4 Ways You Might be Guilty of Making Ministry About You and Building Your Own Kingdom
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What brought you into ministry?
What are the reasons you decided to give so much of your energy, time, and life to be a pastor or ministry leader?
Some of you may take a page from Tupac and say, “I didn’t choose the ministry life; the ministry life chose me.”
Regardless of how you ultimately ended up in ministry, I think I can make a few
assumptions about the initial drives that brought you into ministry. Among them would be a love for God, a love for His people, a desire to cultivate a church community, and create disciples (by God’s grace) who go on to create more disciples.
There’s a sense that you're in ministry because you felt this was the life God was calling you into as
a means by which to reflect Him. Think back to the creation story; God creates humanity to reflect Him and to care for, cultivate and tend to His creation. As image-bearers, we get to partner with the work God is doing and exercise our gifts to cultivate the world.
For many, occupational ministry is one way to do that. And for many, that is a motivator that drives us day in and day out.
What happens when our motivations become misplaced? Adam and Eve had a role and remarkable blessings to go with it. But rather than living into the task God has invited them into, they rebelled and chose their own desires. Rather than participating in building God’s kingdom, they set themselves on the throne and made their calling about themselves.
As people in ministry (paid or unpaid), we have been invited to join in the building of God’s Kingdom, shepherding His flock, and growing His Church. But like Adam and Eve, there are temptations that could draw us to build our own kingdom instead, a lesser kingdom.
As I’m writing this (and maybe as you’re reading this), it’s easy to jump to obviously lesser things. We can assume that building our kingdom means engaging in some form of egregious sin, seeking our fame and fortune, or preaching heresy for the sake of attention. Certainly, those would be some examples of investing in our own kingdom. But it seems like we’re often drawn to building our kingdom in more subtle ways throughout the course of a ministry season.
Here are a few ways I’m guilty of making ministry about me and building my own kingdom.
Hear me out on this one. Navigating the reality of my own struggles with anxiety has been a bit complicated and drawn out. I was of those who believed, for a while, that any kind of anxiety was sinful and a result of my lack of total trust in God’s sovereignty. As I’ve journeyed to better understand my own experiences with anxiety, I was encouraged to resituate my understanding in a way that was freeing and helpful.
My counselor clarified that anxiety is the body’s response to a perceived danger which makes it an amoral feeling at best. For the sake of this discussion, when it comes to building my own kingdom or participating in God’s work of building His Kingdom, the question that matters more is what do I do with my anxiety?
When I’m awake at night anxious about volunteers, students in crisis, dwindling attendance, angry parents, budget deficits, the sermon I have to preach tomorrow, teammate disappointments, a bad performance review, or dozens of other things that might keep me up at night, what do I do with the anxiety this produces?
Admittedly, I am prone to turning inward for relief, wisdom, ideas, etc., and sometimes the motivation for that is that I just don't want to look like a high school pastor without a plan. I want to protect my image, the perception others might have of me, or my own perception of myself. These areas of need expose a weakness in my kingdom, and I need to fortify it when I can’t lose sleep.
But if my prayer and my aim are to join in the work God is doing to build His kingdom, then I don't need to lose sleep over these things. God is building His kingdom, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it-- no cap.
If anxiety is my body’s response to perceived danger, then when I’m anxious, I can ask, “Is there any real danger here?” and when it comes to partnering with the Spirit to build the Kingdom of God, then the answer is a resounding “No! My God is at work, and I’m with Him”.
In some cases, this is a symptom. In other cases, it’s a legit disease. Either way, overworking is something that needs your attention. We’ve all had seasons when we needed to work a bit more than usual (we have an outreach event this week, so you can be sure I’ll put in a few extra hours), but is this chronic? Are your spouse or your kids always waiting on you for dinner or bedtime or date night because you can’t push away from the desk or whatever you’re doing at the office that’s getting the best of you? I realize not everyone in ministry is married or has kids waiting for them at home, but that doesn’t mean you should burn the midnight oil six days a week.
Overworking as a symptom might mean I need some personal organizational habits, better time management, or maybe I need some tasks taken off my plate. But as a chronic disease, overworking usually means I’m working to prove my worth to someone, show that I’m a great employee, or fight to keep my ministry brand alive and relevant.
What is the problem with those things? They’re all about you!
God created us as humans with natural limitations and capacities. When we choose to ignore those by not sleeping, over-caffeinating, neglecting our mental health, etc., we choose to be something we aren’t. We choose to be the king or queen with all the power and none of the limits; we choose to be our own god. When I’m perpetually pushing my God-given limits, it exposes a sense of self-dependence to build my own kingdom as opposed to dependence on God and participation in His kingdom being built.
3. Neglecting My Spiritual Walk
It’s likely you face a never-ending task list. Each day you tick a few things off only to have more added. In an effort to manage hours and avoid overworking, you might even prioritize certain things and eliminate others. What gets cut? Sometimes it’s personal care routines that get the ax. I’m not talking about your beard-care routine (or am I?), but I am things like working out, having personal time, intentional time with friends and family, your own time with the Lord, and spiritual disciplines or practices that contribute to your spiritual walk.
If we aren't cultivating a vibrant spiritual walk, then our ministry is likely built on our own efforts and for our pleasure or fame. Without spending regular time fostering intimacy with God and listening to the Spirit, we aren’t likely to hear from Him or listen to Him when He speaks.
There is a reason Jesus walked away from important and obvious ministry opportunities to go be
with His Father. Spending time with His Father nourished His soul, reminded Him of the mission He was on, and empowered Him to live led by the Spirit. When we live that way, we are more likely to participate in God’s work of building His kingdom rather than settling for our own.
4. Choosing Not To Pray
This one goes hand in hand with cultivating your spiritual walk, but more specifically, I want to call attention to our time spent praying for our ministries. I was convicted recently for the discrepancy between my time spent in team planning and strategy meetings compared to my time spent in prayer for those very same things. Our church places a priority on prayer, and we commit hours a week to staff prayer times, but beyond that, I was lacking in the area of seeking God, asking His leading, and praying for His movement in powerful ways across our ministry environments.
When I neglect prayer, it’s often a subconscious omission, but it can speak to a sense of reliance on myself rather than a desperate need for God’s provision. Certainly, the Spirit can prompt out of our own wisdom or experience, so I don’t want to downplay that, but if I keep going back to that well and neglecting an all-knowing and all-powerful God, what is the likelihood that I’m walking in step with His leading?
If I want to be faithful to leading in light of His kingdom, then I should seek His leading, guidance, and empowerment far more often than I seek my own.
Leading in ministry is hard, lonely, and can often leave us throwing up our hands, unsure of what comes next. In those moments, we’re invited to seek first God’s Kingdom and trust that all those other things we stress about will be cared for by the King who loves and cares for us. We’re invited to join Him in what He’s building, to resist the urge to build for ourselves, and to faithfully say “Yes” to King Jesus as He builds His Church.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Where in your area of ministry are you building your kingdom and not participating in God’s?
- Who in your life can speak into this with regularity for accountability and encouragement?
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