With multiple seminary graduations around the corner in the Washington/Richmond/etc., my mind returned to 11 years ago when I was preparing to walk up to the podium and receive my sheepskin. I was fortunate enough to have a ministerial call in hand the day I graduated, so I knew where I was going, to whom I was going to minister, and I even had a sense of how much money I was going to make.
My oh my, how times have changed.
Most of the seminary grads I know are presently without a formal call meaning, that they do not have a secure job in the ministry. At best, some of them have part-time youth or part-time music positions. I even know a couple of grads who have multiple part-time ministry positions. It would appear the day of giving newly graduated seminary students full-time, full pay ministry jobs has come and gone.
So, what to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.
Don’t mistakenly view seminary as the end of the struggle and your first job as the opportunity to exhale. Ministry is never easy even if you do receive full-time pay. Many of you have worked multiple jobs, put off having children, missed family events, and experienced a host of other sacrifices in the past 3 (or more) years to get to this point. The temptation is to think that now that you have graduated, you can exhale, get one job, and that life will smooth out a bit for you. Wonderful though that might sound, that view of ministry is idealistic and even a bit naïve. The freedom to eat pizza and laugh with your spouse or friend (and a host of other freedoms) without the worry of someone calling you on the phone with an emergency shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ministry is the most joyful, rewarding vocation of them all, but it will not be the period of your life where you all of a sudden get to exhale and take it easy. More thank likely, it will be the time where every aspect of you (physical, mental, spiritual, etc) will be demanded. More than likely, these same things will be demanded of your family to some extent. A fulltime ministry position may help alleviate your financial situation (maybe), but that doesn’t mean it will be the panacea for your ills.
The most practical advice I can give any seminary graduate is to find a paying job with benefits along the lines of a Starbucks or something similar. Starbucks offers benefits with an insanely low hourly commitment coupled with a decent wage. If you are applying for a part-time position and can express a willingness to work said job until a full-time ministry position opens, you will instantly become one of the more attractive candidates. Scripturally, we call this “tentmaking” as Paul provided for his income by making tents on the side, and worldwide, more pastors probably do this than receive full-time wages from their ministry. Coupling part-time ministry with another job allows for a larger mission field and offers the opportunity for your brain to think practically about ministry in the day to day. It also gives a church’s committee the opportunity to see your willingness to sacrifice, your maturity, and your heart in a way that they cannot in a candidate who is not willing to tent-make.
Personally, the years I have spent tentmaking benefited me greatly. They have taught me patience as I waited for the church to grow. They provided an avenue by which I could relate better to the people to whom I was ministering. They also guarded my heart against any sense of entitlement that my degree or ordination might tempt me towards. I view the days of working another job as a day for my heart and brain to be challenged in a way that full-time ministry cannot. I generally return refreshed and renewed.
And most importantly, I suggest you make the Gospel both your humility and your confidence. The wonderful truth that Christ has provided you with all the qualification before God that you will ever need should humble you to no end. You could never qualify for such status before God as a Christian much less as a pastor without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That heart attitude will also be your confidence. Knowing that you are loved and accepted as the Father loves Christ (John 17) gives you the confidence to do the work of ministry (in whatever form that God provides) without the fear of rejection or failure. All that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished on your behalf before day one of your ministry whether it be full or part-time.
Congrats to you and to your families for making it to this point. I pray great things for you as you seek to know and understand God’s will for you in future ministry.
I sometimes wonder what it was like for the Children of Israel to hear Moses’ first speech at Mount Sinai. Do you remember the setting? The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt suffering under a merciless Pharaoh who over the past few weeks only made their lives and their work more difficult. This guy named Moses shows up, and says he is from God Himself. This God that Moses speaks of was the God their parents and grandparents talked about, but slaves don’t have a lot of time to gather for worship, so there was very little depth if any relationship with God. Moses displays that He is from God as all manner of plagues shower down on Egypt when the Pharaoh won’t let the people go, and everything culminates with this horrific event where the first born child of every family dies except those who proclaim faith in this God. Moses gathers all these slaves together, they run out of town, squeeze between the parted water of the Red Sea, witness all of Pharaoh’s army crushed beneath the waves, and when they get to Mount Sinai, Moses heads up to the top of the mountain to meet with this powerful, deadly God of theirs. 40 days and 40 nights later, Moses has still not returned from the mountain.
What to do while waiting for Moses? Hmm. They think, “Surely this God of ours wants some sacrifice.” So the former slaves gather together all of their gold, melt it down, and make a golden calf to worship because that was the type of sacrifices offered to the gods of Egypt. They would soon find out that their God was not like the so-called gods of Egypt. Moses comes down from the mountain, and finds them in their sin. In judgment, the golden calf in ground up into water and the people are forced to drink it. 3,000 people die that day, and then, God sent a plague among them. Finally, in mercy, God relented in His judgment. He once again gives them the 10 Commandments and the Law, and there, God makes this amazing promise to them:
Exodus 34:10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
The amazing thing in this short narrative is that God gathers a people to Himself, in the shortest amount of time, they turn to their own wisdom and their own sense of what worship is. They commit the most heinous acts of idolatry and yet God is faithful to forgive them and even use them for future ministry. God covenants with them and promises to do marvels among them.
I really want everyone to take that in. I want to make sure everyone hears that. After worshipping a golden calf, God still promises not to leave them and even still to do great things among them. He describes the work that He is going to do among them as any 13 year old boy would – awesome. Folks, when we fall short, when we willfully sin, we need to be reminded that God can still work through us, can still work through you. When you fall short. When you willfully sin. You need to be reminded that God is faithful to you because He has made a covenant with you through Jesus Christ.
God can and will still work through you. So, when we as a church sleep walk through the motions of worship, God is still faithful. When you arrive to worship merely out of obligation, pat yourself on the back for doing so, but never muster an iota of worship within your soul, God is still faithful.
- If I preach a faithless sermon
- If the music team plays the songs but their heart doesn’t cry out to God
- If you spend the whole service worrying about what folks think about your kids instead of worshiping God
- If you can’t set aside petty grievances with someone in the crowd
God can and still work through you. Those things are sin no doubt. Yet God forgives people who worship golden calves. He forgives His obstinate children because of our beautiful Savior in Jesus Christ. Recognizing that Christ became nothing, did not consider equality with God something to hold onto and took your payment of sin so that you might be forgiven should motivate your soul to worship and serve.
With that, what I hope to do this week in the book of Romans, is look at one couple, perhaps the most famous couple in scripture, and see how God did just that: forgave them and used them. Then we can be convicted of sin, encouraged by grace, and commissioned to serve. Having said that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:
Big Picture Question: How do the scriptures encourage you when you think that you can’t be used by God?
Romans 16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house.
Now Priscilla and Aquila are perhaps the most famous couple in the Bible aside from perhaps Mary and Joseph. They get mentioned seven different times and understanding their background is helpful before we get into Paul’s commands to the church of Romans
We first meet Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:2-3: There he (Paul) met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
Whether or not, Priscilla and Aquila knew Jesus before meeting Paul is unclear. What we do know is that they were raised Jewish and at some point and time declared Jesus to be their Savior. How they came together was this. When the third Caesar Augustus took over Rome, he was open to almost any religion except for Druidism, but he eventually cast the Jews out of Rome because Christianity and Judaism were at conflict and he would have no religious wars in his state. Because of this Priscilla and Aquila traveled to Corinth and met Paul there.
Now look at what happens here. These two new converts risk everything for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. They leave Pontus. They leave Italy. They leave Rome and wind up in Corinth. There they meet Paul because Paul finds out that they make tents and that is how Paul makes a living on the road. These guys were obviously skilled craftsman, and Paul wanted to know to improve his skills. They either became converts because of this interaction or God used them to equip Paul and give him a place to rest after they became converts. Paul stays with them for a while, works, and apprentices with them. Now Paul planted the church in Corinth, and according to the Corinthian books, did not depend on any outside resources while there, but lived as a maker of tents
We see these guys again a few verses later.
Acts 18:18: Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.
So Paul takes his newly, honed and refined skills in making tents to a brand new mission field, Syria. But this time, he takes his new friends Priscilla and Aquila with him. Now, notice what is happening here, and it one of the wonderful, unique things about the Kingdom of God. Paul stays in Corinth to plant the church there, and along the way, he learns a great deal more about making tents so he can support himself out on the road.
Priscilla and Aquila were in Corinth, and they either just came to know Christ or got to know Him better through Paul. They told Paul what they knew about making tents, and then they decide to take off and be missionaries themselves. There is this wonderful pairing of God given gifts and talents that God does providentially when he brings people together.
You might be sitting here in this congregation giving very little thought to what gift you have that God might use. You may think that any thing that you might contribute would be inconsequential for the folks you know, SK, or the Kingdom. But look at the trade that Paul undertook. Making tents was one of the most common trades of the day. Most speculate that the type of tent that Paul makes were the same kinds that were specific to his hometown of Tarsus. The type they made there were not the expensive leather tents but the cheaper goat hair tents. So Priscilla and Aquila are skilled in this very common trade that probably offered no social status whatsoever. However, couple that skill with the passion that Paul had for the Kingdom of God and what you get is 3 missionaries instead of 1.
That’s what God does among His people. Catalytic, energetic leaders who are passionate for Jesus bump into folks who have specific skills and a wonderful transference is made. Each person grows both in passion for the kingdom and skills for the kingdom. That is what I so desperately want here at SK. I want each person to see they can be used by God in some unique way. I want folks to see that God has equipped them to a specific ministry no matter the place in life or the specific talent. I want each of you to feel an obligation to spur others onto good deeds and inspire great acts of faith for the Kingdom. If the analogy of Paul and Priscilla and Aquila is applied here at SK, I don’t want any of you to think I’m Paul and you are Priscilla and Aquila. Each of you may be just as used as Paul was to inspire others to take great risks for the kingdom, and each of you have some unique gift and talent that God might use.
Look at the gifts that God have given us already.
- Talented musicians.
- Patient folks to help with kids.
- People who can do powerpoint and layout bulletins.
- Coordinators who can put together a meal to feed 50 people.
- People who can layout floor plans for a new worship space.
- People who can cook. People who can greet, and on and on.
God has given us plenty of talent. Now we need to step out in faith in discipling each other and investing in each. Then we pray and wait and see what God will do. Look what happens with these guys as the make their way to Syria.
Acts 18:19: They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.
Now this is amazing. On the way to Syria, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila stopped off at Ephesus. Paul had plans to keep on going so he left Priscilla and Aquila behind to begin the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus and planting a church. Paul trusted these two so much that he felt he could leave them behind while he went on ahead to Antioch, Galatia, and a few other areas. Paul’s efforts are multiplied because he has trusted people to do the same work that he is doing. This is when we really see Priscilla and Aquila shine. Listen to Acts 18:26.
Acts 18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
So who is this Apollos and what exactly was his error? As we can see, Apollos was a Jew and a native of Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was a great city in Africa that actually helped produce the Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint. This is part of the reason for his conformability with the scriptures. We also know that he had the ability to speak eloquently. Somewhere along the line, he had been instructed about Jesus and was fervent in spirit about the proclamation of Jesus. There was just one problem. Apollos only knew the Baptism of John. Something was missing in his preaching and lifestyle.
An ocean of ink has been spilled about what it means to only know the Baptism of John, but the best guess is that Apollos knew of Christ’s work but since John’s baptism only spoke of some future work God was going to do through the Messiah, the best bet is something like Apollos knowing Jesus had come but not knowing that Jesus’ work of the cross had been completed. He lack a full understanding of Jesus’ work for the forgiveness of sins.
Well, Apollos was preaching in the Synagogue in Ephesus, and Priscilla and Aquila heard him and decided they needed to have a little chat. They apparently had secured a place to stay already, so this Godly couple invited Apollos into their home so they could explain to Him what Jesus had done more accurately. Notice this though, they didn’t ridicule Apollos. They didn’t publicly humiliate him or call him a heretic. They didn’t say, “I don’t mind if his theology is off as long as the Spirit shows up.” They valued correct and informed teaching of God’s word.
What Priscilla and Aquila are doing with Apollos is the exact same thing that Paul did with them. They are taking someone who is younger in the faith and encouraging and instructing them in deeper truths about Jesus. They said, “Coupled with good, correct theology and an understanding of Jesus, God is going to use this man, and it is our responsibility to help him just as Paul helped us. Priscilla and Aquila laid such a solid foundation of the Gospel in Ephesus that Paul eventually returned to help plant and solidify the church there. We see these guys three more times in scripture.
1 Corinthians 16:19: The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.
The Corinthian church of course knew of this couple as they accompanied Paul on his missionary journey to Corinth back in the book of Acts. But it looks like Priscilla and Aquila are no longer traveling. They have a local church meeting in their home. Interestingly enough, in 1st Corinthians, Paul mentions Apollos as well, so some assume that Apollos became the next person that joined Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila on the road. It would make sense because Paul trained the couple, they trained, Apollos, and Apollos continued on in ministry. Apollos went on to become so influential that some folks would brag about being his disciple. Paul would have none of that saying that whose disciple you are doesn’t matter. What matters is being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We later hear about Apollos taking on this ministry of equipping and teaching when Paul encourages the church in Crete in the letter of Titus to make sure that they give Apollos everything he needs before he heads out on his next missionary journey.
So, a great multiplication is happening with converts, discipling, and mission. The next place we hear of Priscilla and Aquila is in our passage today in Romans.
Romans 16:3-4: Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Paul speaks about this couple “risking their necks” for him. The Greek actually speaks of placing yourself under something or someone that is puts your life at great risk. Whatever happened out on the road, Priscilla and Aquila put themselves in real physical danger, even at the risk of their own lives to help Paul. Their testimony was so great that the Gentile churches spoke about their Godliness and commitment. You can hear the affection that Paul has for this couple.
- They helped him be a better maker of tents.
- They traveled with him on the road.
- They helped started the Ephesian church.
- And they had his back. When the guy was in danger, they came through.
Finally, our last mention of this Godly couple is in 2 Timothy 4:19.
2 Timothy 4:19: Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.
Paul wrote 2 Timothy during his 2nd imprisonment after his 4th missionary journey. This is near the end of Paul’s life. Timothy was in Ephesus so apparently Priscilla and Aquila had gone back to Ephesus to strengthen the church there. What we see here is that their whole life was about proclaiming Jesus either through the of strengthening believers, bringing in new believers, planting churches, and enabling others to do the same. The very common tentmaking couple helped start churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. They enabled Paul to plant churches in Antioch and Galatia. And they enabled Apollos to work in Corinth and with Titus in the church in Crete. All this from one, inconsequential, blue-collar, tentmaking couple.
So what do we do with all of this data? A few things.
Repent and draw near to Christ as Priscilla and Aquila did – None of what we see that God did with Priscilla and Aquila would have happened had they not left their Jewish heritage and clung to Jesus Christ. They heard the sweet offer of complete and final forgiveness of sin offered through Jesus, and their lives were never the same. The catalyst, the beginning point for anything that God is going to do through you and through us is calling out to Jesus in faith and repenting of our sins. Never forget that. We have grand plans here at SK to love and care for our city, to launch a new worship space so impact more people, but if we are not calling out to Jesus by faith, we are wasting our time.
The next thing we should do in light of the lives of Priscilla and Aquila is see our individual skills as gifts of the kingdom of God – Folks, there was nothing glamorous about making tents out of goat hair. It was a menial job that paid the bills. However, God used it to help Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul plant churches all across the world. Ask yourself and pray, “How might God use the skills that He has given me?” Ask God to give you a willing heart to use your skills and talents to invest in the kingdom and to train others. No talent or skill is too small as God uses them all.
Allow people to speak truth into your life and be committed to training younger, believers as well – Priscilla and Aquila thought they were going to school Paul in the art of making tents and they did. But it was Paul who trained and discipled them. So much so, these two got a passion for the Kingdom of God, packed up and headed out on the road as missionaries. You will not full understand or discover what God might have for you in solitude. God has uniquely designed the Kingdom of God to have His children speaking into the lives of each other. Each of us must be willing to be humble allow older, wiser believers teach us about what God has taught them.
Be passionate about proclaiming Jesus so that new people will come to Christ, missionaries and pastors are equipped, and the church might be strengthened – Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. The example of Priscilla and Aquila is calling us to see that God wants to use each and every person in the church to bring others to know Christ. God may use you to proclaim him to others. God may use you to train others to proclaim him. God may use you to disciple someone who might disciple someone else. The point is that our gracious God takes the ordinary (that’s you and me btw), transforms us into passionate people with faith in Christ, and uses us to build up others, so that the fame of Jesus might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Let’s pray that today, God would humble us in faith and repentance to Jesus, show us who we should be listening to, show us who we should be investing in, and enable us by the power of the Holy Spirit to passionately and fervently proclaim Jesus to those who so desperately need to hear about Him.