A Reader’s Email re Discerning God’s Will

I get emails —

Good day … My question concerns knowing or descerning God’s direction. Since receiving my master’s degree I had wanted to do a Ph.D.  However, since my master’s period I got involved in the church. I was also appointed as a leader and normally lead a Bible study on a regular basis with three students.

Last year, I began to see more deeply that the heart of the problem in society is the sin problem and not necessarily poverty, education, etc. This made me all the more want to do this Ph.D. in hopes of serving God and influencing others at the same academic level as myself. But at the same time I began to have doubts whether I should continue with the Ph.D. plan or just give myself fully to preaching the gospel. At the same time, my conscience convicted me that that I could still contribute to God’s salvation work through the PhD using what I had learned from the Bible.

The reader is struggling between a career in ministry and a career in a profession. I’ve always known I would make a terrible minister, so I’ve never wrestled with this choice. For those readers who are in ministry or have left ministry, what advice can you give to help this young man decide whether to pursue the ministry?

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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18 Responses to A Reader’s Email re Discerning God’s Will

  1. Anonymous says:

    I struggled with a similar question early in my life. Like Jay, I decided I would not make a good minister/preacher. But the basis for that decision was whether I thought I could be God's man in the role.

    God wants us to pursue a path on which we can be his person. Beyond that, I don't think he cares what choice we make on such matters.

  2. Micah says:

    I have struggled with the same question for a few years. About a year ago, I decided that ministry was where I belong (at least, for now). I constantly see that reinforced. I have no clue, however, what would be best for you.

    One piece of advice I have is to make sure you have a realistic picture of what the academic life will look like. Why? It seems that your main reason for wanting to get a PhD was to influence other Phd’s and professors (those at the “same academic level” as you). However, this is a difficult goal to achieve.

    There are two ways you can influence other academics.

    *Personal Interaction*–This is hard to do, because most professors don’t spend a lot of time talking “shop” with other professors. I know that seems strange, but it is the norm at most departments. The specialties are different, their schedules are different, and usually they are all very busy. I have heard that this is one of the most surprising thing for new professors to experience. They think they are going to be a part of a big group of thinkers who are always interacting, but it usually doesn’t happen. If your department is research-oriented, then this might be different. But very few people get research-oriented jobs. Very few.

    The job market is very tough right now for professors, so you’ll likely bounce around to several universities within your first few years. So this will also make it difficult to build a close relationship with your colleagues…that is, the type of relationship you’d want to have to influence them in the faith.

    *Influence through your professional work*
    The other way to influence people is through your articles and books. Well, this is also more difficult than it appears. My friend is an engineering professors, and he was told that the average science journal article gets read by 5 people. So some get read by less than 5! This is going to be about right for other fields too. (Probably even worse for the humanities/religious studies.) Book have a similar fate. So your work will have a difficult time influencing people, since most likely only a few people, since during your lifetime probably less than a few dozen people will have ever read (must less studied) your work.

    Sorry for the sober picture, but it is important to hear.

  3. Lesedi says:

    It is sober indeed, but let truth be told. Thank you for the info i never looked at the Professorship future in that way, it does help put all in perspective.

  4. Lmasisi says:

    I strongly agree with with you, a path on which we can be his person. However my understanding of those people in his path were men like Paul, Titus, Timothy, John, David, etc, for Jesus also to follow him one has to take up their cross and follow him, so the question in me is weather ministry is my cross, Jesus also says deny yourself, this Phd there looks like me not denying myself but wanting a PhD over ministry. For many years i wanted to be like Paul…, but through this PhD desire, i realize that i don't have that faith, because Paul's main stream was preaching the Gospel other things[work] were secondary. He and many others had denied themselves…does not deny yourself mean denying even my dream of PhD, this makes me even question my own faith in God, its making me see that i am faithless not even worthy to be called a Christian. Jesus once said a good shepherd lays down his life for sheep, to me its clear going for this PhD it is as if i will not be laying down my life. Paul said he died it was no longer him living but christ living in him, his human dreams were dead to him and he also died to his dreams…, i am not dead to my dream…are we not all called to be ministers ? [1 Peter 2:9]. To tell the truth it is as if i am deciding between a life of faith or a life of the world, however at the same time i don't have enough grace or strength to choose a life of full time ministry.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Very thoughtful. But an alternative perspective is this: for a Christian, every life should be a life of grace and ministry. The form and nature of the ministry may vary … but still it should fill every life.And it is only by God's grace we do anything.Test your own heart and move forward. "Pray and proceed" as the Proverbs tell us. Perhaps the only true mistake you can make is to be paralyzed by indecision.Your life will be filled with people, and the challenge God lays before us is to love each one the same way Jesus loved us (John 15). The choices before you may affect the people you will face each day, but it won't change this one central mission … love others the way Jesus loved us.

  6. Lmasisi says:

    I so much agree with you…this is very profound never crossed my heart…"And it is only by God's grace we do anything." what a refreshment it brought to my soul. I have one thing with regards to love…, "love others the way Jesus loved us" when i look at his love i see a man who gives his life for the sinners…i see his love through giving his own life…"whoever looses his life for my sake will find it"…thats whats troubles me, going for this PhD am i really loving others as Jesus loved me…am i loosing my life for others…am i loosing my life for Jesus, all my answers indicates that i am not. I find his command to love impossible for me to do…nd this brings me to accept am honest answer…i might not be a true christian after all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It is not in succeeding that we receive this grace. It's only in accepting it. My own failure at loving the way Jesus loved is the very reason I rely on his grace. And the very reason I keep trying.

    Getting a PhD is not, by itself, the question. The question is: Can you love others the way Jesus loved, while you work towards the PhD and after you receive it?

    The only answer for any of us is "I will try."

    But this is not a reason to question the status of your relationship with God.

  8. guy says:

    (1) i got out of ministry and decided that you do not have to be on any congregation's payroll to be using your skills for the sake of Christ's kingdom. In fact, not being on a congregation's payroll affords you a lot of freedom and advantage in working for Christ that getting a check from an eldership can easily hinder or take away.

    (2) i'm wondering if the title of this post was written with the assumption in mind that God has a tailor-made, choice-by-choice 'plan' for each an every individual Christian. i know that's a popular idea among a lot of evangelicals and even CoCers. But i've yet to see where the Bible teaches such.

    –guy

  9. Rich W says:

    I am currently contemplating the exact same decision. My second masters (in business) is influencing me to look at the situation this way:

    What is the true increased influence will I have after finishing the degree?
    Will that value be worth the time and costs? What will be the costs to my family? What less influence will I have because I am studying rather than spending time to serve others?

    I have concluded the following:
    Getting a PhD will not make me a better Christian no matter what the motive. Some of the best "people serving" Christians I know have a high school education. Again, the issue is influence on others rather than honor for me.

    I have also concluded I am lousy at reading any clues from God for what He wants in my life.

    I have about six months to decide.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    This is jay running a test

  11. aBasnar says:

    "Je gelehrter desto verkehrter", is an old Anabaptist saying. (the more learned the more distorted)

    Hans Hut, on of the most zealous Anabaptist missionaries in the 1500s worked from about 1525 till his death in an Augsburg Prison in 1528. They said of him, he was a very learned man – but he was not an academic; He knew the Scriptures. And he rushed through Southern Germany, preaching and baptizing and founding churches almost on a monthly basis.

    He was one who took the sin-problem very seriously …

    Alexander

  12. Lesedi says:

    Thank you for making me understand His grace in a new light…i will try. I will going for the PhD with this new light in mind as i keep trying to love others as Jesus loved…i pray that His grace may sustain me to not loose focus on Jesus love. Thank you.

  13. Lesedi says:

    Almost every month, he was really on a mission, iv never head of him…i will look into him it will be great to see how he met Jesus Christ personally, clearly much grace was abounding in his life.

  14. aBasnar says:

    Hans Hut was some sort of a fellow … Hans Hut (Wikipedia) I'm sure most of us would have some "theological problems" with him.

    On the other hand, he was able to fit in with the other Anabaptists missionaries – and there were others who were fruitful church planters in dangerous times.

    I recorded on of Hans Hut's songs for a CD on Anabaptist Martyr Hyms: O Thou Almighty Lord and God This hymn shows his accurate understanding of the Gospel. The website where this song is found is also worth to spend some time with.

    God bless you
    Alexander

  15. Anonymous says:

    To me, you start with an honest evaluation of your gifts. And since we all have trouble being honest with ourselves, I'd ask friends — close enough or distant enough to tell me the truth — whether I'm gifted for ministry.

    I'd then sit down with a couple of seasoned ministers and ask them the same thing. I mean, if you've been in church long enough to consider the ministry, you know some ministers. And they'll know better than others what gifts are really required.

    If I learned that I have the gifts, I would ask whether those gifts are best used in God's service through fulltime ministry, missionary work, church planting, working with a parachurch organization, or as a vocational minister.

    If God didn't gift me for the task, maybe engineering is where you should serve God — as a minister but not an employee-minister.

    You see, I take 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12. I don't think God gives gifts without the obligation to use them in his service. But how you use them, that's a judgment call in most cases.

  16. Kad says:

    I emphasize the word “career”. Make sure you have something else to fall back on. If we are talking about someone with work experience and not someone just out of high school or college, obviously its a bit of a different situation.

  17. Kad says:

    "The reader is struggling between a career in ministry and a career in a profession."

    A career in ministry is a bad idea for this one reason if for no others:

    (1) If your beliefs change, you will end up having to perjure yourself and continue to preach what you used to believe and what the congregation expects you to preach.

    And having no other skillset, no experience in any other field but ministry, you will be afraid to leave, or unwilling to do so knowing that your only other choice at that point may be McDonalds.

    There was some discussion about this topic at the late Ken Pulliam's blog "Why I De-converted from Evangelical Christianity" with respect to ministers who become agnostic or atheists and yet stay in the ministry, lying to their families and their congregations, because they have no other skills to fall back on. Of course, it is not only those who lose their faith altogether who have this problem, but those who transcend their denominations' dogmas as well.

  18. Kad says:

    I emphasize the word "career". Make sure you have something else to fall back on. If we are talking about someone with work experience and not someone just out of high school or college, obviously its a bit of a different situation.

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