Discerning a calling – Counting the cost

Jesus talks about the importance of counting the cost before embarking on a chosen mission. I want to talk here about the cost of moving into full time Christian work as a pastor or a missionary.

First of all, there are some obvious costs:

If you need to undertake some theological training, there will be a financial cost. By the way, whilst I don’t think that attending a theological college full time is for everyone called into this type of work, I do still believe that anyone seriously considering a long-term commitment of this type should commit to some form of serious, in depth training. In fact, my point when arguing for other forms of training is that the same quality and depth of training should be available to all not just to those who have the financial resources and mobility to move to the Campus. Now, whether or not you go ans study on a Campus or train via distance learning or something like the Union Learning Communities, there will be a financial cost.  Campus training in the UK will cost you upwards of £40,000 over a three year period.

Secondly, you are likely to be giving up guaranteed paid employment to do this. And for many people, full time ministry does mean a serious long term pay cut.

So, the first part of counting the cost means thinking about whether you can meet those costs and whether you can sustain your household responsibilities to support your family.

Other costs to consider over the long term include

          A potential loss of status in the World’s eyes

          Spiritual opposition and the impact this will have on you emotionally and sometimes even physically.

          The hours will be long, sometimes anti-social and often lacking in the normal routine.

          The work may well at times be lonely. To be sure, there will be lots of interaction with other people but you may find at times that your position is unique and for every hour spent with people, there’s the hour of knuckling down to study and prayer

          You may have to move town, country or even continent. That will mean uprooting your family and saying goodbye to friends, relatives and places filled with special memories.

These are costs that you are not only taking on individually but that your family takes on with you.

Now, I believe that the costs are worth it. This is a dangerous and costly calling but also a wonderful one. I loved my old job but I would not go back to it now.

Then there are some other costs that we may not recognise as obvious. These are costs that are carried by the whole church in some way or another. They link to the question of outstanding responsibilities.

What do I mean? Well, as a Christian considering this type of work, then you should already be fulfilling a vital role in God’s Kingdom. You will leave a gap. When I left my previous work, that meant there was no longer a Christian presence in that specific team. It also meant that my local church no longer received income from my giving.  That potentially affected ministries.  Then there were things I did in the church, teaching Sunday School, welcoming, participating in door to door and preaching.  Now hopefully in a live, healthy church, people come through to fill those gaps. Though it may take time and some things may be more easily recovered than others.

This corporate cost is part of why the local church should be involved in discernment. Now churches should not try and hold onto people out of fear.  We trust God to supply what we lack.  However, it is important for us to remember that the cost is not an individual one and that’s why it is vital to make decisions together.

For the local church, I would come back to the point that the cost of sending people into the mission field is worth it. There’s great blessing in sharing in the joy of seeing God’s work bearing fruit Counting the cost is not a means for avoiding the cost. In fact, often we risk missing seeing the opportunity costs of not going and not sending. Rather, counting the cost should enable us to see that whatever cost we think we are bearing, everything is already provided by Christ and nothing we put in can come close to comparing with the incredible riches of grace that he pours out on us.