Ministry or Medicine??

I have decided where I will be attending school… Lipscomb University (Go Bisons!)… and I could not be more excited. As of right now, I am planning on being a Biology (Pre medicine) and Vocational Ministry double major with the hopes of becoming a doctor on the mission field. I do believe that I have the academic intelligence and drive to become a doctor, but lately, I have been unsure if I would rather pursue medicine or full time ministry (as in mission work). I think I am also struggling because both of my parents are very successful (one with a PhD and one with an MD) and it is sort of expected that I do something very successful with my life. I do have lots of shadowing experience in hospitals and clinics and I really enjoy it, but I also have a huge passion for studying the bible and telling others about Jesus. I also don’t know as much about what full time missionary life would look like on a day to day basis (so if you know anything about that, please let me know!) I am really conflicted. Any advice would be so much appreciated!

Why not both?

Full time missionary life varies a lot depending on what agency/denomination you go through and where you go. Some missionaries go to developed nations and others go to developing nations. Obviously, your life will be very different if you are in a place with running water and infrastructure than if you are in a place without it.

Fundamentally, it’s the same, though - you spend most hours most days talking to people about your faith. In some denominations, you might get up and knock on doors to people’s homes. In most, you go to public places and maybe sit with people, talk, show them the Bible, try to get them interested. You must be prepared to face a LOT of rejection. Most missionaries get rejected far more often than they are successful - sometimes very rudely. People are, understandably, kind of irritated when others try to change their religion. It’s exhausting work to do full-time. You have to stay upbeat and positive. You also have to live a very upstanding lifestyle; you can’t bring reproach upon your church or denomination. If you act up, it’s not “John Smith partied hard abroad,” it’s “X Missionary Parties Hard Abroad!!” Some of them have you sign pledges or have strict codes of dress and conduct that you have to adhere to, although if you are attending a Christian university that might not be an issue for you. (They’re usually stricter than most adherents have to abide by at home.)

It’s also a relatively poor lifestyle. You will probably be provided with housing (usually shared with another missionary, or several) and a small stipend for food, but it’s not an extravagant lifestyle by any means. Only your basic needs will be met, with few extras. You also are usually partnered with at least one other person you stay with through the duration of your missionary experience. You might meet that person at missionary training; in some denominations (like the one I grew up in), you have to apply to missionary school with a person you plan to go with and you both have to get in together. So you have to get along with that person; you’ll be seeing them most of the day, every day, for the entire missionary experience. Also, you’ll have to delay marriage or having a family until your missionary work is done; the money usually doesn’t allow for it. (In some denominations that might not be true for the marriage part; I knew lots of married missionaries in my denomination. In fact, most of them went abroad with their spouses. But they certainly weren’t allowed to have children; if they did, they had to come home. Some of the places they were deployed to weren’t safe, and having a child interferes with the full-time missionary work. It’s not like you can get daycare.)

I’ve known several full-time missionaries and most of them liked or loved the work. Most of the ones I know who returned did so because of family reasons - they wanted to have kids, or they wanted to be back with their families that they missed in the States. Some did so for economic reasons - they were tired of being poor and they just want to live relatively normal lives again.


-There’s no reason why you can’t become a doctor and still share your faith with others, if you want. Not at work, of course, as that would be mostly inappropriate. But you can do it on the weekends or in other spare time. There are LOTS of people who do evangelism around the schedules of a full-time job. I grew up in a Christian denomination where everyone did it. If you make time for it, it’s quite possible. (As a doctor with a demanding schedule, less possible. However, you can choose a less-demanding specialty and try to keep more regular office hours.)

You can also take a leave of absence from school or work to do missionary work. I interviewed a kid for an RA job who was two years older than the average kid at our school because he was Mormon and had done a mission for two years after his freshman year. He was very mature and experienced because of it.

-You can combine them more formally, if you like. There are many, many Christian organizations that pay for medical care and send physicians and other providers over to resource-poor areas to provide medical services to others. Many Catholics run hospitals and clinics all over the world to help the poor, and Protestant denominations sometimes do this, too. The unspoken agreement is that part of these missions’ jobs is to convert people alongside healing the sick.

Just make sure you do your due diligence and ensure that you are working with an ethical organization - many charitable organizations, religious affiliation notwithstanding, are a complete mess in resource-poor settings and do more harm than good. Also do some reading, because there are many people who believe that it’s unethical period to combine medical care with religion - particularly since some religious charities do make the care contingent upon acceptance of or compliance with the religious beliefs of the group, and you have to decide whether you are comfortable with that.