Overcoming Ministry Guilt

A special thanks to Katy White for sharing her notes with me. I was blessed to have you as my GoCorps mobilizer and am even more blessed to call you my friend.

Defining the Problem

Have you ever heard of Ministry Guilt? It’s when a ministry worker feels obligated to live more scarcely than others because of their profession. 

I can easily see the rationale behind the mindset: As a ministry worker, your livelihood comes from the generous donations of others. Working for a charity or a church is not like working for a corporate business. They’re called “non-profits” for a reason, right? Sometimes it almost feels like there's an expectation that these workers should get “paid in passion,” or even worse “paid for their suffering” as if we should live in a mud hut next to a pond filled with mosquitos and malaria.

While a minimalist lifestyle might appeal to a select few, some luxuries in life that are hard to live without… like chocolate. Not going to lie, nearly every time I go to the grocery store in France I buy a bar of chocolate. (Fact: European chocolate is amazing. My friends back in America don’t know what they’re missing.) Now I can try to justify that the brand I buy is cheap, but it’s a challenge to convince anyone that chocolate is a necessity. However, buying something small like chocolate is just one example of how a ministry worker can feel guilty. Fortunately for me—and not so fortunate for my general health and sugar intake—I don’t experience ministry worker guilt in the grocery store most of the time and the chocolate bar(s) magically find their way into my shopping cart. 

Usually when I feel guilty when I am in the mountains or on vacation. Last month, for example, I had the opportunity to join my church on a weekend retreat into the Alps, pretty cool right? Unfortunately when I hiked, instead of being awestruck by these beautiful mountains around me, other thoughts popped into my head. “You’re a ministry worker. You live in Europe. You’re not paid to go on a vacation. Are you even doing real ministry? Stop enjoying yourself. Who gave you the right.” 

Whether it was spending time in the Alps or visiting a friend of mine in Barcelona for a holiday weekend, I felt a need to justify myself. I thought, “Should I post these amazing experiences on Instagram? Would that give a bad impression of me to my donors? What if I captioned the post ‘Barcellona: 4 days, 9 tourist activities, 18€ spent,’ could my frugalness justify the trip?”

 

Hold On...What Does Scripture Say?

It was during these unsettling moments I remembered a book I was asked to read in GoCorps training called  The God Ask written by Steve Shadrach. In one of its chapters, Shadrach discusses God’s plan to financially support His ministry workers—the Levites—in the book of Numbers (no pun intended).

“It was the Lord himself who designed the concept of ‘full-time ministry workers’ and then made sure there was a good system in place to keep them compensated. Looking at the Levites we can learn some timeless principles, and then practically apply them today.” - The God Ask (G.A.)

In Numbers 1:1-53 God sets asides the Levites to work in the tabernacle. He tells the Levites, “you shall have no inheritance in the land nor any portion, I am your portion” then he tells them that he gives them the tithe “in return for their service."

“...if you’re going into ministry, don’t feel like a second class citizen. You, too, are part of this legacy of being set apart for His service.” - G.A.

“The way God has set this system up is that you and I deserve to be supported purely ‘in return for our service’ and for no other reason. Not because we’re sharp, educated, have outgoing personalities, or slick presentations. The Old and New Testaments teach that we are simply worthy of our wage.” - G.A.

But wait! Realizing that ministry workers are worthy of their wages is only one key point of the chapter. MORE IMPORTANTLY, is the following... 

 

Giving and Receiving is Vertical, Not Horizontal

“Here’s the path of God’s provision: The Lord supplied the Israelites with food, animals, and money so they could vertically tithe and offer it back up to God. In the same way, the Levities were not to horizontally depend on their fellow Israelites for sustenance, but to instead, look up and receives those tithes and offerings from God above. Whether they were a ‘giving Israelite’ or a ‘receiving Levite’ the Lord wants them to understand that He is the supplier of all their needs.” - G. A.

 

Application

After reviewing the book of Numbers here’s what I had to tell myself...

Yes, I am doing real ministry. I work 30+ hours a week like workers in other professions and am worthy of my wages.

No, I do not live in a mud shack, but that’s because God wants all of us to live bountiful lives. Usually, this at least allows you to upgrade to an apartment (maybe even a nice one if you’re lucky and property prices are lower than France’s).

Yes, I do have a right to enjoy God’s blessings of creation like the French Alps. God gave that right to all of us.

No, I should not worry about how others look at my standard of living. Yes, I need to seek God and steward my finances responsibly (Matthew 25:14-30). However, if a donor pulls funding because he or she believed my 18€ tourism was an unnecessary luxury God will being new donors into my life who share His heart and trust that I manage His gifts to the best fo my ability.

Final Thought: In these ways, I and other ministry workers must remember that our portion comes from God and from Him alone. We must trade our feelings of financial guilt for thankfulness and a will to follow Him. There is significant responsibility in knowing God is trusting you to do His work, but let there also be great peace in His provision.