Our hearts are idol factories. We all know this to be true. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has been doing its best to value itself outside of God and for its own purposes. Martin Luther was correct in his assessment that if a person gets the first commandment right (having no other gods before Him) then they would not ever transgress the rest of the commandments. All of our sins are rooted in our heart’s predisposition towards idolatry.
This can become increasingly a problem for people who have been called into ministry. Because the human heart is always looking for a way to justify itself outside of Jesus, it is very easy for us to try and find our standing before God in our service. Let me say from the outset, there is a fine line between walking out our callings and having ministry idolatry. Only God knows the intricacies of the human heart. So please do not think that I think that I know the motivations of another’s heart. I do not and realize (more and more each day) that before his own master a servant stands or falls. There are too many people writing in the comments sections of internet sites that think that they can speak about the motivations of another’s heart. I do not wish to add myself to that cacophonous chorus. But I do want to address a very present struggle that is at work within the heart’s of every minister.
For many of us, we struggle with finding our full identity in Christ alone. There is something glorious about being used by God to bless the world in the name of Jesus. But it is very easy to find our identity in our ministry rather than in Jesus alone. I believe that this is why so many cannot imagine their spiritual lives outside of the work that they do for Jesus. I often ask myself, “How would I do if God asked me to leave the pastoral ministry? Would I be bored? Would I like going to church? Would I feel a void?” By asking these questions, I have found that my heart finds its value in a million things other than Jesus. Looking back over my past as a Christian, I have found my heart exalting “being a Christian”, “being on the worship team”, “being an elder”, being an assistant pastor”, “being a church planter”, “being a part of a specific movement”, “being a conference speaker”, “being an author”, and on and on ad nauseum. Do you see how this goes?
Ministry idolatry is a way to allow our service of God to keep us from actually relating with God. We can be incredibly busy and effective but yet really not relate with God at all. We allow our service for Him to define us rather than allow Him to define us for us. Anything that we value ourselves by or whatever our allegiance is outside of the person and work of Jesus, that is idolatry. So let us ask the Spirit of God to expose our heart idolatry!
Daniel, a big part of the ministry idolatry is what we think others think about us & what their attitude is towards us when our identity is not connected to a specific role of ministry. That’s what I’ve seen over the past few years.
Why? I think it goes back to what Jesus said about the commandments…sorry, I think Jesus had it right over Luther (imho). We need to love the Lord… and love others…it’s a relational issue. What draws our heart away (as in the 1st Garden) is what “could be” or what we think is important, but ultimately we have to keep surrendering it to the Father (as Jesus in the 2nd Garden).
After 40 years of ministry involvement, I grow tired of the closed circle of church and ministry. Yet, I find a refreshment being around new or young believers who are still working out their own salvation (Phil 2:12, 13), where spiritual things are still new. I also like the challenge of relating to un/nonbelievers, it forces me to relate at a different level. That’s what I enjoyed most when planting a church back in ’78. The closed circle of church is what helped stir my heart for world missions a decade later.
Perhaps the issue is, how do we get “outside” of our identity as pastors/spiritual leaders and just be followers of Jesus? It’s a challenge to be sure, but I think Jesus gives us the model in the 2nd Garden (Gethsemane). How else can we hope to keep the deck clear of ministry idols?
Thanks for sharing this. I have the blessing of being a licensed General Contractor as well as being an ordained pastor. My pulpit is a kitchen table or stack of lumber more than anything else, but the joy in being simply a follower of Jesus, as opposed to being a “Pastor” is simply awesome.
The preconceptions and trips people lay on pastors and on themselves when they are around pastors aren’t there, so they are free to see just a guy who is flawed like them who has this kind of weird hope in a God he can’t see who he claims to know.
I find it much easier to introduce them to a person rather than to teach them a theological concept.
I think any Pastor would find great joy and growth if they could work outside of the church for a season and just “live like the laity”. It’s awesome.
Great word of caution, Daniel. I think a bunch of this can only be learned as God lets us achieve positions, opportunities, and through the process realize that as good as they can be, they aren’t Jesus. I think some of it is just part of the ride. Hopefully the lesson that Jesus is our sabbath and identiy doesn’t take longer for us to get than needed.
Thanks, Daniel – yes, it is amazing that ministry can serve to insulate us from God. Doing crowds out being. Position transcends possession. Man overshadows God.