Work

Step into full-time ministry? I didn’t want my boat to be rocked

by Gracia Chiang // January 21, 2020, 6:56 pm

Stepping out of boat

For as long as I remember, I’ve always aspired to be a writer.

From a young age, I would dream up short stories, type and print them out, and create my own books, their pages held together by a cover page made out of construction paper.

While my friends were still figuring out what they wanted to do when they grow up, I’d always seen a clear path for myself: pursue humanities in JC, study communications in university, get a job in the media industry.

Along the way, I had used this gift to serve in ministry – from writing an article or two for our church publication, to being part of a core team to launch a Christian magazine containing personal stories and thought-provoking features on what faith in real life looked like.

Yet the thought of being in full-time Christian ministry was one that seemed very far off – despite the fact that I was pretty certain that my then-boyfriend and now-husband would one day work in church.

Full-time under 30: I didn’t think I was ready to commit

You see, God had very graciously opened doors in the marketplace from as early as my first year in university. Despite my inexperience, I was given many opportunities to work on huge stories during my first newsroom internship under a wonderful mentor, which paved the way for subsequent internships and good jobs after graduation.

As I climbed the corporate ladder, I found much favour at work, receiving promotions as I moved from journalism and magazine publishing to content marketing and PR. I always felt that this was how God was providing for our family financially – because true enough, my husband received his call to full-time ministry three years after we tied the knot.

I often mused about how God was making up for the shortfall in my husband’s income with mine. Obviously, we still didn’t take home what a typical working couple would make, but life was comfortable. We could spend rather freely without having to worry if we’d have enough money at the end of the month, and we could still afford to plan for annual holidays.

Eight years had passed since graduation and everything seemed to be cruising along fine… until one day, when a family crisis threw us off, its waves threatening to consume us.

CAUGHT IN A STORM

In 2016, I lost my brother to suicide. Coming face-to-face with the reality of death and the fleeting nature of life, I felt a burden for young people who were struggling to find hope in their circumstances. It seemed like God was shifting something in my career trajectory – so I made a mental note to revisit this thought at a more convenient time of my life.

Coincidentally, it was two months before this life-changing tragedy that I had been approached to join Thir.st. In the aftermath of the suicide, however, I had completely forgotten about this meeting.  

With my second child due to arrive, I wasn’t about to leave my job anytime soon. After all, I was going to go on four months of maternity leave – I wasn’t going to rock that boat!

Living with my brother’s suicide: Remembering God’s goodness and mercy

So I held the tension between the desire to continue building my career in the marketplace and this new conviction to impact the next generation.

Before I knew it another year had come and gone, and a chance conversation again presented me with the opportunity of joining full-time ministry. But there were still two mental hurdles I couldn’t cross:

  1. There was a pending offer from an MNC that I’d always wanted to work for. In my mind, this was a dream job.
  2. We were already a family of four by then, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how the huge pay cut could work given the financial commitments we had.

Again, I wasn’t ready for my boat to be rocked – full-time ministry could wait, I reasoned.

THE RISK

It was only much later, however, that I knew I had made the wrong choice. In 2018, while reflecting on my working life over the last 10 years, I realised that I had lost the plot.

I was progressing in my career by worldly standards, but I had moved further and further from my first love on all fronts. With my job now in the area of brand communications, I was far from my original passion of writing stories. My relationship with God was also a far cry from what it was in my days in youth ministry when I was serving Him fervently.

While I had been faithful in my spiritual walk, the best way to describe the love I had for Him at that point would be: lukewarm. It was neither hot, nor cold. Just lukewarm.

With that realisation, I began a process of recalibration.

I opened myself to the possibility that God could call me anywhere He pleased – yes, even full-time ministry, which I’d always considered as “good to have” after I’d been there and done, something more likely as a “retirement option”.

I spent more time praying and seeking His direction. And over the period of a year, I heard God speaking on multiple occasions.

There were many Bible passages that He led me to, but the themes were similar: stepping out of the boat to follow him (Matthew 14:22-32), preaching the Good News and making disciples (Matthew 4:18-22), and the treasure of knowing Christ and making Him known (Matthew 13:44-45, Philippians 3:8).

The turning point was a conversation I had with my mentor. The Holy Spirit challenged me with these questions:

  • Have I trusted in my own ability to achieve financial security for the family, or God’s providence?
  • Do I believe that there’s a greater satisfaction that He can offer – one that might not be about fulfilling my material desires, but one with real depth and stability?
  • I say I want to live a life of surrender, but have I truly surrendered everything to Him?

Confronted by my unbelief and how much I had been holding back, I wept.

I realised that my job had become a boat that I clung tightly to. Out of fear, I refused to step into full-time ministry because I felt I had already lost a portion of our family’s income due to my husband’s calling – I didn’t want to risk losing even more.

To be honest, I was more fixated on my life on earth than I was focused on things eternal. Yes, I had surrendered my life to Jesus, but I refused to give up some parts that were uncomfortable. He had my heart, but not my whole heart.

In that instant, I knew what I had to do.

THE REWARD

On January 7, 2020, I celebrated one year of serving in Thir.st. If I were to sum up 2019, I’d probably describe it as my year of personal revival.

I really love what one senior pastor said at LoveSingapore’s Summit 2020: “Ministry is a burden, but it’s a burden that keeps me running to Jesus. This burden is also life-saving. If I hadn’t carried it, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”

I’d like to say that being in full-time ministry has been smooth-sailing, but the reality is that it’s not. At times, it feels more difficult than being in the marketplace. However, in my weakness, I’ve turned to God’s strength. In the stretching, I’m growing.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

The amazing thing about God’s economy is that the act of surrender might actually gain you more than you’ve lost. In obeying this call to full-time ministry, I’ve been so blessed.

Here are just a few examples of what has happened over the past year:

  • I’ve returned to my first love. My relationship with God has been the strongest it has been in years – my hunger for His Word has intensified and my prayer life has become richer.
  • My capacity to love has grown. I’ve been a lot more intentional in loving others and sharing the Gospel.
  • I’m connecting with my husband on a deeper level. With both of us in full-time ministry, the alignment has helped me better support him in his calling.
  • The hearts of our children are turning to God. After starting regular family devotions, our daughters have become more aware of who He is in their lives.

We’ve certainly had to make adjustments to our lifestyles, but we lack no good thing. And when I compare this list above with what I’ve lost financially, I’m not sure I can ever put a value to what I’ve gained.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

“COME, FOLLOW ME”

A young adult asked me recently: Do you think it’s okay for a Christian to get a job in the secular media industry? My answer was “absolutely!”

Working in Thir.st, I’m really thankful for being able to use my gift of writing in such a meaningful way. I also marvel at how all the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired over my 10-year career have been useful in my current position.

But looking back, my journey into full-time ministry was not so much about where I ended up, but the process of getting here. A surrendered heart is more important than where you end up serving.

In seeking after God, He brought me to the point where I could submit to His Lordship and say “all or nothing, I lay everything down at Your feet”.

Where will He lead me from here? I don’t know. But I know that wherever that may be, I’m a lot more ready to follow, wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Saviour
Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

Your “boat” might not be your job – it could be any thing you hold dear and find security in. Contrary to what you might believe, the safest place to be is not staying in that boat, but hearing the Master’s voice and keeping in step with Him, even if it means walking on water. 

THINK + TALK

  1. What makes you feel safe and secure? What do you put your trust in?
  2. How do you think you’d react if this was taken away from you or if you had to give this up?
  3. Do you find it difficult to follow where He is leading you?
About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news. Now she shares Good News. A journalist by training, Gracia is thankful that she gets to use her gift of writing as the managing editor of Thir.st. With a husband who is also in full-time ministry, they are always amazed at how God provides for their family of four.