My work, my ministry

I wrote this blogpost 6 years ago over at Nancy Ray Photography, and I’ve gotten more responses, emails, and comments about this more than almost any other post. I thought it was worth a re-share, and I hope you are deeply encouraged in your work.

“Be laborious and diligent in your callings… and if you cheerfully serve [God] in the labour of your hands, with a heavenly and obedient mind, it will be as acceptable to him as if you had spent all that time in more spiritual exercises.”
Richard Baxter

My Work is my Ministry

For 10+ years, I’ve been a photographer. I started my business in college while I was engaged, shooting every wedding I could. My husband joined me as my 2nd shooter, then 5 years in we decided to grow a team of photographers. Now, 10 years later, I’m STILL humbled and amazed at the amount of emails I receive that go a little something like this:

Nancy, I have a passion and love for photography, but I don't know how to incorporate my faith into my business. I desire to honor the Lord in all that I do, but I don't know how to be a business owner and a Christian without being too preachy. How you translate your faith practically into your business?

Take, for example, these few excerpts from emails I've received:

"I'd absolutely love the opportunity to sit down with you and pick your brain with a couple questions I have about the photography business, how you got started, and how or if being a Christian affects your business in any manner. I've read all the posts you've put on your blog about these topics. But one of the things I'm curious about is how you look at your work as something glorifying to the Lord. That's one thing I've struggled figuring out on my own."

"I've been praying. A lot. And I feel like God is pulling at my heart. I know that he wants more for me, and he has greater plans than I could have ever imagined. I don't want to spend long hours working at a job I don't love. I want to have the time to spend with my husband and future family. I want to be inspired by other women of God. The photography community is so selfless, and I love that so many photographers love sharing their knowledge. I want to be a part of that... I know that I can do something I love. I know that I can use that as an outlet to share Christ. And I know that I can follow where he is leading me."

This post is going to be full - so let me warn you now. You might want to bookmark it and come read it again later, when you have time. When I write from my heart, especially on an important topic such as this one, I don't like to take shortcuts! So grab a mug of coffee and sit with me as I share my journey as a believer and businesswoman.

“If God be God over us, he must be over us in every thing.” 
Peter Bulkeley

I believe with all of my heart that if you follow Jesus, you shouldn't separate the secular from the sacred. You shouldn't live one way on Sunday and live differently the other 6 days of the week. You should live your life pursuing Jesus and loving Him with your all, no matter where you are working.

This belief began when I was in my high school. At my church youth group, there was almost always an opportunity at camp or missions trips or retreats to go forward to the altar if you were "called to ministry." I was a leader: very active, on the worship team, on the prayer team. I went to every summer camp and every missions trip.  And yet every time this "call" was presented, I never, ever felt the Lord calling me forward. I was completely at peace sitting, just praying about it. I honestly had a hard time  with this "call to ministry." Wasn't all of life supposed to be ministry? Weren't the disciples fishermen? Why did I have to walk forward to answer this "call," when I believed wholeheartedly that ministry was to happen every day?

Let me quickly say that now that I am older, I do understand and believe that there is a special call and anointing on people who are called to be in ministry full time: pastors, church staff, missionaries, etc. I have come to realize that I wrestled so much with the wording of it: "Called to ministry" did not ever sit right in my spirit. We are ALL called to ministry if we believe in Jesus.

“It is in your shops where you may most confidently expect the presence and blessing of God.”
Richard Steele

“Choose that employment or calling … in which you may be most serviceable to God.
Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honourable in the world.”
Richard Baxter

I believe we are called to be Jesus followers, and our calling never changes. I believe that we have assignments with our work endeavors that change with seasons of life. Some have the assignment of school teacher, author, computer programmer, scientist, and politician. I have had the assignment to be a photographer and business owner and now, a mother. We are all called to serve and to minister to anyone in our paths, no matter what our job is! This is one thing I love about my church today: the emphasis is always to walk in ministry in the kingdom, no matter your career.

Ironically, yes, I am married to a former youth pastor! We have done ministry together in a church context on a weekly basis. It is the most fulfilling work, too - to see lives change and teenagers decide to follow Jesus with everything they are. But hear me on this: every job is important. If we were all in the ministry, we wouldn't have electricity or plumbing or the internet or food or books, etc etc etc. God put a passion in you, specific strengths and giftings IN YOU, that you might shine His light in your industry.

I think in those moments when I was young, God was preparing me for this, now. His hand and calling was on my life even at a young age. God gave me this business, and He put in me everything I need to fulfill my assignment for His fame.

My Work is My Ministry

So how do I do that today? What does that really look like?

1. I strive to live a life of balance and boundaries.
My life does not exist to fuel this business. This business exists to fuel my LIFE. It's taken years of hard lessons (and I'm still learning), but this is a vital part of understanding how to live out your faith in your work: your identity as a believer is found in Jesus, NOT in your work. Taking a regular Sabbath, having firm work hours, making quality time for me and Will to spend together, enjoying a hobby, planning time and trips with friends, and saying NO to allow margin in our lives has prevented burnout. It also fuels my creativity and enhances my desire to know the Lord more. 

2. We work hard.
I believe that work is good. When the Lord created Adam and Eve, He gave him work: a garden to tend and animals to name: responsibilities and work to accomplish. I am reminded that my most fulfilling days include time with the Lord, a productive day of work, and meaningful connection with the people who are most important to me. 

3. I manage my business finances with integrity.
I wholeheartedly believe that God gave me this business to manage. He owns it, I simply run it. With that said, I strive to be completely transparent in all aspects of my business. I explain the pricing thoroughly before booking, so no one feels cheated. I charge what I truly believe is fair and good. I constantly work to increase my value in this industry. I always strive to over-deliver. We have a great bookkeeper and accountant. We organize our receipts and mileage. We pay our team on time. We do all of those little things that are tedious, because businesses run with integrity are businesses marked for success.

4. I read scripture every morning to begin my day.
My morning routine is vitally important to me! Every morning I wake up at 6am, drink coffee, read my Bible, write in my journal, and read part of a book. I am in the right state of mind to begin my day, and it re-centers me on the Lord. I strive to live out life as a Proverbs 31 woman. It's hard to do - I'm far from it. But she shows me that it can be done! Filling my mind with Scripture is the best way to start my day. It DOES translate in how I work each day.

5. I pray on the way to every wedding and session.
Oh I used to get so nervous before shooting. I still do get a little nervous sometimes! When I ask for the Lord's help, it calms my nerves. When I focus on serving the couple, it takes the pressure off of me and shifts the focus to them. The Holy Spirit is called our Helper. Ask Him to help you, and He will.

6. I keep my eyes open for opportunities to love others, and I act on them.
Faith without works is dead. This will look a little different for everyone, but you have to keep your eyes open. One time on a wedding day, I prayed with a mother of a bride who was scared to death it was going to rain. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and wanted everything to be perfect. I knew she was a believer, so we held hands and prayed the rain would stay away, and it did.  Another time I shared my faith with a client who was not a believer - she was going through a difficult time in her life and needed someone to talk to.  Another time, when a bride unfortunately had to call off her wedding, I asked to pray for her on the phone. She was brokenhearted, and I shared this verse with her. 

Disclaimer on #6: this takes some serious help from the Holy Spirit. There are PLENTY of clients that I have not prayed with, because it would have been awkward. If you get a feeling that you shouldn't pray in a situation, hold your tongue. Build trust - do not break it! Show Jesus with who you are and how you work. Don't feel like you need to talk about Him all the time - He will do the talking for you if you stay close to Him. But if there is an opportunity, take it. Don't walk in fear, but DO walk in wisdom.

7. I walk in joy.
Being a business owner is stressful and demanding. It helps when I loosen up and have a little fun with my job! I smile when I work. I hug my couples - no handshakes here! I jump in the Photo Booth for some good laughs. I take my work very seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously. I work as if I'm serving the Lord, not men. How can you contain your joy when you think of it like that?

So, that's my foundation: I view my business as my ministry! They are not separate, they are one. I am not perfect, but I strive to  honor the Lord and love others in every aspect of what I do. So whatever job you find yourself working today, view it as your opportunity to shine the Lord's light.

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Colossians 3:17 

And this is my favorite quote concerning our work:

“The main end of our lives is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings.” 
William Perkins

Work and Ministry