The Downside of Professional Christianity

By Clint Clifton

My service in vocational ministry, particularly in church planting, has complicated my daily walk with Christ. The deeper into professional Christianity I got, the more I felt sinfully entitled in four ways.

Recently I ran across a “Huffington Post” article entitled, “The Problem with Becoming a Professional Christian.” It caught my eye because it is almost the exact title of an article I had written earlier for “Send Network.” Here’s a redux of that article.

There’s something about becoming a professional Christian (aka: pastor, church planter, missionary, etc.) that makes the practice of actual Christianity a real challenge. I suppose it has something to do with the public nature of this type of ministry, but I’ve found that my service in vocational ministry, particularly in church planting, has complicated my daily walk with Christ. 

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “If you find something you love to do, make it your job that way you’ll never work a day in your life!” Well, that’s what I had in mind when I began my journey to professional Christianity. I was 15 when Jesus saved me. The change Jesus made in my heart was so drastic and immediate that my family, friends, co-workers and schoolmates immediately noticed the difference. It wasn’t just that the tapes in my Walkman changed; something foundational and real happened.

The first few years of my walk with Christ I joyfully served the church with no expectation for reward, but the deeper into professional Christianity I got, the more sinfully entitled I felt. This entitlement manifested itself in four specific ways in my life:

1. I became aware of the critical eye of others
I wish someone had told me that being a public figure meant that others would feel free to voice their opinions of me publicly. I was not prepared for the amount of critical feedback I would receive – even from other Christians – in my first few years of professional Christianity. Most of it, by the way, was valid criticism that should have shaped me into a better pastor and Christian, but it did not. The shock of disapproval blinded me from any ability to see the truth in my brother’s rebuke. I became sinfully self-aware and found myself seeking approval of other Christians more than from Christ.

2. I began to monetize my service to Christ
“Amateur Christianity” has its benefits. Before I received pay for my service to God, I never once considered the monetary rewards of my ministry to others. My motive for teaching the Bible was that I wanted people to grow in Christ. My motive for sharing my faith was that I wanted people to become Christians. The world was very simple. In professional Christianity, my service to God was inextricably tethered to a paycheck. If the church grows, my pay will grow. If I preach great sermons, others will pay me to come and preach. I’ve never considered myself a lover of money, but now I have a family and a house and bills to consider. This added layer of complexity made my good and bad motives indistinguishable from one another.

3. I began desiring platforms
It doesn’t take long in professional Christianity for my vain heart to start using words like “platform” and “influence.” There’s a strange, anti-Christian doctrine floating around the Church these days that teaches that God is more glorified by the ministries of those with a larger audience. Yet the Bible instructs us to have the mind of Christ in us who considered Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant. (Phil. 2:7)

4. My devotional life was swallowed by my teaching ministry
Sunday is relentless. It comes every week. Every single week! The pace of public teaching meant I was in the Word of God more, but applying it to myself less. Prior to professional Christianity, my devotional life was applied directly to my life, my sin, my struggles and my joy. Suddenly, when I became a professional, the words of the Bible were for those I led.

As pastors, we must open our eyes to the fact that we have not earned our position nor do we deserve it. You belong wholly to King Jesus. Serving others is the joyful duty of every good pastor. Remember that when you serve sinful people, you are imitating your Savior who served joyfully and suffered along the way. 

Your vain heart will tell you that your flock is too small and your potential underutilized. This is a lie. If you’d gotten what you deserved, you’d be doing something far less meaningful in someplace far less pleasant. Every person God sends you has a soul and was entrusted to you by Christ. Wake every morning and breathe a grateful prayer to God, for He knit you together (Ps. 139:13), resurrected your lifeless heart (Ez. 36:26) and “judged you faithful, appointing you to his service” (1 Tim. 1:12).

Published March 28, 2022

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar, a multiplying church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board. He is the author of several books and periodicals on the subject of church planting, including Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel Centered Church Planting Guide and Church Planting Primer and is the host of the Church Planting podcast.