Yeshua-followers in Israel are hungry for authenticity and influence. We want to be authentic members of Israeli society, and we want to influence our fellow Israelis to turn toward God and the message of the gospel. But what’s the best way to do that?
In the Israeli Messianic community, an ongoing point of discussion is the role of the numerous ministries operating in the land. These organizations hire many local congregants. Their intentions are pure and godly, but they have created a situation in which there is an abnormally high ratio of workers in ministry relative to those working professionally in the mainstream marketplace. I have traveled the world and encountered a wide variety of Christian ministries in various places. There is nothing so disproportionate in this area as the community of Evangelicals and Messianic Jews in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem.
This issue is complicated. I know that people need jobs, and ministry provides jobs. Although I myself am a ministry professional, I believe that, ideally, we should be involved in society in the secular workplace. That’s how we can identify with the people. We cannot influence others unless we share a common experience. But when presented with an opportunity to join a ministry, it is hard for people to turn it down.
There are different opinions on this subject. Some views advocate Yeshua-followers taking an active role in society where we can get involved and have an influence. Other views advocate a conservative separatist approach: We should be a city on a hill shining in the darkness without meddling in the sphere of authority and responsibility in this carnal world. Ironically, in reality, those with an activist mentality end up in ministry while those with the separatist worldview tend to join the marketplace. This has been my impression.
The majority of individuals working in ministries do not make the decision to do so based on their ideals but on job availability. Who wouldn't accept a job offer with comfortable conditions, good pay, and friendly people? A lot of times, mainstream professionals in Israel are critical of ministry personnel like myself, because they see us as having chosen the easy route in life while they have to deal with the real world. On the other hand, ministry personnel often fail to appreciate the difficult conditions endured daily by mainstream professionals and everyone else outside the artificial safe haven of fellow believers. Ministry personnel thrive off of community functions and religious conferences for which their friends in the marketplace have neither the time nor energy. Ministry personnel, like myself, are able to mix community and family time with their work, a privilege utterly unrealistic for mainstream professionals.
This is not a new problem for the community here in Israel. In the past, most Hebrew Christians in Israel worked for missionary organizations and denominational branches in the land. Independent non-profit ministry organizations led by the locals began to pop up in the 1980s. This was considered a significant step toward theological and professional independence. In the community today it feels like the trendy thing is to have your own non-profit organization and serve on a handful of boards run by your ministry colleagues, thus creating a communal network of non-profit organizations, boards, and personnel. This is not necessarily a healthy situation. It does manage to hold everyone together and provide financial support for a lot of families, but at the same time, it leads to further economic dependence on foreign funds, and it creates a detached sub-community in Israeli society.
As we operate in Israel and develop relationships with members of the Messianic Jewish community, my hope is to encourage a balance of professionalism, community, and ministry. We don’t want to create an artificial bubble. We want to encourage Messianic Israelis to be fully engaged in Israeli society. At the same time, professional ministry should not be taken lightly; it is not an opportunity for easy work. It’s a high calling that demands sacrifice, commitment, and intense devotion.