Fifteen years ago, when I was in my mid-thirties, I began to struggle with something I didn’t expect. I began to have to fight against the selfish desire for greater wealth and influence born of seeing some of my peers begin to experience real success in their respective careers.
One example was that of David T. Mitchell, III. Dave lived in the dorm room across from me my freshman year at college. He was what most would call a prodigy, entering college at the age of sixteen on a 3/2 program designed to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years and a masters in two more after that. Needless to say, Dave was intelligent and had already earned a Master’s in Computer Engineering and Technology by the age of 21. Several years later I heard from him. He sent me an email to tell me that he had gotten married and that he had just had his first child, a beautiful daughter. He even sent me a picture.
Microsoft and the Future Leaders of America
It turns out that Dave was working for Microsoft in Boston and at the age of 32 was making relatively large amounts of money. The irony of all this, though, is that for all of his money and success in the eyes of the world, Dave was not a Christian and had none of the true joy that comes from a relationship with the living God of the universe. And still, I envied him. I envied his intelligence, his acquisition of the “good life,” complete with wealth, influence, and a family.
But a life such as Dave’s could easily be a reminder that family, fame, and fortune are no match for freedom through faith in Christ. Still, what of the many Christian friends who surrounded me and were seeing their own careers blossom with the success of these things in addition to knowing Jesus Christ and having the confidence and security of eternal life with Him after death?
What was I to make of the many friends I knew who were “successful” Christian lawyers, financial advisors, engineers, architects, contractors, and even professors, who may not have had quite so much money, but certainly had influence? How was I to evaluate these current and future leaders and wealth brokers of the new global culture who were my age and were also committed believers? Indeed, what was I supposed to make of them?
Real-life Reality Checks
At this point, it became clear that the ten to fifteen year mark of being on staff with a Christian ministry like Cru is almost always a soul-searching time, and I was no exception. Most of the people I had joined staff with were either in leadership positions or for various reasons had already left the organization. Many went on to other ministries, some entered the pastorate, a few went back to school, while others pursued secular careers.
As they age, there are certain reality checks that face full-time members of Christian organizations. Their marketability for most jobs in the secular workplace diminishes. They not only have to make long-term choices concerning what kind of work they are realistically locking themselves into for the rest of their lives, the types of ministry that can be done must often be rethought and reevaluated. Frequently this redirection takes them away from more “spectacular” direct ministry opportunities into more shepherding roles that don’t always produce such clearly “quantifiable” results. Sometimes prayer letters become less dramatic because the results are not always obvious and are measured in years of sustained maturity and slowly growing influence rather than in daily or weekly numbers of converts.
Financially, many who have supported the minister for years are beginning to retire, forcing them to reduce or discontinue their support. Others face the challenge of raising families of their own and can no longer afford to support outside missionaries or agencies. And these realities arise just as full-time Christian workers begin to face their own ever-growing financial burden of supporting and raising a family.
In writing these realities, I am not seeking sympathy for myself or anyone else in full-time ministry. They are simply the issues that most supported ministers my age have had to repeatedly grapple with.
Is this worth it?
Personally, I have been forced to wrestle with questions like: Am I really committed to the prospect of being in full-time ministry for the rest of my life? Am I willing to live on a relatively low salary for the rest of my life, one that depends upon God’s provision through the constant struggle of raising support? And am I willing to subject myself and my family to the criticisms, pressures, and spiritual battles that full-time ministry often includes? Am I sure all of this is worth it? If I’m honest, it has been tempting at times to answer “no” to these questions; to say, “forget it,” and leave the ministry altogether.
God, however, has reminded me again and again that what matters most are not the things, the titles, and the treasures of this life. Rather, what matters most is my faithfulness to Him and to the life and ministry to which I am called. Until further notice, He has commissioned me to serve Him and His people long-term through the organization of Cru, most recently in Singapore at the East Asia School of Theology.
At the end of the day, I can honestly say that I would rather be a poor peasant in the will of God than a prominent prince on the outside of it. God never promised me an easy life, but He did promise to abide with me if I follow hard after Him. And when I lay my head down in the dust for the very last time, it will no longer matter what titles I held, how much money I made, spent, and saved. It will not matter how famous I was inside or outside the church. All that will matter is whether or not I loved God and followed the plan He gave me to obey. And all that I want to hear after death are those precious words from the mouth of my Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” Hearing that from Him will be the one thing—the only thing—that really matters then.
Thanks for this. I can certainly relate.
Yes Professor Winkler! I am going on to my 16th year with Cru and this season has been a really stretching time. Thank you for writing this, if anything it serves to remind me my questions aren’t weird.