When Ministry Becomes and Idol: Pt 4

English: Photograph taken at the Washington Na...
English: Photograph taken at the Washington National Cathedral of the Moses window by Lawrence Saint This window depicts the three stages of the life of Moses, each of them being 40 years long. The first 40 years is depicted in the left panel, when Moses is a prince in Egypt. The next 40 years is depicted in the right panel, which is Moses before Pharaoh. The last 40 years depicts Moses with the 10 Commandments, representative of his time with the Israelites in the wilderness as a lawgiver. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Over the last few days we have looked at how ministry can become and idol in our lives.  On Monday we looked at the connection between idolatry and ministry burnout. We also looked at the symptoms to look for in order to tell if your ministry has started to become an idol.  On Tuesday we saw that ministry becomes an idol when we believe that our success in ministry determines our value before God. Yesterday, we looked at the danger of replacing our devotion to God with ministry activity.  In today’s post I want to look at how our hearts can be deceived into believing that success in ministry will satisfy our souls.  For most Pastors, this is one of the most destructive philosophies that can creep into our hearts.


Satan likes to make us think that being successful in the ministry, as defined by man, will bring satisfaction.  We all have been guilty at some point or another of looking at one of the big name Pastors in the large and prosperous churches and thought to ourselves, “If only I could Pastor a church like that I would be happy.”  Sadly, our denominational structures and the conferences that we attend often reinforce this concept.  But the truth of the matter is that over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet and listen to some of the Pastors of the largest churches in America and they all have basically said the same thing, “The larger the church, the more problems you will meet.”  In fact, some of the Pastors that I’ve met who were on the proverbial fast-track to the larger churches decided to get off because they found that something was missing.  After years of observation and experience, I have come to the conclusion that no level of success in the ministry can satisfy the hunger deep in our souls. The reason I say this is that our satisfaction is determined by WHO we serve, not by WHERE we are serving or WHAT we are doing.


Here is the point that I want to make, there is no amount of success in the ministry that can satisfy your heart if you are not walking with God.  Our satisfaction in the ministry is not the result of WHERE we are serving or WHAT we are doing.  Our satisfaction comes from WHO we serve.  That is why in the Scripture when God calls someone to the ministry it is always preceded by a revelation of His divine character and nature.  Think about Moses, for example, before God told called him to go to Pharaoh and secure the release of the Israelites, He first revealed His identity and character. (Exodus 3:1-12)  When God called Jeremiah, He said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)  In this verse God reveals His omniscience and sovereignty before telling Jeremiah about the call on his life.  In Acts 9, Jesus reveals Himself to Saul before calling him to the ministry. In each of these cases the emphasis is placed on WHO is doing the calling and not on WHAT He is calling His instruments to do.


Until we learn to derive our sense of purpose, security, and meaning from the right place we will continue to struggle in the ministry.  This is where the ministry is inherently different from any other profession that I can think of.  If you are a carpenter, for instance, at the end of the day you can look back on what you have built and see progress.  When the project is complete and a new family moves into the house you can take satisfaction from the results of your work.  In the ministry, however, we never get to see the finished results of our work on this side of heaven.  This can be a perpetual source of dissatisfaction and feelings of failure if you forget WHO it is who has called you to this work.


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When Ministry Becomes an Idol: Pt 3

ID-10053881On Monday I began a series of articles about when ministry becomes an idol.  Yesterday, we saw that ministry becomes an idol in our lives anytime we start to think that success in ministry determines our value before God.    Today I want to move on to see a second way that ministry can become an idol:

We believe that the work of ministry is the same as devotion to God

Sam is a thirty five year old Pastor of a medium sized baptist church in a county seat town in the mid-south.  He started preaching when he was sixteen years old and started pastoring his first church when he was just eighteen.  Like many young Pastors, Sam started off as a bi-vocational pastor working full-time in the ministry while also holding down another job to “pay the bills.”  Sam and his wife Sarah got married shortly after he graduated high school and a year later found out they were expecting their first child.  Sam says, “Those first couple of years were very difficult.  I was a new husband, a new Pastor, and before I knew it, a new father.  All of this kind of swept my feet right out from under me.  Something had to give, so I decided that I needed to get rid of some things in my life in order to find room to breathe.”  After some long conversations with his wife, Sam decided to drop out of school and to go back later when things weren’t so hectic and busy.  Things never slowed down and sixteen years later, Sam still hasn’t gotten to go back.  Sam says, “At first dropping out of school freed up some time, but before long I found that the ministry was taking up more and more of my time.  It seemed like I could never quite catch up. As the church grew so did my responsibilities.  Before long I was struggling to keep up with everything. One area that I really struggled to maintain was my personal time alone with God.”  As the pressures of balancing the demands of his family, church, and secular job mounted, Sam’s devotional life simply vanished. “Eventually,“ he says. ”I just started to excuse my lack of devotional time by saying to myself that all of the time I gave to the work of the ministry counted as devotion to God.”  Like many Pastors, Sam had bought into the subtle delusion that the work of the ministry is the same as devotion to God.  Eventually, this view of the ministry eroded his life and nearly consumed him.

Anyone who has been in the ministry for a length of time can sympathize with Sam’s plight.  The work of the ministry is one of the most all-consuming professions a person can choose.  Due to it’s nature, it is tempting for us to think that the time we give towards studying the Bible for sermons, praying for the needs of our congregation, and ministering to their needs is the same as being devoted to God.  But this is not always the case.  One of the subtle ways that Satan gets us to fall into the trap of ministry idolatry is to convince us that serving the church is the same as being devoted to God.  He even builds in rewards for service that cleverly masquerade themselves as God’s blessings to keep us trapped.  Popularity and church growth can feed our ego and drive us to work harder and harder to gain the applause and recognition of the congregation. Sadly,  we often begin to our time alone with God in personal Bible study and prayer slip away.  When this happens, we quickly discover that the reservoirs quickly run dry and soon we are ministering from the dusty leftovers rather than the rich overflow of our lives.

The answer is simple, we must carefully protect our time alone with God.  I will never forget at my ordination service when Warren Baker, my beloved pastor growing up, whispered in my ear during the laying on of hands, “Never let anything keep you from your quiet time with God. It is the most important thing that you will do as a Pastor.” I haven’t always kept that advice but I certainly have learned the importance of what he said that day.