Ministry Success: Joy in Humility

This is part three in a four-part series around the pitfalls of ministry success. The previous two posts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.


 

The pastor in charge stood in front of the ministers he was supposedly leading and announced, “I’m not here to be your friend and don’t have time to take your calls. I may not know much about being a pastor, but I know a lot about leadership.”

He was serious.

Success made this “minister of the Gospel” blind to his own sin of pride. Instead of leading other pastors through service (Mark 10:42-45), he chose the “I’m powerful” approach. I was saddened to hear his words, mostly because I remember how twisted my sense of value got when I experienced ministry success. Like many rich people, one is easily fooled into thinking you have more to do with your success than you really do.

 

It’s Difficult for the Rich and Famous

I once raised money for a non-profit and often met with wealthy people. I realized how difficult it must be for them to keep a balanced perspective on who they really were. Many rich people are used to others giving them what they want, when they want it; telling them what they want to hear, and never hearing something that would jeopardize their financial gift. Thus, many wealthy individuals eventually end up thinking everything they say is a stroke of genius and that most of their success is due to a parallel set of superior skills.

Ministers who grow large ministries are at risk to do the same. They may actually begin to believe their own press and think they are the real difference-maker. “Sure, we need the Holy Spirit,” they say, “but the Holy Spirit uses gifted men like me.” For some reason it never seems a possibility that the Holy Spirit uses them IN SPITE of their lack of giftedness or character.

I read about a minister who was fired from his “successful” church and afterward commented that the problem was, “His character couldn’t keep up with his gifting.” Sadly, even in our humility we can’t help but exalt ourselves.

 

Lesson Learned from a Billionaire

In a critical scene in the movie, The Pirates of Silicon Valley, about tech giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Gates and his partners meet with IBM to negotiate the leasing of their new software for Big Blue’s machines. Unbeknownst to IBM, this becomes the primary billion-dollar revenue source for the virtually unknown start-up, Microsoft.

In the middle of the negotiation, filmmakers froze the action and the actor portraying Steve Ballmer turned to the camera and announced to the audience that this was the moment that made the company – a colossal blunder by a corporate behemoth. In the end, a handful of the wealthiest men in the world became so because of a break they had no way to make themselves.

Almost everyone has a moment where they were surprisingly (and undeservedly) given a break that made them successful. This is absolutely true for EVERYONE in ministry. We factually get nothing done without Jesus (John 15:5). So, why is it so easy for us to forget this simple reality?  I can testify that in part it’s because, in our sinful nature, we believe we’re special compared to others. We want others to revere us.

 

Whose Name is in Lights?

In the golden age of Hollywood, theaters had grand marquees featuring the names of stars in BIG, bold lights. Isn’t this the dream of every performer…to see their name “up in lights”? Not for the Christian minister. Our dream is seeing Jesus’ name exalted. Our job? To be the one hanging the letters on the theater sign.

Those in ministry are especially in danger of inviting everyone to the Jesus Film only to try and steal His applause. We combat this self-glorification by remembering the grace we preach: God made us – He is the Potter and we are the clay. God providentially ordained our every step. Not one individual comes to Jesus unless the Holy Spirit draws them. Every ministry success – from growth to property acquisition to leadership roles – is given in spite of us and not because of us. It is by God’s unconditional grace. His grace frees us to confess that instead of His love we really long for the immediate gratification of human praise. In confessing, we can ask Jesus to help us see it is His love we really need.

How can you and your inner circle stay grounded in the realities of grace? Why resist the notion that God uses us in spite of us? Yes, He made you and wants to use you, but as King Solomon so eloquently wrote in Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

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