When I first began serving in local church ministry, a pastor told me that “church is a great place to hide out and a great place to burn out.” He further explained that ministry can attract workaholics, those who live off affirmation from others for the work they do. And that ministry can also attract people who are somewhat lazy and want to hide, not doing much of anything. The key, he told me, is to work hard and serve passionately without the role becoming your source of life. It was extremely wise and helpful counsel.
All of us tend to err to one of two extremes –workaholism or laziness. Neither is beneficial and both are sinful. The only way to avoid both laziness and workaholism in ministry is to view your role as a gift and not a god. A ministry role is a gift that must be stewarded well, not approached lazily, but it is not a god that we should bow before. Augustine profoundly wrote in his Confessions:
And I viewed the other things below You, and perceived that they neither altogether are, nor altogether are not. They are, indeed, because they are from You; but are not, because they are not what You are… And You are the Lord my God, since You stand not in need of my goodness.
Ministry is from God.
Your role and your ministry are a gift from God. It is not “altogether not;” meaning ministry has great value and is a profound honor and privilege. To be able to serve people in the name of Jesus is an incredible blessing. Christ has given you the gifts you have received. He has given you the passion you possess. To help others encounter the grace of Jesus is thrilling. To witness the Lord transforming people, restoring marriages, and commissioning people to live as salt and light in our world is awesome.
It is so awesome that it can become our god (as it has been mine at times in my “struggling, not where I should be but grateful I am not what I used to be” life).
Ministry is not God.
Ministry is not “altogether” because it is not God; it is beneath God. Ministry is a great gift, but a cruel god. When we make ministry our god, it asks more and more from us without ever satisfying us. It cannot satisfy us because it is not Him. The Lord does not need our goodness. He does not need our good deeds. God can accomplish what He wants to accomplish in our churches and our cities without us. Yet, He wants to use us because He loves us. He invites us to join Him in His work. And as He uses us, His intention is that we would come to know Him more and more and realize more and more that He is better than the blessings He gives – including the work we get to do in His name.
Church leaders—enjoy ministry as a gift, but don’t bow to ministry as a god.