The Idol of Ministry

With my travel schedule, it’s a rare occurrence that I’m actually in my own town on Sunday morning.  I can’t count the number of “home church” days that I’ve missed while sitting on airplanes miles from home.  No, I don’t pastor a church at home; I am merely a congregation guy when I’m there.

As our pastor spoke on addictions this morning, I slowly started to check out.  I did the personal inventory of the usual suspects:  I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do pornography.  Yep, I’m all good.  Then came revelation, through a simple series of statements from the pulpit:

1.  An addiction is an idol. 

 2.  An idol is something that, while completely unworthy of taking a front seat to God, still does.

 As I chewed on these bullet points, feeling bad for all of those sorry folks sitting around me who were addicted to their own idols, I heard that ever-convicting still, small voice echoing in my head.  It was a third point, aimed directly at me like a sniper:

3.  Your ministry is your idol.

Like any good minister type, I argued vehemently against that:  “But in order to do everything with excellence, I have to spend time making sure we put out quality ministry stuff. “  Or even worse, “I’m doing Your work, Lord.”

If you’ve ministered, or pastored as a vocation, for more than a week, you’ve said these exact same words to someone at some point.  Maybe we’ve even validated it to God, who, by the way, isn’t in the business of getting more “Likes”, selling more books, or filling more seats.  He’s in the business of saving souls.  Period.

So then comes the pressing question that we must all ask ourselves:  “Have I gotten so busy working ON the ministry that I’ve forgotten to work IN it?”

As we are directing our ministry, are we so consumed by the content that we forget about the Author?

When we have a church staff meeting, is the majority of our time spent discussing strategy, promotion, budget numbers and building issues?

Are we validating our ministerial existence by the number of butts in sanctuary seats, “Likes” on our page or followers on Twitter?

When we wake up in the morning, are we first burdened for the lost, or consumed by the business of running the ministry?

If you’re like me, my guess is that you answered “Yes” to some, or all, of the aforementioned questions.  And you are probably introspectively arriving at the same conclusion that I did:  My ministry has slowly become my idol.

Sure, we all start out with a Holy Spirit fire to reach people.  We don’t give a rip about money or how it will all work out, right?  We’re just faithful, and God handles the results.

But somewhere along the way, we slowly eek God out of our routine.  I mean, we’re doing His work, so it’s all good, right?  Suddenly, our morning quiet time is usurped by meetings, or people who need us.  Writing messages becomes a focal point, and if the series is good enough, we can write a book.  Before too long, we are so far ahead of God that we can’t even see Him when we turn around.

Truth is, we are working so hard to build our own little kingdoms that we’re no longer building God’s Kingdom.

So here’s what I propose.  If you run a ministry, or pastor a church, it’s time to return to basics.  Do a quick inventory of how you spend your time.  Is there a personal quiet time in there, with no option for rescheduling it?  After all, we’re in the “family” business and we need a good hookup with the Father.

Tomorrow morning, get back into your quiet time.  No, not message prep.  Quiet time.  Find a corner and hide in it.  Just you and God.

At the next staff meeting, shelve all of the budget talk and production issues.  And just pray.  Don’t let that prayer degenerate, as it often does, into asking God to bless your church.  It ain’t about you.

Remember, in the Old Testament, when little Josiah finally reconnected the Israelites with the Word, and tore down all of the Asherah poles and high places?  God was quick to restore the nation and Josiah became one of the greatest kings in Judah.

Put God back on top, tear down that ministry idol, and watch what He does with the message He originally gave you, before you got all buried in the business of ministry.

After all, God is about people. If our time is taken up with anything but His people, then it’s an idol.  It’s this simple:

You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 

 Rev 2:4b-5 NIV