just so weird. It‘s like the moment we became missionaries we became entitled to this kind of attitude, like, “Ministry is my Job. I’ll do what I want!” (that’s my Cartman voice)

So here’s what I’m NOT saying:

I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry takes advantage of their position to escape the busyness that many others live with. But some do.

I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry is so far-removed from “the real world” that they don’t recognize or appreciate what it means to have those volunteers serving by their side; vacation hours spent on youth-retreats, evening meetings at church after 9 hours at work, squeezing their Bible time, prayer time, discipleship time, and Facebook time in around, or over, their family time. (Dear Volunteer, Some of us full-time ministry workers see what you do, see how much you give, and it astounds us, and we want to be more like you!! With Love and Admiration, the VWM)

I am NOT saying that full-time ministry isn’t a legitimate line of work. I understand that it can be cyclical, extremely busy at one time, very quiet at another. I get that. And I get that the flexibility that we are afforded by our work allows us to prioritize our families and others that we’d like to invest in. Call it a perk. But, please, don’t call that “work”. Don’t give yourself a pat on the back (or an hour to sleep in) because you mentioned Jesus at your kids t-ball practice last night. There are millions of guys just like you doing the same thing…for free. That’s not “work”, that’s just living like you’re a follower of Christ.

I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry is a lazy bastard. But, like, 80%?..um, yes. Of the 20% left, 10% are crazed work-a-holics, and the last 10% are healthy 40 hour a week-ers, that set a schedule filled with activities related to the ministry for which they are being paid and honoring their families and their God by sticking to it, and fitting all the other junk in around it, just like in “the real world” (not to brag, but El Chupacabra is in this category. And I’m… okay...I’m in with the lazy bastards…hence I have time to write this blog).

This is not about bashing pastors, or missionaries. This is about applying an ethical principal to what they (we) do. My question is; Is it ethical for a pastor to include time to write a novel in his work day? Or, is it an ethical use of my time, as a missionary, to, say, “invest” in my relationship with my husband by taking him to the movies at 3 o’clock on a weekday when we both have other things we could/should be doing. Is this ethical?

And my other question is this; Do we expect more from lay-servants than we do of paid servants? If yes, does that really make sense?

Sorry… just a little rant…. but I feel much better now. Thank you.

Oh and you still have 42 minutes to leave a comment and win the coffee here.



  1. Kelly on January 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Very thoughtful, Jamie. "Do we expect more from lay-servants than we do of paid servants"…it rhymes and could definately catch on!

  2. ConTiki Chick on January 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    kEEpinG iT REaL JaMIe. ThAt'S WHY i lOve YoU and, ah yeah…would love a SHOT at that java too!

  3. Nickolas on January 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I'm a coffee assict so I can't apply. Lol. However I like how u think, except replace FTM with state,gov,private,or just everyone. Lol everyones a lazy pos, well almost every1. So that 80 percent. People only pretend to work for fear people will find out the truth..the truth being they really are everything they hate about themselves. Even worse is the person who uses work in the ministry as an excuse for being a decent god loving human being… most are serving because they can't find that closeness with god everyone around them speaks of.. so they volunenteer to find it, hoping one day the fascade of a relationship with god outside a list of rules comes true…. people, human beings, americans… all trying to fill voids they themselves created by pretending… pretendings all fun until u forget its not real. Then ur just a fake, but the lord forgives, so say sorry everyone and strike up a conversation. 😉

  4. Alex Green on January 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Well, I'm fortunate to go to a church where the staff fundraises their own money so I have very little consideration in the matter.

    However, I think that you should absolutely take the husband to a movie at 3 in the afternoon. I think all of us should be doing shit like that more often. We're so caught up in hustling because others have to that we forget that we're supposed to be farting around sometimes. Do you know how many festivals those Jews had? For entire weeks! Work hard but play hard!

    But you're right about the telling people to serve. Or having "service drives". That is tre` annoying.

  5. Zac on January 20, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    My question is; Is it ethical for a pastor to include time to write a novel in his work day?
    As long as his job doesn’t suffer (aka he doesn’t prepare a sermon because he spent too much time working on his novel).

    Or, is it an ethical use of my time, as a missionary, to, say, “invest” in my relationship with my husband by taking him to the movies at 3 o’clock on a weekday when we both have other things we could/should be doing. Is this ethical?

    Yes. Nobody expects you to work 24-7 (ok I am sure some people think that you should). If there is tension between you and El Chupacabra, that could hinder your ministry. You need time to yourselves and to invest in your family.

    Do we expect more from lay-servants than we do of paid servants? If yes, does that really make sense?

    It does make sense and I think the answer is that this varies from church to church. However, I also think that some lay-servants over commit and scoff at others who don't. Sort of like a peer pressure scenario. Others are used to make an example form the pulpit, "So and so, cleans the church every week and could use YOUR HELP."

    Not sure if that is these were the answers you were looking for, but don't ever feel guilty for going to the movies or enjoying your family. You have made a massive sacrifice (moving away from the comforts of America) that a lot of people can't comprehend nor want to.

  6. Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary on January 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Alex, i totally believe in a "Work Hard. Play Hard" lifestyle. My problem is that I don't see a lot of "work hard" going on amongst those of us who are in full-time ministry (support based or otherwise.) I LOVE the idea of partying for WEEKS and working like crazy the rest or the year. Can we PLEASE do THAT?!?!? 🙂

    Zac, I agree with using our time to wisely to create healthy family relationships. BUT, what I see regularly are people that abuse it, use it as an excuse, to NOT do their JOBS. No one else, in the world gets to do that! Nobody gets to say,"My kid wet his bed, so I'm taking the day off to 'invest' in him." You know what I mean. Except for full-time church workers. It's crazy!
    And you're right there is totally a flip side to this coin where you have pious volunteers whoring their services out for accolades from the congregation. But maybe that'll be a different post! Hmmm…

  7. Martin Frost on January 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    One night we were having an asado (meat fest) with some neighbours and I was wishing that everyone would just go home and let me get some decent sleep. Heck, I have work tomorrow. These affairs go on rather late here in Argentina.

    A few days later I was a good, busy, missionary, sufffering for the Gospel inside a prison, ministering to a friend. We just happened to be outside in the sun enjoying a lunch of fresh bread, cheese, meat, orange juice, olives etc., which I had brought in with me. (It was an open prison).

    You tell me what is work and what is play. I simply do not know anymore!

  8. Anonymous on January 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Well, to be totally honest with you… I happen to think that most status-quo families in the north-american (suburban – to specify) culture have an addiction to over-commiting, over-pressuring, over-working and over-scheduling their lives. I agree, some in ministry may abuse the "system," but others I think, maybe, have just gotten it right and focus on the right priorities in life, but it looks so counter cultural that it must not be ok…
    I happen to think that we (personally) balance out well… but, to be fair, I imagine that is what most people would say of themselves…

  9. Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary on January 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Martin – I think that's beautifully said, and maybe, ultimately, that is my question. What is ministry? What should "count" as work or not.

    Caroline, I see where you're coming from with north americans being overly busy. But, what I'm saying is that lots of people have all those commitments and still manage to put a lot of hours every week into a ministry. they don't call every little interaction they have with another human, or every time they check their email, "ministry", the way that some missionaries/pastors do.

    Also, my perspective is WAY different because I come from a non-ministry background. I wish it was a requirement that before someone works in full-time ministry they work in some secular professional capacity. The difference is astounding!!

  10. Kirk on January 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I don't know our Patoral/church staff schedules well enough to judge their productivity/effort level – even if I was disposed to do so. I do know one guy who works a very full schedule and still volunteers to do a lot…on the flip side, he & his wife are almost empty-nesters. Small or even teenage kids at home can take a lot of time & energy.

    Overcommitment has become an issue in my life and El Chupacabra himself gave me some very sage advice (that my wife will not let me forget – thanks, El Stib!)I love all the areas I serve in but probably do need to prioritize better.

    As Pastor Brad has talked about (and Hybels, et al at the Willow Leadership Summit)we all need to take time to fill up our bucket. I think you and Steve also need to do whatever you need to do to keep your marriage strong and your young men raised up right.

    Ramble enough for ya?

  11. Dad (while ducking thunderbolts) on January 20, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Okay, you asked. To me, the ethics of missionary work is kinda like being an ethical gigolo. Money changes hands and somebody gets screwed…although it can be very pleasurable for all parties, is it ethical?

    Now, if I was a Christian, and considering the same question of ethics, there would be no issue for me. Right or wrong would not be dictated by mankind, but instead, decided by a higher authority when judged someday for my Earthly choices. I suspect God puts some pretty heavy (or perhaps heavenly) weight on how you live your life…being a caring parent or loving spouse who invests time to sustain the covenants of family life…or would your God prefer his disciples to scamper around doing “good deeds” while neglecting the home hearth? I can only guess, since God and I haven’t talked since our argument, but I suspect he kinda supports family values. Then again, an old heathen might be completely out in left field, or right field, or…wait a minute, wasn’t there a movie about a bunch of baseball player angels? Maybe God wants you to become a baseball player…yeah, that’s it…all missionaries are supposed to be teaching baseball!

    Oh crap. You wouldn’t believe the huge thunder clap and burst of lightning (TRUE!!!) that just dimmed my lights and made my puter flicker. I better stop talking this way or…well, you know.

    Luvya, Dad

  12. Kacie on January 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Okay…. I gotta say… the Indonesians I grew up around probably wouldn't get this post at all. Because … your pre-ministry life is so very very AMERICAN. The West totally believes in the work-hard-play-hard mentality, but most of the rest of the world considers Americans trapped by the clock and by their calendars. Most of the world sees that life as taking away from the simple beautiful things like sitting and chatting with your neighbors or just chillin as a family.

    So… the very busiest and productive of Western missionaries that arrived in Indonesia soon grew to be very frustrated with the Indonesians …. because they seemed lazy. They weren't productive. On the other hand, missionaries that allowed themselves to slow and perhaps be less productive…. they ended up being the people that were the most loved and trusted by the Indonesians.

    So… yes… if you're in America, you deal with American culture. And yeah, you shouldn't be lazy. But don't you think some of the slowing that happens in church is simply to push back against the excesses of our culture and to delight in the moment, to allow the soul to rest and rejoice instead of be constantly DOING?

  13. Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary on January 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks Kacie for chiming in!! I so appreciate you perspective and honestly 100% agree with what you've shared. But (and I don't think I expressed myself very well 🙁 in this post) I'm talking about missionaries – and I know/have known many from all kinds of different cultural backgrounds – USING the word "ministry" to do whatever they want. Like, "I need to 'invest in my family' so I'm gonna stay home on Fridays." and then spending Fridays playing World of Warcraft.

    Do you know what I'm saying? Don't get me wrong – I am ALL ABOUT down time, and balance, and relationship!!! I LIVE for that stuff.

    I'm talking about paid ministry workers who take advantage of their and use it, and the word "ministry" in ways that maybe in fact do not minister to anyone.

    I dunno. I think I posted this prematurely. I need to think on it more.

    Thanks again for your input. Good stuff!!!

  14. Theo V. on January 21, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Here's my litmus test …

    If you can't come home (or just stop work if you work at home) and drink a beer and appreciate the beer and the rest then you haven't worked hard enough.

    If all you can do at work is think about going home and drinking beer you're working too hard.

    Example: building windmills with El Chupacabra… Bavaria Negra = so nice! Surfing the web all day while at work… Bavaria Negra = just something to do before dinner :-/

  15. Anonymous on January 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I think one of the uniqueness of being a missionary is the strange schedule. I might take off an occasional afternoon and go to a movie with my husband, and I don't feel I am being lazy. What is hard to quantify is the amount of time spent doing not "work", but that is work. I'm not talking about going to a softball game and chatting up Jesus. Such things are impossible where I work. But endless visitors. Almost every night of the week with people, drinking tea and visiting. Is that work? No, not really. It is not what we have to do at the office. It is above and beyond the normal stuff we have to do at "work". If we don't "work", then we have no reason to be here, and out we go. But "work" is not our purpose, not our work. So, here come the endless cups of tea. Then endless visiting. Building relationships.

    The other thing that is hard to quantify is the travel. People around us see our travel as "vacation" and wonder why we get so much time off. If only they knew what travel entails – long, long days, busy, busy, busy. And then we come home – not to a rest, but to catching up the work that piled up while we were gone.

    I don't know if it is different over on the other side of the world, but it seems like there is little to no down time. There is a doorbell, and it rings, and people know if we are home or not. So, "stealing" an hour at "work" to talk to friend, to read the news… it is not lazy… not when for three weeks, we've had people in our home… work people who had meetings until 12am, new believers who grilled me on questions while I cooked eggs in the morning, fellow missionaries who needed my help with medical questions… the list goes on.

    I'm tired. And I'm behind on my "work" that I need to keep up with because I'm so busy working.

  16. Rodger and Lynne on January 24, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Hi Jamie,

    Last sunday afternoon, I took my 13 year old to a movie after church, throwing caution to the wind because aren't missionaries supposed to work all day on sunday?

    Last Monday morning, I went back to bed after my son left for school.(for two whole hours)

    Last Thursday, my husband wisked me away for a quiet lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant.

    Why do I tell you this? Aren't I just proving your point…that 80% of full-time ministry people have such flexible schedules that we fail to have a work ethic?

    Perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned(quite PAINFULLY, I might add) in the last 2 years is this: most misunderstanding of people and their circumstances come not from what we see, but from what we don't see. I am severely lacking in graciousness with other people. Mostly because of what I don't see about their lives, therefore can't understand.

    In the "eye of the beholder", it looked like we were being very lazy last week.

    No one looking at us would know WHY we went to the movie on sunday afternoon, but we did it because movies only stay here for one week and 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon was the ONLY day we could make it work to see a movie we've been waiting to see.

    The unseen part is where we worked for 14-16 hours straight in the week prior. We also were looking ahead to the fact that we will be separated from each other for 5 days next week and will have a team from the U.S. with us for 2 weeks. After that team leaves, we'll have another team, then another…until May. The unseen part is where the "work" happens. In between taking care of these teams we are responsible for pastoring and caring for our 3 single and 2 families of colleagues, all new to this country…and mentoring those trying to learn how to successfully run our egg farm. Between all those other times are the hours spent sitting with people, listening to their hearts. Last night, in the time normally reserved for family, my husband sat on our front step and held a 16 year old boy who has never known his father as he sobbed his heart out because he feels so alone and abandoned.

    and sometimes, we just need to "run away" for a few hours so we can stay sane.

    I agree that, in our context, I sometimes look at other missionaries and wonder just WHAT it is they actually DO. Then, i stop and consider that there is SO much about their lives that I don't see.

    We've had it both ways: worked a "normal" job and served in our church "on the side". We've done full time ministry, both in the States and here in Mozambique for the last 7 years. If I wanted an easier life, I would go back to working a normal job. The stress and heartbreak of the full time ministry life far exceeds anything I ever experienced in my years of normalcy. If it weren't for the strong compelling of the Holy spirit to push through the rough times for occasional bursts of joy at seeing lives transformed by God, I'd be outta here…

  17. Carrie on January 24, 2010 at 4:22 am

    I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand I think that many in FTM are lazy and living off the church's dime. On the other, I feel that being in FTM can be excessively hard and that one MUST take time for such things.

    As missionaries, our schedule is non-existent (well, that's not exactly true. We have a rough schedule—it just doesn't really work). Today for example—my Love usually goes to three churches–gone by 11 and home by 8ish. That is in addition to his daily morning prayer meeting in our village. But today is much different. The temps are -25C and snow drifts are a meter and a half deep. He walked to prayer meeting and couldn't drive to the store.

    BUT, a woman in a church he goes to on Saturdays died.

    He planned on spending a snow day at home with the family (because he has to eat up whatever time he gets). But as plans go, they were changed. Instead he bundled up, put on the snow chains, and is trying to get to a funeral. He will even help dig the grave through the icy, frozen earth. He will be there well into the night, singing hymns and praying with the church and family.

    While he is there, he will listen as everyone in that village tells him that they have no firewood, no bread, and that their children are naked. He will carry that with him because resources are limited.

    When he comes home, drained and burdened at the same time, he should not be begrudged of any downtime he may use, listening to Bon Jovi on the mp3.


  18. Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary on January 24, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the honest input from each of you, Anonymous, Lynne, and Carrie. You've each said things that truly resonate with me. And I appreciate how each of you has put the messy, unbalanced world of missions into words.

    I,m so glad that you took the time to comment!! It's helped me immensely. Thanks!

  19. Chris and Brook Cortte on June 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    VERY interesting and thought provoking….

    I see things from several different points:

    – I do think that our pastors need to encourage the congregation to step in and serve. They need to ask for help because there is only so much they can do and we are called to work together as a body of Christ. And we all need to serve…it is good for us and God asks us to…that is why he gave us all gifts.

    – I do think that everyone is responsible for their own boundaries. We shouldn't just say that those working secular jobs shouldn't be asked to serve because they don't get paid to do it. I think everyone needs to set their own personal margins allowing them to have a job, healthy family and some time to serve (granted I'm not saying they should be expected to give nearly the time that a staff member does.)

    – If those being paid to do ministry are being lazy then they will in the end take that up with God…but I just keep thinking of Mary and Martha. Jesus was at his core, relational! Living in America I think we don't see the value of relationships as even coming close to the value of work.

    Well…these are my thoughts but this definitely has me thinking, and will continue to. Thanks for posting!

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