My day job is all about career development. I help people achieve their goals by analysing their skills, providing development training, and arranging targeted job interviews. It is satisfying to help people grow their careers, achieve their objectives, and increase their pay packets.

Ministry: A career?

However, I have previously spent time in paid pastoral ministry. One thought that vexes me is “Is appropriate to consider pastoral care a career?” Should not serving the Lord be a call? However, from a structural standpoint, there are pecking orders and job pathways in Christian organisations. Consider progression from deacon/youth worker to elder/pastor to senior pastor. Alternatively, pastors are often recognised and paid more based on the size of their church membership or the number of church staff they oversee.

God tells us that if someone desires the office of an elder, they desire a good thing. So, I am comfortable with the concept of growing ministry responsibility based on the leadership gifts that the Lord provides. However, one of the qualifications for a pastor is that he must not be motivated by money or greed. Therefore, the modern practice of desiring ministry career progression can seem somewhat incompatible with following the Lord’s calling into ministry. Does that mean all pastors should be paid the same amount regardless?

Ministry: A call?

If someone seeks to enter full-time paid ministry, part of the common ordination processes is verification of a calling on their life. This is often done after one graduates from Bible college or after demonstration of certain gifting or skills.

However, if going into ministry is a calling and not a career choice, then should it follow that entering pastoral work is a one-way call? From a spiritual standpoint, I have seen plenty of people laud praise when a talent vocational Christian changes tack and enters paid ministry or missionary work. The Lord’s call is celebrated. But what about when someone leaves paid ministry for vocational employment? If someone leaves the pastorate to work in the secular world, have they necessarily abandoned the calling?

The whole concept of ministry is confused in the modern day church. Why do we place unique values on dedicated ministry compared to vocational ministry?

I suspect that the above questions often haunt our ministers and in particular our bi-vocational and part time ministers.

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About Jeremy Crooks

Jeremy grew up in Sydney Australia. He has tertiary qualifications in business, training, and Bible. With experience in both church ministry and corporate human resources, Jeremy has a strong interest in how faith is demonstrated in our homes and workplaces. You can contact Jeremy at


  1. Steve 25 November, 2011 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Perhaps I’m not reading it right but is your question about full time paid pastoral ministry versus part time, unpaid, and/or lay ministry?

    In that case, a full time pastor usually has more responsibility than a lay preacher, or a part time pastor, and is usually able to minister more effectively as well. Therefore the full time pastor deserves to be paid for his ministry, so that he can support his family, pay the bills, buy a house, etc.

    Some people are called to full time ministry, some to part time, that is fine and not unbiblical. I think the scripture in Timothy about double honour to those who rule well applies here. They have more responsibility and so ought to be recognised by the church where they serve.

  2. Jason Harris 25 November, 2011 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    I think pastoral ministry is a calling, and may ALSO be a career for some. But if the biblical pattern is a plurality of pastors, then we can guess that most pastors will not be paid full time.

  3. PJ 25 November, 2011 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    @Steve – Agree.

    @Jason – agree, but I would see a plurality of elders, with one elder taking the majority of the teaching and hence being the ‘teaching elder’ or ‘bishop’ – this is the role we usually refer to as ‘pastor’ in our independent churches. I believe if a congregation has the financial means it is in their best interests to have a paid full-time pastor (and it’s Biblical! – e.g. I Cor 9:13-14)

  4. Jason Harris 25 November, 2011 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    @PJ, Do you see a difference in role between the terms pastor/elder/bishop in the NT?

    I have observed that we do tend to call one of our elders “pastor,” but I wonder whether this stems from any biblical distinction…

    Fully, 100% agreed that if a pastor works full time for a church, he should be paid full time by the church. At a level appropriate to his professional training.

  5. Jane Gibb 25 November, 2011 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    “Why do we place unique values on dedicated ministry compared to vocational ministry?”

    Good question. Can’t a secular career also be a calling? In fundamental circles we have given the impression that “full-time” ministry is a more spiritual calling than secular employment. But if God has directed a person to the business world rather than “dedicated ministry”, then God’s purpose for that person’s life is just as valid, just as sacred, as the man standing behind the pulpit on Sunday morning. I don’t think most of us mean to demean the man who works a “regular” job, but we sometimes imply it by our emphasis on “calling” being church ministry only. Let’s face it: those of us in paid full-time ministry couldn’t be paid without the guy driving the forklift and the woman behind the corporate desk doing their part. And who has greater “rub” with the unsaved, and therefore more opportunity to be salt and light? Isn’t it those who labour at secular employment? If by “career” we mean the kind of work we choose for our lives, then “calling” could be applied to the overarching reason for that career–how God has placed me to be part of His kingdom purposes every day. That applies to both “paid, full-time” ministry careers as well as secular careers.

  6. PJ 26 November, 2011 at 9:27 am - Reply

    @Jane – wholeheartedly agree – there is no distinction in God’s economy between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ service. “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh…for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:22,24)

    @Jason – Yes I do see a small, yet significant difference in role between the terms pastor/elder/bishop in the NT. (Though I do think that the NT teaching on this is open to a number of legitimate interpretations and applications.)

    I think the difference in role mainly has to do with the role of the ‘bishop.’ I believe there is to be a plurality of elders, but it seems to me that there is one elder who has the ‘final say’ in spiritual matters, one who is the leader among the elders. That elder is the bishop and the primary example of this is James in Acts 15 – “Wherefore my sentence is…” (v.19).It is also probably true that Timothy was ‘bishop’ in the church at Ephesus for a time and perhaps Apollos at Corinth.

    Early church history bears out there were ‘bishops’ in various churches and cities that were the leaders. Unfortunately in the development of church polity the role of bishop became something more than intended in the Scriptures and so we have the ‘episcopally’ governed Roman and Eastern churches that have elevated the role of bishop and downplayed or removed the Biblical concept of a plurality of elders. They vested authority in bishops that the NT clearly does not.

    I think in our independent churches – the pastor is really the bishop – the chief overseer, first among the plurality of elders, and I have no problem with that, I think that follows the Biblical pattern.

    The word ‘pastor’ refers more to what the man does than to his office or position and I think we use the term ‘pastor’ rather than ‘bishop’ to differentiate our churches from the Roman, Eastern and Anglican churches. (I hope that all makes sense!)

  7. Jason Harris 26 November, 2011 at 11:40 am - Reply


    Thanks for the response. That’s an interesting perspective because it endorses the status quo within many independent churches (a status quo that typically rejects plurality of elders), but does so within the context of believing in a plurality of elders… unless you consider having an assistant/associate/youth/music pastor a plurality of elders (which I don’t).

    I’m interested in how you see accountability in relation to bishops… what is to stop them from becoming “dictators”?

    Also, how do you reconcile the differentiation of these roles with 1 Peter 5:1-2 which seems to indicate that all elders are to pastor and oversee/bishop?

  8. PJ 26 November, 2011 at 12:17 pm - Reply


    I believe that all ‘pastors’ must be elders – that is, they must be spiritually mature men and usually, but not always mature in years. So I would differ with you on that point. I think anyone who is going to ‘oversee’ – i.e. do the work of a bishop, needs to be a spiritually mature man.

    I also believe that a church can have elders who have not undertaken formal theological training and therefore have not been ‘ordained’ into the ministry. Their focus would be more on oversight and on advising than on teaching, though they do need to be able to teach when required.

    As I said, I think there is a the pattern in the NT and in early church history for a ‘bishop’ who is usually the teaching elder and who is ‘first among the elders.’ If the eldership is unable to come to a decision on a matter, they would defer to the ‘bishop’- just as the Jerusalem Council deferred to James.

    As to “accountability in relation to bishops”…this is where congregational government comes in. Every assembly of Believers will come to their own decisions about how they do this, but I believe that the congregation should appoint their elders and bishops/pastors. There also ought to be some mechanism for the congregation to review the performance of their leaders and remove them if necessary.

    This interface between the congregation and the eldership is the tricky part and every church will manage it in a different way…but that’s the beauty of independency!

  9. Jason Harris 26 November, 2011 at 12:44 pm - Reply


    Actually, we may agree on this point. I think that often the assistant/associate/youth/music pastor is just a title for someone who is actually just staff… in other words, not an elder with the full qualifications who is answerable to the body, but part of the pastor’s personal employed staff and answerable solely to the pastor. And I don’t think this is biblical. I’d much rather see an “elder for music” or “elder for youth” than the typical approach.

    Regarding your second paragraph, I would think of this as an “elder for administration” or whatever term we might want to give it.

    I’m wary of the pattern of the NT church as you interpret it here in that your interpretation of Acts 15 is what led directly to the abuses of the Roman system. Which takes me back to Acts 15… the ESV translates v. 19 as “Therefore my judgement is that…” In other words, it seems to me that James is summarising and concluding by giving his understanding of the emerging consensus… something that v. 22 seems to support: “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent…” It was not James who sent the conclusion… it was the apostles, the elders, and the whole church.

    I appreciate your comments on congregational government in relation to accountability. That seems to me to be the biblical pattern.

  10. PJ 26 November, 2011 at 1:06 pm - Reply


    I agree about the abuses of the Roman system. The problem sprang probably from the church’s beliefs about apostolic succession rather than from anything inherently wrong with the role of bishop as we see it in the early church. I’m not such a student of church history to be able to pinpoint exactly when the church started to go awry in the authority it vested in bishops – but it is true that we owe an awful lot to the councils of bishops in the first four or five centuries of the church.

    I grant you that in Acts 15 James may have been summarising what was the consensus as he perceived it to be. But I still think that his was the final or determining voice, or at the very least the voice with the most weight in the discussion.

    And this has been a great discussion. Many thanks.

    PS. Are you the ‘pastor’, ‘elder’ or ‘bishop’ of InFocus?

  11. PJ 26 November, 2011 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Also just a side-note re: James, its interesting how he is referred to in Acts 12:17; 21:18; I Corinthians 15:7 and Galatians 2:12. These references seem to suggest some kind of leadership among the elders and apostles in the church at Jerusalem.

    What do you think?

  12. Jason Harris 26 November, 2011 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    It seems to me that your view of bishops would necessarily lead to an episcopal system where one bishop has leadership among elders from different churches. The Jerusalem Council was, after all, a meeting of elders from multiple churches in my understanding, and seems to hold authority over churches in Asia Minor (which were perhaps represented by Paul?). I don’t know… I’m pushing the limits of my knowledge here I suppose… but it seems a dangerous interpretive road to travel…

    Regarding those other passages, I’m uncertain as to whether 1 Corinthians 15:7 refers to James the brother of Jesus or James the disciple of Jesus… But granted, James (the brother of Jesus) was clearly a key leader in the church at Jerusalem. Ultimately, I suspect one’s systematic theology in this area would determine one’s understanding of these narrative comments.

    Yes, good discussion. Thank you.

    PS: Nope. I’m just a humble dictator here. =P

  13. Jeremy 26 November, 2011 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    “Can’t a secular career also be a calling? In fundamental circles we have given the impression that “full-time” ministry is a more spiritual calling than secular employment. But if God has directed a person to the business world rather than “dedicated ministry”, then God’s purpose for that person’s life is just as valid, just as sacred, as the man standing behind the pulpit on Sunday morning”

    @ Jane: You have correctly identified a problem line of thinking. I recall when I was at a large liberal arts Christian university, that a guest pastor came and spoke forcefully at chapel. He derided those studying ‘criminal justice’ and said they should all change majors and study ‘bible’ because the world’s biggest need was for more preachers. His strong proclamation was never corrected. That expression typified the veneration of the ‘man of God’ above all other professions. I remember thinking that ‘I want God’s best for my life – therefore I have to seek full time ministry’ It was warped thinking that stemmed from false values promoted by fundamentalist preachers.

    My view has changed to be that ‘the best career for anyone is the one God has ‘called you to’. Whether that be a car mechanic, writer etc. You said it well when you defined them as equally sacred as the pastorate.

  14. Jeremy 26 November, 2011 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    PS. Are you the ‘pastor’, ‘elder’ or ‘bishop’ of InFocus?

    @ PJ Not that I want to take this thread too far off track, but ‘Do you consider In Focus a church’? Serious question.

  15. PJ 26 November, 2011 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    @Jeremy – No.

    (And if you’re asking whether an online community of Believers can be a ‘church’ or substitute for church, I would also say no…Now we’re definitely getting off track!)

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