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Bible Degree But No Ministry: Lessons from the Secular Work Force

When I was a student at West Coast Baptist College, I never thought I would graduate college with my ministerial degree and then go work in the secular world. As a Bible college student, ministry is drilled into your head. The thought of working in a church consumes your mind and the idea of not working at a church Monday through Friday seems absurd.

Nonetheless, I will never forget my first day at my new job after my college graduation. I didn’t work in a church or even a Christian school. Frankly, it was hardly even a Christian environment. I received a promotion at the bank I worked for through college. It was a great job and my then fiancé and I decided, after much prayer, that it was the best move for us.

I really wasn’t looking forward to it. I desired to work for a church. I wanted to get into the ministry. I wanted to do the thing that God has called me to do. I felt like was a failure. I felt like maybe I had “fallen out of God’s Will.” I felt discontent because I wasn’t working for a church.

I can remember feeling low and defeated at times. But, as I came to understand, this was exactly where God wanted me. Looking back, I see that God used that time as an opportunity to teach me some important lessons. I know I was not the only one that graduated from Bible College and worked secularly. I feel as if I continue hearing more and more about various Bible college students working secularly. Why that is the case could probably be argued – but that is not my point. As someone who has been there, I want to share some things that God taught me during my time through working in the secular work force.

Working secularly doesn’t mean that God is done with you.

This is probably the greatest thought I struggled with. I often wondered if I should give up on looking for a ministry and just focus on my career. The longer I was employed at my bank, the more successful I became. As I continued on a fast track to upper management, I began to worry whether or not I truly was meant to work in the ministry. The anxiety of not finding the right church only added to my confusion.

My hunger to find the right path for my life caused me to seek a lot of counsel and to study the Bible more deeply. This helped me see what God’s will really is. I realized that just because I worked at a bank Monday through Friday did not mean that God was through using me. God has a plan for my life and He has one for yours. No matter where you work or how old you are, God has a plan for you.

God’s will isn’t always about where you are presently, but where you are willing to go.

People who work full time in the “ministry” are not necessarily better or better-off than you are.

One day during this period in my life, a student from my alma mater contacted me. He was doing some work for the college and had called to get information regarding the church I was attending and serving in. I was able to help him, but through the course of the conversation I told him that I wasn’t working in that ministry. He reacted with belittlement, frustrated that he had “wasted” his time with someone who wasn’t actually working for a church. I felt very discouraged after that conversation, but I thank God that He has given me such an encouraging wife and uplifting friends who helped me and encouraged me.

People in ministry are not immune to marital struggle, tight finances, and broken lives. Stresses and temptations of finances and immorality from the world are not limited to only the secular workforce. No matter where we work, each of us is still a sinner that must depend on God every day.

I believe that God richly blessed me with the job I had. My life was filled with way more than I deserved. My job allowed me the funds to have a great start to my marriage and extra time to spend with my new wife. This great job was exactly what I needed, and God knew that.

It’s easy to think that your life is worthless, but that’s not how God calls us to live. He wants us to be thankful and grateful for the life He has given. I wasn’t always that way while I was going through it, but looking back I am so grateful for everything God let me experience.

There is always time to serve.

One thing I realized while working secularly is how much effort it takes to serve in a church. I also realized how rewarding can be. Something feels different when you serve in a church and no one is forcing you to do it. This kind of serving our Lord is rewarding in so many ways.

I realized that just because the church wasn’t paying me didn’t mean I couldn’t serve. I loved the pastor at my church. He was the exact pastor I needed at that stage in my life. He helped me to really get involved even though I wasn’t on staff. He didn’t look down on me but rather lifted me up. Because of that I had the great opportunity to work with some awesome teens in the youth group. Ministry is not about gathering paychecks from a church. It is about helping people grow spiritually. If you learn to think about ministry that way, you will realize your occupation doesn’t determine if you’re in the ministry.

Hard work and professionalism will carry you where talents cannot.

One thing I learned from my job is how important hard work and professionalism are. Those two things are the pillars to a productive work environment. I believe that if you don’t have these two attributes then you cannot perform effectively in any work environment, whether it is at a church or at a bank.

You may not always have the talents but you can always learn. Hard work can carry you farther in business than talent can. At the end of the day, hard work, endurance, and determination will get the job done and the projects finished. Talent will always impress people, but talent without hard work will always fall short because of an undisciplined individual.

I believe I really learned how to work hard and to work efficiently at my job. Working for a ministry is hard work and requires organization and professionalism. You don’t just wake up and have a youth conference or a plan for a building expansion put together. It takes work.

Things that you learn in your job can (and probably should) be applied to ministry.

A mentor of mine helped me realize this aspect. He helped me understand that since I worked for a bank I would be learning many financial terms and processes that would help me later on in my life and the ministry.

I believe that this can be applied to every secular job. Whether it is being a cook or being a salesman, God has something that he wants you to learn in your job now that you will be able to use to help people later in the ministry.

You can reach people with the Gospel that others cannot.

One awesome thing I realized while working secularly is that there are people I could reach that no one else from my church could. To some of my co-workers, I was one of a few “Christians” they knew.

It can be hard to witness in a work environment because most companies will not allow proselytizing during working hours. Nonetheless, this does not completely eliminate the opportunity to invite people to church or to share the gospel with them. I realized God placed me where I was for a reason. One of those reasons was to attempt to be a light in a dark world.

Establish proper priorities.

The final lesson I learned was to be sure I had established proper priorities. The world is a hectic place. If priorities are not established, then valuable aspects of life will fall by the wayside.

I learned that the most important relationship in my life was not with my job or to my church, but to my God and to my wife. Christ died so that we could have a real relationship with the Heavenly Father, therefore it would be tragic of us to place other things in a higher priority than that relationship. The Bible calls that idolatry. God doesn’t want us to misplace our priorities when it comes to our spouses and He certainly is displeased when we misplace our priorities when it comes to Him.

Looking back at it all, working a secular job was the best thing I could have done at that time in my life. God always has a plan and He always has something for us to learn.  God is faithful and He will not withhold anything good from those that follow Him.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. – Psalms 84:11