Finally, I received the call.
I was in my last semester of seminary and was hoping that we would soon have the opportunity to begin a ministry with a congregation. After some anxious moments, a congregation finally called and asked me to come work as its preacher.
The voice on the other end of the line said, “Jim, we would like to invite you to come work with our congregation. We really believe that you and Charlotte are just right for us. We do have one question.” His tone was serious. I wondered what this question might be.
“Jim, how little would it take to get you here? We don’t have much money.”
Now that was awkward!
“How little would it take to get you here?”
The truth is that some of the most significant work is done by people who will never be adequately compensated financially. Some of this work is done by social workers, public school teachers, and ministers of small churches. Yet far too often, we assume that people who are highly paid are more significant than others and worthy of special attention.
Some of the most valuable work is done by people who are making a real difference in people’s lives and yet paid very little. In the last week, I have talked with the following people who are making such a difference.
*A public school teacher - We have many school teachers in my family. Charlotte has taught school for over 25 years. My mother-in-law, grandmother, and an aunt taught school. School teachers are in a position to make a lasting difference in the lives of children. So many of us can look back and remember teachers whose role were critical in our lives.
*A social worker – These people often do difficult, intense work with families in dire situations. These people are often very significant in the lives of the poor and forgotten.
*A minister of a small congregation – These ministers often find themselves overwhelmed by the needs and opportunities of pastoral ministry. After all, there is no church staff to help with members needs. Very often (though not always), those who minister to these churches are young and inexperienced. This alone makes the situation even more challenging. These ministers are sometimes forced to find a part-time job to supplement their income.
Of course there are many other occupations in which people work hard and make a real difference but are paid very little.
If you work in such settings, you may find yourself feeling wistful when you hear that your college friend has been promoted and is now making over $120,000 per year. It’s not that you wish she were not succeeding at her job; rather, it may remind you about how much you feel devalued or taken for granted in your own job. Far too often, teachers, social workers, ministers and others do not feel valued in their work.
You may find the following suggestions to be helpful:
Work like it matters. Do this whether anyone else recognizes the worth of your work. Your work has intrinsic value. When you do something that in some way reflects God’s goodness or his character, you are a part of an incredibly valuable work.
Forget the ladder. Making a difference usually has more to do with what you’ve done on the ground than your position up the ladder. The value of your work is not determined by how high up the ladder you’ve climbed. When you are tempted to think about that ladder, know that your work matters in ways that may never be recognized or appreciated. (Ministers will sometimes play one-up-manship games based on church size, salary, perceived importance, etc.)
Be intentional about investing. Invest your time, energy, and mind in what matters. Does your work promote kingdom values? Does your work bless people? Does your work help someone move toward God? God can use our work to expand the kingdom.
How do you stay motivated in your work during seasons when you feel taken for granted or devalued?