Ministry is a word that evokes many strong feelings. Our individual history and experiences likely shape our definition and expression. I don’t define ministry by clergy-laity distinctions. All of life is ministry. The effort anyone engages in, at any time, in any arena, for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom and His interests in people, is ministry. Ministry can be diversified and specialized in the sense of Ephesian 4 callings, but everyone does “ministry” (or should!) and everyone needs to be free of addicted to ministry syndrome!
When Ministry Misleads
Those called to engage in ministry (especially, but not limited to, Ephesian 4 types) must learn a difficult lesson of the Cross. Ministry can be a church-world-acceptable veneer for carnal drive, ambition, and general psychological unwellness.
Our identity, soul wellness, and sense of fulfillment in life must come from our status of being His beloved sons and daughters, not from what we build or accomplish in ministry.
Jesus was content as a son for thirty years and had intense ministry expression for a little more than three, and His “ministry” cost Him His life. That’s a lot of “being-ness” (and apparent “nothing-ness”) in proportion to “doing-ness and successfulness,” with a final chapter none of us would naturally choose. Being and doing are not mutually exclusive. However, the problem enters when we accept value signals only from the doing-ness side of things. Sometimes, the most spiritual, most “kingdom thing” we can do is nothing, especially when frustration and nothingness is used by Father to crucify fleshly ambition.
We must learn to be at soul-peace when it appears that we are doing nothing, building nothing, and ministering to no one. Seasons of abundant fruitfulness are fine. Prolonged seasons of stone-cold nothingness are also fine. He is Lord of the seasons, and Lord of the harvest that He, Himself, will take from our lives. If we do not learn this, we will activate our gift from our very able and all too eager human soul, when God is not involved in the effort:
- Teachers – will always teach even when more information isn’t needed, no one is asking a question, and no one is interested in their opinions.
- Evangelists – will always get a response, even when God is not moving on hearts, by using “techniques” to get observable “responses.”
- Pastors – will always protect and shelter, even when God is trying to reach people for unpleasant discipline or change. Unsanctified mercy gets in the way of the disciplines of the Cross.
- Prophets – will always say something even when God is not speaking.
- Apostles – will always build some “thing,” even when God has not specifically commissioned what is being built in His name.
These efforts will get results. The question is, will the results stand in the day of evaluation? (See below-I’ve Been to the Mountaintop)
Ministry: The Monster that Demands to be Fed
As wonderful as ministry can be, it’s also the most fertile ground for the enemy of our soul to conscript our flesh to work with him for multi-generational devastation. The adversary subverted perfection in the beginning by slightly distorting what God intended for good, so this should be no surprise.
Ministry can be a monster that demands to be fed. It can devour you, every one you love, and your very being. The price of perceived success is often your loved ones and your soul. Ministry can also be a surrogate spouse and lover. Ministry lust is a more dangerous addiction than drugs or sexual lust. It is subtler. It has the appearance of propriety, but has the potential to ruin more people because of the privilege of influence that ministry carries with it. Ministry can be your identity. It can be your slave-master employer. It can be, in reality, your God, the thing you really serve and worship rather than Him.
Admitting these things might apply to our selves can be difficult because ministry efforts can appear so worthwhile and loving. We think we’re serving God, yet ministry itself becomes the engine of our lives that demands our energy, time, money, and devotion.
When ministry is our identity idol, we will use, and abuse the people around us as commodities for our own ambitions and be utterly blind to the pain we cause others, starting with our spouse and children. They are often the first casualties of “ministry success.” We are blind because our heart intentions are good. Blind good intentions always produce painful outcomes. We must avoid this for our soul’s sake, the sake of those we love, and for His kingdom’s sake.
I’ve Been to the Mountain Top – There’s Nothing There
The following is a true story from the life of someone I greatly respected, who passed on a few years ago.
He had over forty years of ministry experience. He was a true apostolic father. He had all the features of success. He was the head of a multi-national ministry. He traveled the world as a major conference featured speaker. He had his own network of “sons.” At one time he had his own plane. He had money, property, buildings, and assets both personal and ministry. He was widely esteemed and looked up to by peers and those in “ministry.” He was held up as a model of successful “spiritual fathering” and apostolic leadership. Shortly before he passed, he privately confessed the following to me:
“I have been to the top of the mountain in ministry. There is nothing there. I have every facet of success that I thought I ever wanted. I have discovered that no one cares for my soul. He then proceeded to say to me: “I am not looking forward to the day when I have to look Jesus in the eye and explain to him how much of the ministry I have done, and the success I have had, was in my name instead of His.” (He was a very able, strong and highly gifted man.) He also told me: “Even though I am the head of this network and have preached “sonship” for decades, I do not have a single person who really knows me and has my heart, I have no sons.” (Outwardly, it looked like he was surrounded by “sons.”)
At least he had an epiphany and repentance before He passed. How much better, dear reader, if in our youth, we pass this lesson before we are in our sixties?
The end game of life in Christ is not a “successful ministry.” It is transformation into the image of Christ. His kingdom will go on just fine without us and our great gifts and ministries. We get the privilege of being His Body on earth and of co-laboring with Him in His purposes. However, if the day comes when we think of our selves or our ministries as indespensible, we are functional idolaters, regardless of our Biblical fidelity and sincere motives.
How can you tell if you have might have a problem in this area? Well, here are a few suggestions for you to consider, I am sure there are others:
- If someone asked your spouse and children privately about you (without fear of repercussion) what would their answer be? Would you be happy with what they said?
- Do you always talk about yourself, your ministry, your title, your calling, your effectiveness, etc.? Are you as good at listening as you are at talking?
- Are you content doing nothing, or are you addicted to “ministering in the anointing?”
- If you never exercised your gift or “ministered” again another day in your life would you be content in God, or do you REQUIRE ministry for validating soul affirmation needs?
- Do you feel “impelled” in your being to always talk because of how vitally important you think what you are carrying is for others to hear? Can you ever just be quiet and still and say nothing or do nothing in a meeting?
- Do you treat people as objects to be conquered, persuaded, and to ultimately be dependent upon you for your insights?
- Do you dominate/control people with your intellect, personality warmth, or charm, and brush it off as a manifestation of a “leadership gift?”
- Do you “recruit” people to yourself thinking you are building the kingdom?
- Can you listen to and receive from and yield to, someone whose stature you consider less than yours?
- Do you always have to say something in a meeting? Do you believe your voice/opinions/perspectives are the most vital to be heard?
- Do you feel depressed or useless when you are not ministering?
- Can you just relax and be yourself, or do you always have to be Apostle this, or Bishop that, or Pastor this, or any other functional moniker? Do you have an “off” button in your soul?
- Do you overlook loving the least in front of you in the moment because your are too busy “fulfilling your calling?”
- Can you have a normal conversation with another human being without it being saturated with ministry jargon and Christianese?
Without safe, open, honest, and trusting relationships, all of us will be left to our own subjective opinions of “what God is saying and doing,” and what He is not. The day of “Jesus and me is all I need,” is over. Our lives knit together from which all the mysteries of Christ are made known (Col. 2:8) is the divine safety net to spare us from our own carnal drive and self-inflicted disasters. We are masters at fooling ourselves, reaping the whirlwind, and blaming it on the devil.
There is little temptation in overt evil. Temptation must seem right, or it would have no power. It can be most difficult to recognize and to admit to one’s self that a problem exists because it can appear so good, so worthwhile, so noble, so sacrificial, so Godly and it feels so native to our sense of being. There is a different way to live and minister than what most of us have had modeled before us. It’s not a theory. It’s not a doctrine. It’s not a new model of ministry. It’s a state of being in Christ that is real, restful, life giving, and fruitful, but crucifying to our flesh.
Ultimately, I cannot persuade you that you have a problem. But I can confidently state that ministry addiction is an epidemic problem, because I see it every day in people who profess to have an Ephesian 4 calling. I see the effect it has in their relationships–the unuttered sorrow, the silent pain that so many carry, fearful to say anything lest they be perceived as “unhelpful to the cause,” or be accused of being unsubmissive or a Jezebel, or other such nonsense, only to have their repressed pain erupt 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years down the road with relationally devastating results.
You can prevent that devastation by taking action at this moment to examine yourself. Admit something to yourself before you reap a harvest of sorrow that you cannot presently imagine. This day, the Spirit of the Lord is giving you an opportunity and a way of escape. Don’t miss it. For your own sake, the sake of those you love and who love you, and for His kingdom testimony’s sake, confess you have been snared by ministry lust and ask the Lord to forgive and deliver you. Be prepared to walk out whatever changes are necessary to consolidate your freedom of body, soul, and spirit.
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