I was struck by something Ray Ortlund said in a blog post recently:
“I am not impressed by young pastors who seem too eager to publish books and speak at big events and get noticed.”
It’s as if men get in the ministry and treat the first few years like the kid who shoots hoops in his driveway, imagining he is LeBron James. Eventually, he hopes, he’ll get the chance to really wow someone.
The problem is that pastors often use ministry for their own personal fulfillment and success. Here are a few disastrous results that follow.
1. You turn your congregation into a means to the end of your self-fulfillment. Rather than serving your congregation for their benefit, you will expect them to benefit you.
2. You become discontent with your current role in ministry, and look for the next step up the pastoral ladder. After all, you’re so much better than where you are now, right?
3. Your self-esteem becomes the barometer for your ministry. And anything that negatively affects your self-esteem becomes your enemy in ministry.
4. TED Talks influence your philosophy of ministry more than the Bible. You’ll be more interested in practical effectiveness than a theological foundation.
5. You stop viewing your ministry within the scope of God’s kingdom. Your ministry becomes the means through which you fulfill your life plan, rather than a means by which God works out his redemptive plan.
6. Your definition of ministry success is focused on you. Your goals are way too small if your idea of “arriving” as a pastor is a book deal and some conference speaking gigs.
7. Your identity becomes rooted in your ministry growth. Your identity, of course, is really in Christ, and any growth in ministry should be a by-product of your relationship with him, and ultimately from his sovereign grace.
So what should pastors do? The solution Ortlund provides is to be content to inch along in ministry, serving your congregation one hospital visit, one prayer, and one counseling session at a time. He saw this in his own father’s ministry:
“But what impresses me is my dad’s daily slogging, year after year, in the power of the Spirit, with no big-deal-ness as the payoff. This is the pastoral ministry that brings Jesus into the world today.”
Ironically, the kids that make it to D-1 or pro levels are the ones who slog through jump shot drills, free throws, and sprints when no one is looking. Not the ones who practice the miracle shots from the edge of the driveway.
That said, don’t succumb to the 8th disastrous result of letting self-fulfillment drive your ministry: “You hope God will reward your daily slogging with a book deal and conference speaking gigs.”