It may seem counterintuitive that a church leader would somehow be serving her own interests, rather than following God’s, but the slippery slope to self-adoration begins in seemingly justified thoughts. People in the church face problems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they expect their leaders to be available to help in their times of need. After repeated seasons of not being home for dinner, missing Suzy’s piano recital, and canceling family plans at the last minute, ministers can easily (and understandably) begin to keep track of “What I’m Giving Up” in order to serve the church. The longer the list gets, the more the leader starts to believe that her sacrifices are necessary to keep the church going. Unknowingly, she piles burdens upon herself, concerned that the ministry will fail without her attention to every marital dispute, volunteer crisis, or choice of paint color for the new classroom.
The companion thought to “What I’m Giving Up” is “I Do More Than ________”. Ministry leaders often allow themselves to quantify how much or how often they serve in comparison to the efforts of others in the church, which invites the temptation to grow bitter at what appears to be a greater commitment on their part. This thought process can soon be followed by “When Do I Get A Break?” and “How Am I Being Served?”.
The foundation for these beliefs centers on the fact that Jesus served unto death and so now his followers, especially church leaders, must do likewise. Jesus gave his life for the church; we are called to do the same.
The difference, though, is that the only person the church needs is Jesus. His sacrifice actually accomplished something for us (our salvation) and his service continues to work out our sanctification. Pastors, elders, and ministry leaders serve like Jesus but not in place of him. Not one good work of the church depends on the sacrifices of its leaders. The church’s success is not a result of our ability, faithfulness, or middle-of-the-night attentiveness. God doesn’t need us to build his church and the church doesn’t need us to save her.
I am not advocating, of course, that leaders be lazy, selfish, or neglectful of their responsibilities. But I am encouraging us to continually evaluate the very fine line between serving because I must rather than because I can.
Christians are in danger of making ministry about themselves, rather than God, when:
- they are unable to say “no” to church activities
- they serve out of a sense of guilt - “I don’t want to let the church down”; a sense of worry - “if I don’t do this, what will happen?”; or a sense of self-idolatry - “I’m the only one who can do this”
- they no longer see or experience God at work but, instead, feel the weight of doing all the work
- they have repeated thoughts of bitterness, criticism, or resentment towards others in the church
If you recognize any of these circumstances in your life - STOP! TURN AROUND! RUN TO JESUS! You may be in danger of burnout so stop, drop, and roll. Just say no!
And, pray for your leaders.
Pray that those who serve you will always be motivated by Christ, rather than their own flesh.
Pray that they will be able to distinguish between what is necessary and what drains their time.
Pray that they will find rest in Jesus and that the church will not be a burden to them!
Come alongside your leaders by serving in the church - if every part of the body fulfilled its role, how beautiful and sanctified she would be.
How do you see the grace of Christ in your ministry? How are you tempted to make it about yourself rather than him?