The local newspaper did a story about the burgeoning youth ministry at the church where I served, and smack dab on the cover (above the fold) was a picture of me expounding the Word of God to teens. People at our church began to come up to me and tell me how gifted I was. I was asked to speak at youth camps. My soul’s thirst for affirmation was being satiated in the moment by the applause of others. But that thirst wouldn’t be quenched for long. In fact, the thirst grew.
Don’t Drink the Water!
If you were stranded in a liferaft in the middle of the ocean, there would be an abundant supply of water all around you. However, if you drink saltwater you’ll only increase your thirst, because the saline within the liquid will dehydrate you. Survival when adrift at sea only comes to the one who patiently waits for fresh water to fall from the sky. This fresh water from the heavens actually quenches the thirst. Jesus promised He will provide that living water for us (John 4:14).
Previously, I shared what was at the heart of a ministry collapse — my idolatry of finding my value in how successful I was by comparison to others. In this post, I’ll share two places I manifested signs of this idolatry in the hopes that these sinful character traits can serve as early warning detectors and arrest your attention to deal with them before they deal with you. These characteristics were at times pointed out to me, but it’s fairly easy to call “zeal” and “strategy” what really is an idolatrous drive for success.
Sign #1 of Success Idolatry: Impatience with Others
Impatience is a characteristic that manifests in a person’s life when they feel entitled to something, but don’t get it, “My meal isn’t being served fast enough at the restaurant, and I pay good money for good service.”
When we get impatient with others in ministry, usually at the root is a fear that if people don’t get with the program, our end goal won’t be achieved (the end goal being earthly success). Scripture commands we work with all of our hearts to serve the Lord (Colossians 3:23). However, when we get impatient or angry when others hold up the achievement of our goals and dreams, we manifest a character trait that subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) tells others we need this more for our own glory than for Jesus’. Here, we miss golden opportunities to minister to people in their failures, encouraging them in their faith.
Sign #2 of Success Idolatry: Exaltation of Self
Whether your online bio is the only one on the church website (or it’s much longer than your other staff), or your unwillingness to let others you think less gifted than you preach, people who are trapped in the pursuit of their own honor make certain no one else is seen. This, too, can be justified by saying things like, “We lead by giftedness and if they’re not as gifted as I am, their speaking may result in fewer people coming. And we can’t have that!”
Aside from the Biblical mandate to raise up leaders and serve through humility, all too often those who lead ministry, use the pursuit of “excellence” to make sure they are being exalted above others.
Have you subtly evidenced self-exaltation? Have you dropped a name here and there to make others think you were important? Perhaps today you can ask the Lord to search your heart and see if there is any offensive way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). You may find that in your pursuit of the praise of people, you’ve missed the opportunity for God to satisfy your parched soul.
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” – Jonah 2:8 (NIV)
Next up: Learning about yourself and what creates success.