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A quick note on how we talk about ‘full-time vocational ministry’

“Being a doctor is just delaying people’s deaths.”

Have you heard this line before? It’s an argument used to encourage people into full-time vocational ministry.  The idea is that medicine isn’t worth doing because everyone eventually dies and ministry is more valuable because it lasts into eternity.

That sounds like a fine logical argument. But I don’t think it’s right.

Because it’s not how Jesus acted when he was on earth in the first century nor how he acts today. This is the God who gives each person each day, who upholds you by his powerful hand, who knows every blood cell and neuron.

Jesus is creator not just saviour. This gives medicine and healing professions great dignity. It makes them worthwhile.

I’m passionate about seeing the right people encouraged into vocational ministry but even that term creates an unnatural divide. There’s a sacredness to the professions as well, a following in Christ’s footsteps.

Categories: Bits Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

4 replies

  1. I’m still thinking through this whole topic, so if you don’t mind I might dive into this one!

    This is different to the social justice vs evangelism debate. We agree that neither is optional, and I’ll assume we agree that the two are not equal, and, as William Taylor put it, we live in the age of proclamation.

    You’re posing the question – is medicine ‘worthwhile’? And you feel that this quote is suggesting it is not worthwhile as a profession.

    I’m not sure it’s actually saying that though.

    My face-value paraphrase of what the quote is trying to say would be: “open your eyes! physical healing is only temporary at best and won’t solve the worlds problems. the gospel is the real vaccine and the one way to heal death!”

    (excuse my liberty in paraphrasing).

    You state: “The idea is that medicine isn’t worth doing because everyone eventually dies and ministry is more valuable because it lasts into eternity.”

    I’m just not sure the quote itself contains the idea that medicine “isnt worth doing”.

    Rather, it’s trying to remind people (eg. young med students in particular I assume) that medicine, in the long run, is not much different to most other professions.

    It is certainly necessary and as much “worth doing” as any profession. We need doctors in the here and now just like we need electricians and garbage collectors and politicians.

    But we live in the last days. God is patiently waiting for more to repent. And so *every Christian*, no matter what our profession, is hoping and praying that more will be saved. And because it is the gospel *message* that brings salvation, we focus our time, effort, and money towards doing all we can to help people hear and understand the gospel message.

    The individuals who are free’d up to do gospel ministry full-time are no more valuable in God’s eyes than the garbage man.

    But the *task* and *function* of gospel ministry can achieve much greater good than garbage collecting (or medicine) can.

    We recognise this already – it’s why we send missionaries to preach and teach.

    So, having written all the above, I now think I’d be comfortable using that line myself! I’d use it cautiously, and I would particularly use it to correct those who have an elevated view of Med as the holy grail of professions.

    I think the basic reason lines like this can be taken negatively is our cultural belief that our function in life determines our value. Eg. if I am fulfilling the function of a platform speaker, I am valuable. And if I am fulfilling the function of a stay-at-home-mum or a garbage cleaner, I have little value.

    But we know that in God’s world (1Cor 12-14) the body has many parts. All are *valued*, and none is ‘better’ than the other. But some parts of the body perform functions of greater importance.

    Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts for the evening. I’m still in the process of thinking through the right language to express these different ideas around work and ministry.

    Keen to hear your response?

    Blessings,
    Sam.

    1. Hi Sam

      I absolutely agree with your point about “function”… But doesn’t the “gospel ministry is the ultimate path” trope fall prey to this very problem?

      My question would be: if there’s one role that’s central/primary/essential, and that one role is “proclamation”, then how does that go together with a robust understanding of the body in all its diversity?

      We hope to be writing more about these things in the months and years to come! But you can catch a few more of my thoughts here.

      Cheers

  2. Hey Sam

    I won’t say NTE didn’t prompt this post! ;)

    I think your comment about the holy grail of professions is a good one. I take the point that many go into med because of the status/money/whatever, and certainly we want to discourage that.

    But I wonder whether we present *ministry* as the holy grail of professions? Like, our language takes the elevated view of med and replaces it with ministry rather than getting stuck into the ‘body’ stuff.

  3. @Tamie – I’d agree that elevating FTPM is a danger. Are there other ways you’ve seen or felt that?

    (I’m just not getting it so much from this quote along)

    @Arthur – maybe I’ll wait for the rest of your articles.

    I think rather than focus on roles or vocations, the focus should be more on how do we maximise our gospel opportunities.

    Eg. the right type of personality in the right ‘secular’ job may have far more gospel opportunities, and bring more people to Christ, than many ministers!

    So the focus is not on the vocation or role *per se*, but the activity.

    I know you still wanna tease out this words v deeds distinction, but I think it’s important to at least capture this emphasis.

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