Is Ministry Work More Difficult?

Full-time ministry work is harder. 

It’s a greater sacrifice. 

It’s more difficult on your family. 

I often hear these sentiments either in word or in attitude suggesting that ministry work is more demanding than the average job.

Frankly, I don’t believe it’s true.

In fact, I think it’s a dangerous lie that sabotages ministry workers and distracts us from actually being as effective as we could be.  It’s a lie that lulls us into laziness, complacency and mediocrity.

I worked 9 years in corporate America before spending the last 6 years in full-time ministry.  They have both been hard.  I’ve shed tears at both.  I’ve been frustrated, offended, disappointed, hurt, angry, over-worked and under-appreciated in doing both.  I’ve spent countless long days and many nights away from home in both types of work.  I’ve apologized to my husband for doing work at home more times that I would like to admit.

If how you earn your paycheck is through full-time ministry work, it’s supposed to be hard.  By it’s very nature it’s work.  I would have loved to have overheard the conversation between Adam and Eve after The Fall when they had to go to work.  Gone were the days of frolicking naked in the garden.  I’m pretty sure it was nothing short of back-breaking work that they encountered.

My point is that we as ministry workers need to be careful about how we perceive and portray the work we do.

Yes, it’s difficult.

Yes, it’s exhausting.

It’s very relationally and emotionally charged.

It’s a very personal passion and conviction.

But that doesn’t make it better or more difficult than someone else’s calling.

Guard yourself against the arrogant assumption that ministry work is more difficult work.  Your false perception may be the very thing that hinders you from doing what you’re really called to do.

What do you think?  Is ministry work more difficult?

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  • peterhamm November 16, 2011  

    I’ve also spent a lot of time in both. You are right. It’s not harder. It’s the same.

  • Alex Penduck November 16, 2011  

    Been in both and totally agree, suppose it all depends on who you are working for. Must admit though that being a Lead Pastor is way harder than an other ministry job I’ve done. I asked my Dad who has been a Pastor for 40 years if ministry is harder today than it use to be and he said it is so much harder today than it was even 10 years ago

  • Kevin Owens November 16, 2011  

    Great post that I wish all those in full-time ministry would read…

    I believe you are correct that ministry work in not harder and that believing it is can hinder one’s true calling. The kind of mindset that says Ministry work is harder can also lead to an under-appreciation of the volunteers that make the ministry run. I have served in a part-time paid ministry position, and have spent many years in numerous volunteer leadership capacities in ministry, and have seen it all too often.

    Those in full-time ministry sometimes forget that their volunteers spent 40, 50, maybe 60 or more hours in their full-time “secular” jobs before coming to volunteer in some capacity for 1, 2, 3, 4, maybe more, services on a weekend. Or as a small group leader. Or in creative arts. Or in student ministry. Or sometimes all of the above. These volunteers give up precious “time off” to serve in ministries they value and believe in.

    In my opinion, the arrogant assumption that ministry work is more difficult is an affront to the very people you need, as a full-time paid minister, to make your ministry successful.

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Kevin, this is so true.  It’s so important to understand how the volunteers we lead are sacrificing for ministry too.

  • Cindy Beall November 16, 2011  

    I agree with you. I remember may days of teaching elementary aged children. Man, those were tough. Tougher at times that what I do now. Teaching is a different kind of “full-time ministry”. But, for the last 14 years, all my husband and I have known is full-time vocational ministry. And it’s been hard and easy and devastating and amazing all at the same time.

    Great post, Jenni! Thanks for the reminder to watch our arrogance level.

  • Andy Depuy November 16, 2011  

    To me working in the ministry is more fun and it isn’t hard at all, cause you are doing something you been called to do. I wish I was working in the ministry. The corporate working world is harder cause people always want something that you can’t give them. Working for God’s ministry is fun cause the only thing God wants is your very best. Has a volunteer working for a ministry I’m more than proud to work for them,cause I look at this way I got the greatest boss in the world,He understands and is there to listen. So to me working for God is more fun than anything i can imageing

  • Jenn November 16, 2011  

    Thank you for “calling us out.”  It’s often tempting to quote the high stress levels and burn-out rates of ministry, but the truth is any work we do that we care about ought to cost us something and take a toll – albeit a toll that’s well worth it.  I can’t personally compare b/c I’ve only ever done full-time ministry but I talk to my sister who’s in corporate America all the time and we have the same stories and frustrations to tell.

    I needed to hear this much as I needed to hear Andy Stanley remind us at Catalyst that we shouldn’t use our inability to connect with everyone as an excuse to become less accessible than we actually are.

    Love following your stuff!

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Thanks Jenn!

  • Aaron Conrad November 16, 2011  

    Great post Jenni. I think one of the great challenges with ministry work is people. I know we work with people in Corporate America, but it’s as if there is an expectation that the treatment I get at “work” will be different from that I get in Church. It’s as if there is a belief that the Church should handle conflict, personnel decisions, org chart and leadership different. In some ways,they should. Yet there are times when we must make the tough call, tough decision and have tough conversations.

    One other great challenge is that Corporate America doesn’t need to be all things for all people and all ideas to be heard. You “know your role” at your employer. You know the DNA of the organization and most don’t have an open door policy (though they say they will). The Church is different. Right or wrong, most people feel that if they attend on Sunday, they can voice their pleasure, or displeasure (the displeasure camp is always louder). They want their ideas, programs, plans to be heard and acted upon by the church. If they aren’t then they feel shorted. It’s messy. 

    I know you know this. But I think all of these things make it harder in ministry. In Corporate America, there’s a manual and a code. The Church is so open and walks such a fine line. That’s why I admire leaders like you and churches like Cross Point that can find that balance and lead for other churches to do the same. 

    Sorry for the length. Great post. 

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Great thoughts Aaron.  Thanks for reading and chiming in!

  • Norman Prather November 16, 2011  

    Depends entirely on the setting. Ministry has been both more fun and more painful, easier and much more difficult, energizing and draining. People have looked at me in ways they should not, I am neither saint nor icon neither am I capable of miracles on demand.  I can teach, I can pray, I can stand with you but I cannot stand in your place. 

    I’ve been bullied and abused. In the end it was much more painful, much more difficult and nearly killed me. I did not like it when other’s spoke of ministry has more difficult, because I did not want to be on a pedestal nor did I want them undermining their own work. 

    There may be a “simple” answer to your question, sadly what you will generally hear are the simplistic ones.

  • Jonathan Alexander November 16, 2011  

    thanks jenni… perhaps the reason why ministry leaders think they’re leadership is more difficult is that we don’t help marketplace leaders realize their sacred calling in the marketplace. we confine “ministry” to the realm of church… vs. every leader leading and loving for the good of the world. every Christ follower should feel the “relentless burden of the ultimate” whether we’re pastoring a church or leading a company. because ultimately, every organization is to be about people.

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Jonathan, this is so true!  All believers are called to minister to the people they have influence with.  I think sometimes we fail to put enough importance on the Christians who are living out their faith in their “secular” jobs.

  • Jd November 16, 2011  

    Couldn’t disagree more.  It’s not a binary question of difficulty.  That’s too reductionistic and too much of a generalization and therefore you put corporate America and the local church in a false dichotomy.  It’s too easy to agree or disagree with your post because it’s not clear what your point is–is it about calling?  About the uniqueness of God’s mission through the local church?  Is Satan as concerned with Edward Jones as he is about the mission of the church?  Or is this about work as worship, which is universal?  
    I would make the assertion that a job is a job.  Tasks are tasks.  But Scripture is also clear that the elders of the church will stand before God and answer for how they led the church?  And I can’t believe that, since God takes the church so seriously, the spiritual war over the church doesn’t make ministry different.  

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Different “yes”, more difficult is the question that I posed. 

  • Orgdoc November 16, 2011  

    Jenni, I couldn’t disagree more, as well. You have taken a very complex issue and “reduced” it down to just comparing a set of jobs. Your post certainly is a polarizing issue one that people use to “bash” pastors for not working enough, and for those in the ministry who don’t want to work enough, the ability to be lazy. I just wish you would have been deeper in the writing of this subject. Maybe make comments about such things, but leave the real work of these kinds of matters to people who know them,

    Rev, I/O PhD

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      I agree that there are many more layers to this and a much deeper discussion behind the subject.

  • LaShorne November 16, 2011  

    I believe that any work you do with excellence will be hard work.  I totally agree that it’s not better or more difficult than someone else’s calling.  God sets us in the body of Christ as He pleases.  Whether you are called to a leadership position in a church organization or a non-church organization, you should be passionate about what you do and do it with excellence.  You should be a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the place to which you have been called.

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Exactly LaShorne… that’s the key point I was hoping to make.

  • Eleanor Pierce November 16, 2011  

    It feels like some of the people complaining about your post are putting words in your mouth. The way I’m reading it, you’re not saying ministry work by definition CANNOT be harder than any other job – you’re just saying it isn’t NECESSARILY harder.

    It’s a nuanced answer – which I’d guess is why people have  hard time with it. Nuance isn’t nearly as easy as what you’re accused of (I’d say falsely) below: reductionism.

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Very true, Eleanor.  Thanks for hearing my heart in the post.

  • Sherie November 16, 2011  

    I was raised as a PK, did full time mission work, worked in education, and now work in business. I also have spent seasons doing dozens of hours weekly in ministry or non-profit work. I have worked multiple jobs to pay bills, and walked through extended unemployment.  Through all of that what I have learned is every job and situation has its pains, joys, hardships, and fulfillments. I don’t think there is an easy or hard job by nature, but depending on the exact position and makeup of people involved any job or volunteer work can been filled with joy or tedious and tough.
    I really appreciate your comments and thoughts, and that you are willing to talk about a tough topic like this. I think what we really need to learn is how to love, support, and show grace to each other regardless of our jobs. I am not able to meet with my pastor during the day unless he comes to me at my lunch hour. He tries not to schedule anything past 5 other than his home group so he can concentrate on time with his family. Others work varying shifts in their jobs and have unpredictable schedules. If we make the relationiships priority, valuing each other and making accomodations to support and empower, then the work gets done and we all can have lighter work and more enjoyment.

    • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

      Thanks for sharing your thought Sherie.  Good stuff!

  • Anonymous November 16, 2011  

    Jenni, I couldn’t agree with you more. Although I do believe our work comes with an aspect of spiritual opposition, I beleive any one of any vocation who is following Jesus and serving Him will encounter the same. As a mom, I also think the trap and the lie goes deeper. Some people tend to think that ministry is something that should be saved for after the kids have grown. However, if you are called to something… and you live in California and can’t live on one income… what a blessing to get to do ministry for “work.” Thanks for the post.

  • Anonymous November 17, 2011  

    Hey everyone!  I’ve been traveling today and not able to respond to comments until now.  Many of you have noted that there are certainly many layers and more sides to this discussions.  Thanks for sharing your perspective! 

  • Tamara Taylor November 17, 2011  

    I think it’s differently difficult. Ministry has distinct struggles that come with it, and other workplaces have struggles that those in ministry don’t face. I don’t think one is harder than the other. Just… different.

    But, it would also depend on personalities and what is hard for your personality. For example, having depression makes the emotional toll ministry takes particularly hard for me. That affects me more than the workplace stress at an ice cream shop ever did.

  • Chris Adams November 17, 2011  

    It is hard, but then so is life in general. I believe, though, that investing in ministry, part time, full time, or volunteer is SO worth it. I’ve served in all 3 capacities over the years and it’s always been hard. But when you see lives changed and restored, when you see others living out their callings using the giftedness God has given them, you know it’s been worth the work, prayer, tears and time it has taken. 

  • turner_bethany November 19, 2011  

    I agree. Both are difficult, but he rewards in ministry are much more fulfilling than those in the corporate world.

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  • AdamLehman November 22, 2011  

    Great post Jenni (I could write that on most of your stuff). 

    I moved from ministry work to corporate work. 

    But in reality, I moved from a very dysfunctional ministry environment to an incredibly healthy corporate environment. 

    I’d say that one of the things that makes ministry work hard is that people feel they must stick through the garbage much longer than they would in a corporate job. There is a sense that, since it’s tied to a church, people have a hard time stepping away. 

    For that reason, I think we make ministry work harder than it needs to be, more draining. We give it a power over us that it doesn’t deserve. 

  • tom bonds November 24, 2011  

    Full time as a ministry, I agree is a really difficult vocation. More tests, more temptations, your faith is being tested, more sacrifices. 

  • frances melu November 30, 2011  

    As a full time ministry, there are many things we should sacrifice. The family, sometimes, happiness, and everything that needs to be sacrificed. 

  • Haylie August 14, 2014  

    I don’t think it’s more difficult necessarily, but I do think it’s gravely and exceedingly misunderstood.