5 Questions to Discern Ministry Idolatry

Local church ministry can be thrilling, even addictive. Seeing the Lord transform lives and bring people into a relationship with Himself provides a buzz that nothing in this world can provide. And because we are prone to replace God on the throne of our lives with something else, something lesser, ministry can easily become the god of a church leader.

There is a temptation to love ministry more than God, a tendency to rejoice more in the ministry God has given us than in God Himself. I know. I know because I have been the idolatrous church leader. I have been the leader who craves ministry influence more than God, the leader who rejoices more loudly for ministry impact than the simple truth that I am His.

Jesus knew the temptation to commit ministry idolatry would be very real to us. After He sent out His disciples to minister to people in towns, they returned filled with joy. They were stoked 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 in 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 was diagnosed with cancer and struggling with his 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.

How can you tell if you are prone to committing ministry idolatry? Here are five questions I have been considering:

  1. How much of my contentment is connected to the tide of my ministry influence?
  2. Do my prayers reflect that I am more thankful for the salvation He has provided for me or for the ministry He has given me?
  3. If I had to choose, which would I prefer: a closer walk with Jesus or a more “effective ministry”?
  4. If my ministry were suddenly taken from me, would I still rejoice as Lloyd-Jones did?
  5. Do I seek God only for His blessing and direction or do I also seek God for Him?

We too can be perfectly content if we rejoice most in the reality that Jesus has separated our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Michael — 06/01/13 9:23 am

Wow! A healthy and necessary reminder. Thanks for this.

Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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