Ministry leaders are often tempted to love ministry more than Jesus. For this reason, we must continually guard our hearts from loving the work of the Lord more than the Lord of the work. Ministry idolatry is common and it crushes ministry leaders as they run feverishly to achieve more and more in hopes of their egos being stroked. Instead of finding identity in who Christ has declared us to be, ministry idolatry invites us to find our identity in what we do for Him. In our book, Designed to Lead, Kevin Peck and I challenge ministry leaders to flee from ministry idolatry:
Jesus knew the temptation to commit ministry idolatry would be very real. After He sent out His disciples to minister to people in towns, they returned filled with joy. They were thrilled because they had experienced the great joy of God working through them. “Even the demons submit to us in Your name,” they declared (Luke 10:17). Jesus affirmed the authority He had given them but also gave them a caution: “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20). In other words, be careful what ultimately causes you to rejoice.
If we only rejoice in God because of what He is doing through us and not because of what He has already done for us, we cherish our ministry more than Him. If our awe for what He is doing through us surpasses our awe for what He has done for us, we have made ministry our god.
The renowned pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones battled cancer and poor health in his final months. His biographer, Iain Murray, asked him how he was coping with his shrinking influence, the inability to be used by God to minister to the thousands that he had previously been serving. Martyn Lloyd-Jones responded: “‘Don’t rejoice that spirits submit to you. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.’ I am perfectly content.”
If ministry success is our god, we are likely to take the shortest path to greater and greater “victories,” but preparing and developing people is never on the shortest path. If ministry idolatry plagues us, we are hesitant to relinquish the ministry that fuels and drives us. We want to be the one, the man, the hero. We are only perfectly content to equip others if our hearts are filled with awe and wonder that we belong to Jesus.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones demonstrated the cure for ministry idolatry well. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven and you can be perfectly content.