Should a man go into full-time apologetics ministry if he intends to marry?

Congressional Budget Office: Debt to GDP ratio
Congressional Budget Office: Debt to GDP ratio

Lydia McGrew has a post up at What’s Wrong With the World blog that is just excellent.


Apologetics is wonderful and incredibly important. It’s a wonderful thing that a revival of specifically evidentialist apologetics is happening in the United States and even, to some extent, in the Anglophone world at large.

Unfortunately, this revival of interest in apologetics and in being Christian philosophers is coming at a very bad time, economically. Even if you are a genius, your chances in 2013 and following of getting a stable job by the route of going to graduate school in philosophy (or almost any area of the humanities) are pretty darned slim. If you’re not a genius, fuhgetaboutit. Nor were there ever all that many jobs in philosophy. It was always an iffy proposition, but it’s much worse now than it was even twenty years ago.

As for starting ministries, a poor economy makes it extremely hard to do that, too, because people don’t have as much disposable income to donate. Moreover, even in a more robust economy, if all the eager young apologists were to flock to start apologetics and/or campus ministries, they would be competing among themselves for a finite number of available dollars from donors. So that’s not the best idea either.

Let me speak very bluntly here: In my opinion, God doesn’t need a whole raft of impractical idealists out there getting themselves into debt or half starving (or really starving) with no idea of how in the world they are ever going to support even themselves, much less a family, out at the other end of their education. That just burdens the church with a large number of able-bodied but needy Christians who are in a seemingly unending stage of transition, “getting an education for the kingdom” or “hoping to do work for the kingdom” without a viable plan in mind or any fiscal light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead, I believe that we need an army of tentmakers. If you have a job or a marketable skill, for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t quit that job and join the ranks of starving students. Keep your day job, but enrich your mind and prepare yourself to answer people’s questions about Christianity by studying on your own time. If you have entrepreneurial abilities and the capital, start a business. That will support not only yourself but others you employ, and if successful, you will have more money to give to Christian ministries.

But even if you aren’t the entrepreneurial type or don’t have that opportunity, at least make sure (to the extent that one can in today’s world) that you can pay the rent and put food on your own table as well as supporting whatever number of additional people you plan to take on. (In other words, if you are a guy who would like to get married and have children, bear that in mind.) This will inevitably mean spending time at all that distasteful stuff like networking and making a resume. Bookish types don’t enjoy that stuff, because it seems bogus, but it can’t be helped. It will undoubtedly mean, for most people, not being full-time students beyond the undergraduate level, especially not in the humanities, not trying to become full-time academics as a life work, and not going into full-time ministry, even if you would ideally like to do one or more of those three things.

In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it’s going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.

[…]Inevitably, the course of action I am suggesting will mean a bifurcation for many between their day job and what they are most passionately interested in. So be it. Indeed, so it has ever been in the world. What proportion of people at any moment in human history have been blessed enough to spend most of their time working on what they are most passionately interested in? The question answers itself. So I think that bifurcation has to be accepted by a great many people and that doing so will lead to what I might call a healthier “Christian economy” among committed Christians than what we could otherwise end up with.

So let’s see her advice in bullet-point form:

  • The job market for philosophers is very bad
  • A bad economy means less support money is available
  • It’s important to have a plan to fund your  ministry
  • Leverage your full-time job to fund your ministry

So I want to make two comments.

Making bad decisions because you think God is telling you to

I often find that when I talk to Christians, there is this sort of hyper-spiritualized way of deciding what to do, and I’ve written about this in one of my favorite posts. Hyper-spiritual Christians read the Bible, which is good, but then they don’t tend to also look at practical things like economics, science and public policy when making their decisions. The Bible doesn’t say much about what to study or what job to get, but there is an example of Paul working at tent-making in order to fund his ministry. So there is precedent for the idea of learning a trade and working to earn enough money to support our families, our ministry and even other people’s ministries.

I think we have an obligation to take the Bible seriously when it tells us what we can do to please God, but coming up with a plan to please God most effectively is our job. We have to make the plans to serve God. Our plans must be within the bounds of Biblical morality, but they should also reflect our knowledge of how the world really works, too. We’ll be more successful with a good plan and some hard work. It’s very easy to be deceived by our feelings about what we would like to do with our lives. And many people who listen to their feelings and find other impractical people to echo and affirm those feelings make many mistakes in life. I would advise people to be very careful about calling their feelings the voice of God speaking to them, then getting into trouble when their lack of wisdom blows up in their faces.

Christian men who want marriage without having to get a job

So that brings me to the concern that I have that I’ve been thinking about for the last week or so. I have been thinking about a couple of Christian apologists I know who are interested in marriage, but unwilling to prepare themselves to prepare for a wife and children. They are both very unaware of the economic and political challenges that they are likely to face, which makes the need to prepare financially even more pressing.

One of the Christian men is getting a BA and is in his early 30s. He says that marriage would have to come second to his ministry. He has never worked a full-time job his entire life, and considers getting a full-time job to be beneath him. The other one is in his late 20s and is in a PhD program. He wants marriage right away, but he has never worked in a real job his entire life, either. Both of these Christian apologists are in debt – they have zero assets and negative net worth. How can it be that they can even be considering marriage? Don’t they realize what a man’s role in marriage is? He is the provider, and that means that he has to have a record of steady work, saving money and being generous at sharing with others. Neither of these men have shown any ability in those areas. Neither of them seems willing to get started on a regular, full-time, private sector job. And neither seems to want to take Lydia’s advice and finance their ministry / marriage from a regular, full-time job. Neither of these students can even afford a wedding or even a wedding ring. Do they even understand what a woman needs from her husband?

So what’s the problem? I talked this over with a wise friend and she said that feminism has become so widespread in this society that a lot of men think that they can contemplate marriage without having a record of earning and saving. They don’t see that men have any distinct “provider” role in a marriage. They sort of expect to get the benefits of marriage with none of the “provider” responsibilities. Many women have also been taken in by feminism, and cannot evaluate men to see which ones are able to work and save and provide, and which ones aren’t. I don’t think young people are being taught how to apply the Bible to the practical challenges of marriage, or how to recognize the challenges of the times we live in.

9 thoughts on “Should a man go into full-time apologetics ministry if he intends to marry?”

  1. “He says that marriage would have to come second to his ministry.”

    Women should run from any man who says this. It is not Biblical. The Bible teaches that a man who does not provide for his family is WORSE than an unbeliever. The Bible consistently teaches that Christians are to prioritize their family above any outside ministry. Marrying a man who is “married” to his ministry more than his wife is not only unwise, but is a very difficult life, as women who have gone through this very circumstance can tell you. Outside ministry is important, but we must follow God’s rules and place our obligations to family first. One cannot serve God properly while ignoring His clear commands in the Bible. Neglecting one’s family to “serve God” is neither service to God nor likely to be very effective.

  2. It’s not just those who love Christian apologetics that have this mindset in the Body of Christ. In the neo-pentecostal charismatic movement this type of thinking is not uncommon. There are a number of people that have been in my life who think that to be very spiritual you should quit your job and “live by faith”. I have a brother who is ministering in the prisons with me here in Mexico along with two pastors who have their own businesses. This brother is a very talented chef, but has only completed grade school. He thinks that working at a secular job will “contaminate him with the things of this world”. He really struggles to pay the rent, buy food, and to buy time for his cell phone. Although not on paid staff at the church he attends, he expects the church to give him a regular offering for his ministry.

    He has been the most faithful one ministering in the prisons with me and really has a passion for this ministry. However, we have not been able to convince him that he also needs to use his talents as a chef to start his own business and work to support himself. Please pray for him and others who think like him!

  3. If you are a tent maker you can go to and take all the course online for free. One of this generation’s greatest theologians and his team, RC Sproul have put together a full set of courses for the up and coming Apologist. As a tent maker myself, I work as a computer developer and teach classes on theology at our church in Charlotte, NC. We need someone in every church to prepare their brother and sisters in this area. As a lay person you may have more credibility than the pastor in introducing your brothers and sisters to apologetics.

    1. “As a lay person you may have more credibility than the pastor in introducing your brothers and sisters to apologetics.”

      I agree. A tent-making apologist with a decent resume who knows how to make his or her own way in the world without depending on others has more credibility than someone who is dependent on others. Lots of non-Christians already think that Christian leaders are only in it for money or fame. Tent-making apologists refute that by their mere existence, especially when they work with an alias. There is no glory for foot soldiers like me.

      I think one of the reasons why J. Warner Wallace is so popular is exactly because he has the credibility that comes from a tough real-world job.

  4. If a man is indeed called to live a mission of simplicity for Christ and his wife to be, or woman he intends to marry wants a life like this as well. I see no problem.

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