I've entered into the non-profit world working for a ministry that I feel is really making a difference. I go home happy every night because I love what I'm doing with my life. But then payday comes and it's like a punch in the gut. I'm actually having to work a second part-time job, just so that I can keep working in the ministry. Is it worth doing what you love even if it pays beans, or should I be "responsible" and find a job that provides better financially?
- Money Matters
Dear Money Matters:
It’s totally worth doing a job that makes a difference in the world and that sends you home happy every night.
When you tell the story of this time in your life, some 20 or 50 years from now, the least important part of that story is going to be your paycheck. That’s not to say that you won’t mention it. But, as you sit with your children or your grandchildren, holding whatever the future’s equivalent of a photo album is, how poor you were way back in ’13 is going be little more than a footnote in your memory. Money is going to seem tiny beside the things that you learned, the wonder that you shared, and the meaning that you found in your ministry.
I’m speaking from experience. The first year that I worked as a stage manager I made the rough equivalent of $20,000 in 2013 dollars. (I don’t know how much “beans” is these days, but I’m pretty sure that $20K a year qualifies). In retrospect, I’m not sure how I paid rent or how I ate. But, somehow, I did. And you know what, MM? In a funny way, being poor was actually integral to the adventure of that time. If I’d had more money, I would have been deprived of the crazy joy riding a bicycle to work in snowstorms, of finding my wardrobe in thrift stores, and of living with some seriously eccentric roommates.
In the years that followed, I stuck with the thin paychecks of the theater business. And I even made a couple more financial misguided decisions: first, I married a performer (now we had two thin paychecks between us); and, second, we had kids. But, our modest income notwithstanding, my memories of those days are among my happiest.
Mrs. FKB and I loved our work. And, over time, she and I made a little more money. That’s not to say that we ever struck it rich: our very best year, when just about every green light there is lined up for us, we earned about as much as a statistically average family. But, because we lived frugally and carefully (we rarely ate out, we didn’t sign up for cable TV or smartphones, and we were scrupulous about avoiding debt) and because of the generosity of our loved ones (our friends and family have given us a metric tonne of free childcare), we always had enough. And we’ve continued to have enough as I’ve transitioned from the modest pay schedule of theater to the equally modest pay schedule of ordained ministry.
I guess that Mrs. FKB and I could complain — we know folks who make five times as much money as we do, who enjoy the privilege and the status that comes with that kind of income. But, just like you, MM, we have something that most of those people don’t: we’re getting paid for jobs that we would do even if we didn’t need to make money. That’s a huge privilege.
It’s clear from your letter that you bring a big passion to your ministry, MM. Stick with it. Over time, your punch in the gut paycheck will grow a little and, with some careful planning, the day will come you’ll be able to let your second job go. In the mean time, hold onto the shining truth that you’ve been given a rare gift: you have a vocation which blesses you even as you bless others. That gift is worth more than all of the zeroes that you could possibly fit onto a check.
Do you have a question about ethical decision making, living a faithful life or theology? Leave a comment below or send your question for Martin Elfert to email@example.com.