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How to Work for the Church and Still Be Saved
By Rich DuBose
I have been employed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church for most of my adult life.   I have served as a pastoral intern, associate pastor, lead pastor, academy chaplain, Bible teacher, and as a developer of ministry resources. During this time I have seen the nitty gritty operations of the church at many levels, and have been awed by the reality that despite our failures and mistakes, God is still able to use us to further his mission.  
I don't have any doubt that God is working in our midst, but sometimes, "it ain't pretty."       

I have sat on local church and school boards that have been more like battle zones. I remember one board that ran into the wee hours of the morning because they had come to an impasse. Finally someone said, "I'm leaving because it's past the angel's curfew, and surely no good can come of this."

Once, as a pastor, I was asked to take over a district where the previous pastor had run off with the church secretary, and the church was split down the middle over what to do about it. I remember visiting the former pastor's wife, and her telling me that her husband had stopped having personal devotions years before. And I wondered, how can one stand in the pulpit week after week to supposedly share a word from God — without spending time with God?

On another occasion I had a local church leader flat out tell me that she had the right to take another woman's husband because he was not satisfied with his marriage, and she felt that she could better provide the companionship and comfort that he needed.

I've watched members and leaders scrap over church policies as if they were biblical, and argue about theological nuances — as their children and grandchildren streamed out the church doors, determined never to return.

I've watched some church policy makers usurp authority over a supposedly democratic process so that the outcome would go their way.

There have been times when I have wondered how anything good could come out of people who profess to be religious, including myself, because so many of us are flawed and broken. But I have stayed because even though I have seen carnage and evil within the church, I have seen God's hand at work. I am humbled that God is still able to use the church (as defective as it is) to accomplish his purposes. And I am humbled that God still allows me to have a small part in sharing his incredible message of hope.

If you think working for the church means that you automatically have greater access to God, or that it gives you some kind of inside advantage, then you are in for a rude awakening. In reality, if you work for the church you are probably more vulnerable to the attacks of the devil, and are subject to a host of temptations that the average person doesn't have.

But I don't want to dwell on the negative! There are many rewards that come with full-time ministry, and if I could live my life over I don't think I would change anything, except that I would try to pay more attention to God's leading, and be more bold about living out his kingdom principles.

Five Things to Consider

So, how can one work for the church and still be saved? This question needs to be tweaked a bit because it is built on a faulty premise.

1. First of all, you may be employed by the church, but when you follow God's leading you don't really work for the church. When God invites you to follow him and participate in his mission, you are called to work for, and with, him. You are not working for the church. Yes, you will have a boss and be given a specific job description, but these are not enough to release the level of passion and energy that's needed to be effective in ministry. You must hear and respond to a divine call!

2. A second factor to keep in mind is that the denominational structure that we call the church is only a means to an end. The end is Jesus. As incredible as our organization may be, it was never meant to be a permanent fixture, but rather a temporary God-appointed means for sharing heaven's promise with a dying world. The significance and usefulness of organized religion is directly proportional to its recognition that it is a temporary apparatus that solely exists to direct men and women to Jesus Christ.
When we are employed by the church, it's tempting to believe that everything should revolve around the church--to the point that we become denominational-centric. And, we can become so addicted to the "holy bustle" that if we aren't constantly doing something that is church-related we feel spiritually inferior or tainted.
Ask Jesus to help you celebrate the beauty of the church without turning it into an idol.

3. A third thing to consider is that church employment, or for that matter, church membership, does not equal salvation. It has always been and forever will be the grace of Jesus Christ alone that saves us. We are not saved in families, groups, or by denominations, but as individuals. The church can play a large role in our spiritual development, and we can praise God for the many godly members and leaders who dedicate significant portions of their time to evangelism and Christian nurture. But the church can only do so much, because ultimately, it is only Jesus who can deliver us from ourselves and the power of the devil!

4. Don't take yourself too seriously. If you are employed by the church, especially as a pastor or administrative leader, be careful that you don't fall into the trap of thinking that your position of authority places you somewhere toward the infallible end of the knowledge spectrum. You are not God, nor likely a prophet. So, like everyone else, you need to pray that you don't miss what God is trying to say to you through his Word, through circumstances, and through other people.

5. Stop fighting sin. When we're employed by the church it's tempting to believe that our job is to fight evil. Some Christians are bent on fighting the culture wars and have dedicated their energies to eliminating what they believe are some of the more obvious manifestations of wickedness (i.e. abortion, atheism, evolution, gay marriage, and secular humanism). But fighting these does little to address the heart of our problem. And it's interesting that even though some of these issues were prevalent during Jesus' earthly ministry, he never asked his disciples to address any of them. His focus was always on the heart and on the deliverance from sin that can be experienced through his power!

Instead of trying to eradicate evil we are called to manifest grace and compassion in the midst of corruption and evil. "Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your Heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:16, NLT).

I've never won a battle with the devil, even though I've tried on numerous occasions. The truth is, I can only win when Jesus fights the devil on my behalf. Being a Christian is not about beating the devil and terminating sin as much as it is about learning how to follow Jesus and letting him fight our battles for us!

Jesus invites us to be salt and light in a bland, darkened world that is short on God-flavors.

When Nicodemus secretly visited Jesus in the dead of night he didn't expect to hear what he heard. As a seasoned "church" leader and worker, Nicodemus wanted to draw Jesus into a theological debate, or maybe challenge him on some of his ministry methods. Instead, Jesus confronted Nicodemus directly with the fundamental truth that he needed to be re-made (born again) by the Spirit. Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes so he could see himself as Jesus did; as a sinner in need of God's healing grace.

The good news is that God is eager to connect with us in a personal, intimate way! And he specializes in personal renewal!

If you are employed by the church and still recognize your need to be saved, praise God that you have that awareness! It's a good thing to be hungry for God, especially if you're supposed to be feeding others. Ask God to satisfy your hunger, and spend time each day contemplating his words. Practice what you preach. In other words, if you have told others that Jesus is able to save the most wretched, vile sinner alive, then take it personal!

"So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" Luke 11:13, NLT

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." John 3:16, The Message

...even if you work for the church!

Rich DuBose is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference.