Why gospel workers don’t need real life experience

It’s often said that young men and women who are keen on doing gospel ministry full time should get some real life experience. But this advice is often misunderstood.
The goal of getting real world experience is the same goal as MTS – character development. It is not life-experience-gaining. We council young men (and sometimes young women) to grow in their personal character through spending a year or two in the workforce. It helps them understand THEMSELVES, including how they relate to other people.
They don’t need to EXPERIENCE 9-5 work in order to be in gospel ministry.

2 thoughts on “Why gospel workers don’t need real life experience

  1. Hi, Dave,

    By “gospel ministry full time”, do you mean some kind of paid church work? I hope that most of us who follow Jesus would think of our lives as serving him and his gospel full-time, whatever our paid employment looks like. (Or perhaps you’re persuaded by Col Marshall’s argument that ‘ministry’ is what church leaders do? In which case, go ahead and use this language :)

    To pick up the point you’re making here, I don’t know if we can easily uncouple ‘experience’ and ‘character’. I think God primarily grows our character through experience, no? And given that we face different pressures in different life-stages and situations, I’d expect our character to be stretched in different ways, too, depending on what actual experience we’ve had.

    Meanwhile, on a related point I saw discussed on Facebook (but couldn’t comment on), I think there are several very good reasons to work a regular job before working for a church (or while working for a church). First, if you’re doing both together, it helps you to lead by example, and not just word. That is, the life of the full-time paid church worker looks so different from the lives of most people in the church that it’s often hard for there to be good modelling and imitation.

    Second, regular work experience helps you observe the real opportunities to do good and temptations to do ill that people face in their workplaces. I’ve sometimes heard it said, “A pastor doesn’t need experience to teach a church; they just need to teach the Bible.” This is…sadly reductionistic. ‘Teaching the Bible’ isn’t an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. The pastor’s job is to *teach godliness*. This means not just exegeting the text, but bringing to the text to bear on the real lives of people in the church. (Presumably this is why Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is useful for “training in righteousness, so that the man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work”, or why he reminds Titus to teach different groups of people different aspects of godliness — the older men temperance, the younger men self-control, and so on.)

    For teaching godliness, you need observation, not just theology. Think about what it means to be a good husband or a good father. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about these things from the Scriptures. But you’ve also learned heaps from observation and experience (both yours and others’, presumably). So when you’re teaching godliness in these areas, you’ll definitely need to teach what the Scriptures say. But you’ll also need to show some implications of these Scriptures that you’ve learned through observation.

    (This is why we would generally be suspect of a course on marriage or parenting written by an unmarried, childless person. And why it’s great to get thoughts on sex, say, from Patricia Weerakoon, or thoughts on disability or suffering from Kirk Patston, or…)

    For this reason, non-church work experience can be tremendously useful for a pastor who’s seeking to teach godliness to a bunch of people in non-church work.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have to experience something before we teach on it. It’s just that we need to acknowledge that our own experience gives us a powerful motivation to think and observe with theological care and nuance. You *can* teach godliness to people in different life circumstances, but you don’t just need the Scriptures — you need careful observation of their circumstances (which will often largely involve just listening to them — what are the particular opportunities they have to do good, and temptations to do ill?)

    I’ve recently been putting some thoughts together on this. I’ll e-mail you :)


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