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What is full-time service?
All Christians are called to “full-time” service, in the sense that all believers are called to live a life consecrated to God, in obedience to His Word, and giving an honorable testimony before the watching world. But some believers are called to special service as evangelists, pastors, missionaries, and teachers. Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2) are two examples. Timothy is another (see 2 Timothy 2:8-9). Most full-time service includes teaching and proclaiming the Word (see 1 Timothy 4:13 and 5:17) and proclaiming the gospel (Romans 10:14). Full-timers are, in effect, special agents sent and supported by the church, who devote themselves to ministry, without the necessity of working to support themselves.

Is full-time service a lifetime commitment?
The investment of time, money and effort (not only yours, but also those who support and train you) to prepare for full-time ministry is very significant. Therefore, it would be foolish to go into full-time service unless you intend it to be a lifetime role. Once you are in the ministry, unless God makes it very clear that His will is for you to serve Him in a different capacity, you should remain.

How can I know if I am called to full-time service?
Opinions vary on this. Some believe that God gives a special, direct message to those He calls. But most full-timers would agree that rather than a special message, several clearly definable factors are involved in discerning God’s call. First, there is the Word of God and the Holy Spirit’s leading. Then, other factors can also be seen clearly, as in Paul’s description of the requirements for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

God’s Word and the Holy Spirit
God uses His word, the Bible, to make His will known to His children. The Holy Spirit, who indwells all true believers, will also guide them to discern and understand God’s will when it comes to full-time service. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

One must want to serve full-time (3:1; cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).

One must demonstrate spiritual maturity and godly Christian behavior (3:1-6).

Elders and those who lead and minister the Word must be able to teach the Word of God (3:2) and defend the faith (3:9). Usually pastors and teachers will have the gift of teaching. Other full-time ministries may not require these skills to the same degree, but would require other skills appropriate to the work.

Although it is not stated, one must not go into full-time service if it means neglecting other, higher responsibilities (such as the responsibility to care for family, cf. 1 Timothy 5:8). If you are considering full-time service, you need to seek the counsel of other mature Christians, who can help you honestly assess yourself to see if you meet these qualifications. Keep in mind that growth toward meeting the qualifications is more important than reaching a specific level of expectation (see 1 Timothy 4:12-15, especially v. 15).

In summary, God does not usually “call” full-timers by an audible voice or a supernatural message (although there are some such cases in Scripture). However, because He knows our hearts, and because He is the one who controls our circumstances and gives us our skills and desires, He does provide a discernible call through desire, character, capabilities, and opportunities.

What are some rewards and hardships of full-time service?
The rewards are many: the satisfaction of honoring and representing Christ; the immense privilege of preaching the gospel; the joy of seeing others be saved and grow in grace; the privilege of helping believers overcome personal problems; camaraderie with other full-timers; and helping to equip and mobilize the body of Christ are just a few. Full-timers learn to rely on God as few others do. Incidental benefits sometimes include travel, learning new languages and cultures, and having many new experiences.

But there are significant difficulties too: low financial income; long working hours; the burden of knowing of many personal and spiritual problems among believers; dealing with difficult people, including church leaders. Full-timers can become “spiritually burned-out” if they carry heavy burdens and come under spiritual attack.

Most full-timers who have been in the ministry for a long time would agree that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. Christ promises special eternal rewards to those who serve well in His service (1 Peter 5:4).

What do I have to do to prepare for full-time service?
You need to do whatever is necessary to meet the qualifications discussed above. For some, that means more time simply to grow spiritually through fellowship and service in the church with other believers. Once you meet the standards of desire and character, you most likely need to improve your understanding of God and God’s word, the Bible. For most full-timers, this means attending Bible college or seminary. Bible college is a good foundation, but most “professional” full-timers need the kind of equipping that the seminary provides best.

What is seminary training like?
Ideally, seminary training focuses on spiritual growth through a closer walk with the Triune God, knowledge of the Word (including theology), and ministry skills. All three are necessary for you to minister effectively and fruitfully. Most seminaries offer Master’s degrees in divinity (M. Div.) with a major in a particular area. M. Div. studies usually require three years of full-time study. The M. Div. degree will prepare you for most kinds of ministry, though if teaching in higher education is your goal, a Th. M. or Ph.D. will eventually be needed.

Seminary training is hard work, but it can also be fun and edifying if you make up your mind to take advantage of it. In addition to training, you will develop lifetime friendships and connections that will be invaluable in your future work. Many full-timers meet a “life-partner” during seminary.

I’m interested in pursuing full-time ministry. What do I do now?
First, seek some help. Share your desires and interest with your pastor and mature Christians who know you. Ask them to help you honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and to pray for you. If they are in agreement that you are ready for seminary training, choose a seminary and start your studies. Meanwhile, explore the different kinds of ministries. By the time you finish seminary study, you should have a good idea of what kind of ministry you want to start with.

What if I “put my hand to the plow and look back”?
Many young people are asking this question. They stepped forward at a conference when the speaker said “Who wants to commit himself for full-time service to Christ?” Since then, you have had doubts. You wonder whether you acted wisely, yet you don’t want to shame or disobey Christ.
Clear thought is needed here. It is true that the Lord disapproves of vacillation, but it is also true that He desires His ministers to serve willingly and joyfully (1 Peter 5:2). if you are absolutely convinced that full-time service is not for you, ask the Lord to forgive you for unwisely making a commitment, and ask Him to release you from your vow, which may have been an expression of your love for Christ, rather than a wisely made decision to go into full-time service.

On the other hand, it is wise to ask yourself whether selfishness or fear or laziness are getting in the way of a real desire to serve the Lord. If so, you need to ask for His help, and the help of other believers, to grow in maturity and obedience to God’s call.

Why should I consider BSOP for my seminary training?
BSOP has a complete brochure dedicated to this question, with answers to your specific questions. If you are interested in getting solid spiritual, biblical, and practical training, and in being prepared for ministry in a Chinese cultural and/or language context, BSOP is most likely your best choice.