Professional Christian and Christian Professional — What's the Difference?
There is a real difference between a professional Christian — a minister who works at Christianity for a living — and a Christian professional — who works at another learned profession — and for the good reasons below the two should not be confused.
Why is this distinction important?
1. Because most ministers claim they are not professionals in the usual meaning of the term — the way doctors or lawyers are.
2. And their disclaimer has led to a lack of adequate definition of ministry as a field of endeavor — so that ministers tend to believe and assert that "everything is ministry!"
3. And many of those non-"ministries" have led to scandal and loss of moral authority in the churches.
However, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a profession as: "A calling requiring specialized knowledge and intensive academic preparation." And a professional as one who is: "Engaged in one of the learned professions". (These are also the legal definitions of professional and profession in Black's Law Dictionary 6th Edition.)
And so, despite any disclaimer to the contrary — it can't be denied that ministry is a profession — as it requires intensive training in specialized knowledge. And — despite any disclaimer — Ministers are professionals whose long training and specialized knowledge are apparent in their academic degrees — M.Div — .D.Theol — .D.Min — .etc. All ministers then are professionals in the learned profession of ministry. Every minister is a professional Christian whose daily work is Christianity itself.
However, the Christian who happens to be a professional is not necessarily a professional Christian. The Christian may be a professional in a field of specialized knowledge other than ministry. The distinction is important for another two reasons:
1. The field of the Christian professional, such as the Christian doctor or lawyer, will have a well-developed code of conduct and ethics for its practitioners.
2. The field of ministry has traditionally lacked any definition that specified the boundaries of ministry — as a result of the field of ministry has no generally recognized systematic code of ethics to guide its professional Christian ministers.
Because the learned professions typically have a systematic code of ethics for their members, the non-minister Christian professional is far less likely to engage in harmful conduct. Because codes of ethics are self-correcting mechanisms for a profession — and appropriate penalties for ethical infractions are applied by the profession itself.
On the other hand, the clinical and legal records show that the professional Christian minister — operating in an undefined — or vaguely defined — field called ministry — with no established and recognized code of conduct and ethics — is vulnerable to engaging in harmful conduct. There is no self-correcting mechanism for the field of ministry — and it is often only the law itself that imposes penalties.
But there is hope.
Lacking a specific and generally accepted code of conduct and ethics for the professional Christian minister, it is possible to have a universal definition of ministry that quickly provides any minister with an accurate way to judge whether he or she is involved in legitimate religious ministry activity — or in activity that is not ministry and potentially harmful to others.