There are three dangerous themes that typically war in the hearts of pastors. On Monday, I wrote about confusing personal identity and yesterday I posted about defining maturity. Here's the third and final theme to wrap up this Dangerous Calling series.
I confused ministry success with God's endorsement of my living.
Pastoral ministry was exciting in many ways. The church was growing numerically, and people seemed to be growing spiritually. More and more people seemed to be committed to be part of a vibrant spiritual community, and we saw people win battles of the heart by God's grace. We founded a Christian school that was growing and expanding its reputation and influence. We were beginning to identify and disciple leaders.
It wasn't all rosy; there were painful and burdensome moments, but I started out my days with a deep sense of privilege that God had called me to do this ministry. I was leading a community of faith, and God was blessing our efforts. But I held these blessings in the wrong way.
Without knowing that I was doing it, I took God's faithfulness to me, to his people, to the work of his kingdom, to his plan of redemption, and to his church as an endorsement of me. My perspective said, "I'm one of the good guys, and God is behind me all the way." In fact, I would say to Luella (this is embarrassing but important to admit), "If I'm such a bad guy, why is God blessing everything I put my hands to?"
God did not act because he endorsed my manner of living, but because of his zeal for his own glory and his faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people. God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses. Ministry success is always more a statement about God than about the people he uses for his purpose. I had it all wrong. I took credit that I did not deserve for what I could not do. I made it about me.
In light of what we have been talking about in these three posts, I want you to take a moment of reflection and ask yourself these questions:
- How do you view yourself in ministry?
- What do you regularly say to you about you?
- Do you see yourself as different from those to whom you minister?
- Do you see yourself as a minister of grace in need of the same grace?
- Have you become comfortable with discontinuities between the gospel you preach and the way that you live?
- Are there disharmonies between your public ministry persona and the details of your private life?
- Do you encourage a level of community in your church that you do not give yourself to?
- Do you fall into believing that no one has a more accurate view of you than you?
- Do you use knowledge or experience to keep confrontation at bay?
You don't have to be afraid of answering these questions with honesty, because you don't have to fear what's in your heart. You don't have to fear being known, because nothing in you could ever be exposed that hasn't already been covered by the precious blood of your Savior King, Jesus.