Ministry becomes an idol when we believe that our success in ministry determines our value before God
If you get around a group of Pastors for any length of time, the subject of numbers will eventually come up. Statistics are the measuring stick by which we tend to relate to each other. How many people attend our Sunday morning worship services? How much money do we collect on average week? How many professions of faith? How many baptisms? You know the drill. Often when a speaker is introduced at a conference he will be given credibility by the recounting of his numbers. Let’s face it, our analytics form the basis of how we measure up to other Pastors and if we are honest we all want our numbers to be good. If we are not careful, this obsession with numbers can slip over the boundary and become a matter of idolatry in our lives. This happens when we start to think that our success in ministry, as indicated by our numbers, is a representation of our value before God. In others words, we start to think that attendance and giving are the keys factors in determining our value before God. This trap can grind up your life faster than just about anything else in the ministry.
Several years ago, I had a friend in the ministry who lived and died by his weekly statistics. We would get together about once a month to have lunch and it was always the same. The first question out of his mouth was always, “How did it go this past weekend?” That was a code for “tell me what your numbers were so that I can measure how well I match up.” Secretly, I always liked this question because I was pastoring a growing church and I liked to brag. Both of us had bought into the same lie, but only one of us was enjoying it. Because my numbers were increasing, I got to gloat while he sat puzzled trying to figure out why God wasn’t blessing his ministry. A few years later, the tables turned on me and while other churches were growing, mine became plateaued and stagnant. Suddenly my gloating was over and I was left struggling to find answers about why the “favor” of God had departed from my life. Over the next several years I ended up running from one ministry fad to the next trying to figure out what was wrong with our church and trying to jump-start our growth. What ended happening was that I ended up making ministry into an idol in my life. I had drawn my sense of worth and value from the wrong place and like any idol it enslaved me in an endless cycle of works based frustration.
Over the past twenty years of being in the ministry, I have seen this same pattern repeated over and over again. In fact, I would go as far as to say that every minister at one time or the other falls into the trap of letting ministry become an idol in their lives. Satan has subtly infiltrated the church and convinced it’s Pastors that success in ministry as measured by nickels and noses is the same as being faithful to God. But numbers alone never tell the whole story, some of the largest and fastest growing churches are also the most heretical.
Sadly, over the years I have watched a good number of Pastors get ground up and pummeled due to this idolatrous obsession with comparing their numbers with the guy down the street. The simple truth is that the size and scope of our ministry should never be taken as the sole indicator of God’s pleasure. Our primary goal in the ministry must always be to glorify God not build a bigger and bigger congregation. I am not saying that church growth is unimportant or that we should ignore it completely but I am saying we need to refuse to believe that it is an sign of God’s favor.
Let’s be clear about this issue — your value before God is not determined by your success or failure in the ministry. To understand our value before God all we have to do is look to the cross and delve deeper into the truth of the gospel. The cross is the greatest display of God’s love for His people and the sole basis upon which we are accepted by Him. It is the definitive display of God’s favor. All of the success we could ever have in ministry will not add one iota of favor to what God has displayed on our behalf at the cross. Nor can any ministry failure ever take away from the acceptance and access we have been given to God through the cross of Jesus Christ. Pastor, please hear me, you are not accepted by God because of what you do for Him through the ministry but by what Christ has already done for you on the cross. You are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent accepted and loved by God because of the sacrifice Christ made on your behalf at the cross. It is through the love and mercy of God shown to you in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that you will find satisfaction and joy in life. The ministry can be a wonderful place to experience the blessings of God, but it was never meant to be the source of those blessings. This distinction is a key to maintaining your joy.
- When Ministry Becomes and Idol Pt. 1 (joebuchanan.wordpress.com)
- Advice for Your First Year in a New Ministry Position (joebuchanan.wordpress.com)
- Dealing with Critics in Your Ministry (joebuchanan.wordpress.com)
- The Dangerous and Risky Calling of Pastoral Ministry (getreal.typepad.com)