Ministry: The Idol of Many


Ministry: The Idol of Many

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11:43

We all know “ministry” became an idol to the Pharisees, and Jesus gave us a great explanation of where they went wrong and how they went wrong. You can definitely get a better read on ministry being an idol in Luke 11.

But here are a few thoughts on how ministry has become an idol in our day

I know this thought isn’t revolutionary, but I feel the need to write about this.

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen this idol in my life, and many many people around me throughout the years.

I’ll get straight to it…

Here are some ways you know if “ministry” is your idol.

(By the way, when I say “ministry” I’m referring to working or serving at a church. I believe “true ministry” doesn’t have to take place at church. In reality church is a place where we get trained to do ministry, like boot camp for ministry, but that’s a different blog for another day)

You know ministry is an idol if…

#1. You think, “they CAN’T do it without me”

Most people in ministry won’t admit to this, but I’m sure all of us have felt or thought this deep down (foolishly, I know I have). Maybe you thought, “I’ll bring structure, leadership, and order to this ministry. I’ll bring the change they need. What would they do without me?”

Maybe some of you reading this think you’re the messiah when it comes to churches and ministry. Some of you think you can and will save the church (or maybe an area of the church).

I had a Pastor tell me once, “that everyone in the ministry has a messiah complex, except for the real messiah.” It’s so true. He came as a humble servant to give His life for us. Jesus came to serve, not be served. His saving came through dying. We all have this desire to save, but do we want to die?

Here’s a sobering truth, but it’s been said, “If you want to know how much you’ll be missed when you are gone, put your finger in a bucket of water and then remove it. The hole that’s left will be how much you are missed.”

Trust me, you’re not that great. I’m not that great. They can do this without us. By God’s grace He chooses to use us; to use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. I’m thankful He does, and humbled He does, and lets not think for a minute “this place would fall apart without me.”

You know ministry is an idol if…

#2. You leave the church, or a specific ministry, if you don’t get the “job”

I’ve seen many people intern, volunteer, help out, etc. at church because they desire to get hired by that church (that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) Maybe they don’t verbalize that’s why they’re serving, but as soon as a job opens up, they ask about it and if they don’t get the job they’re out of there in no time.

Time will reveal why they were really around a specific ministry. Was it because they could help out, care for the lost, disciple people, or because all they wanted was a job?

You know ministry is an idol if…

#3. You think: “If I don’t work at a church then I’ve failed in life” (Read all of this point!)

No one ever really says it this way, but if we were to search our heart this would be a thought deep down. This idea that, “if I’m not working at a church, (getting paid full time by a church), maybe I’m not a strong Christian or maybe I’m not spiritually ‘there yet’.”

Ministry is an idol for you if you think, “If I can just work at this church _______, then I’ve finally arrived in my faith.” That’s a lie from hell!

I’ve seen young person after young person make their primary goal to get hired at a big church, maybe a church they grew up in, or always respected, and it’s what their heart longs for the most. They think, “if I get hired by this church, now I have some sort of intrinsic value. Now I’ve made it.”

So often people say, I have a “calling” when in reality it’s a misconstrued dream they’ve had since they were a child. There are so many church kids (people who grew up in the church), who cannot even fathom getting a job in the “real world.” And they’ve developed this mindset, or thought process, that if they don’t work at church then they’re not a “good” Christian.

For many young people they find their salvation, their identity, to work at the church of their dreams rather than enjoying Jesus, and really pursuing His calling on their life.

Maybe Jesus wants you to work at a church, maybe he wants you to plant a church, maybe He simply wants you to be the church, and maybe you don’t have to work at the church you grew up at. Maybe God wants you to take a step of faith, maybe he wants you to leave what your comfortable with. “A prophet not without honor, except in his own country” Meaning maybe you need to get out of “your country” out of your roots.
Maybe you need to do ministry for free for a while. 

Now I’m not talking about paying your dues; I’m talking about developing a sincere and pure heart for the Lord, and a sense of honor and respect for the ministry. Often times I’ve seen people get hired and yet there is no real appreciation for the bride of Christ, and it’s just a way to pay the bills, or feel satisfied internally with what they do rather than be obedient to Christ.

Everyone likes to think they’re called to “ministry” (by that I mean work for a church). But if you’re reading this, I want you to genuinely ask and seek the Lord if your calling is to work for a church or simply be the church, and support the church.

Maybe back in high school you felt the calling to work in ministry, but was that the Lord or you? Was that, and is that, an idol, or is it a God given desire to love His bride in that way?

Trust me, there are Demas’ in ministry still (“for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world,” – 2 Timothy 4:10); this didn’t just happen one time, but sadly we have Demas’ who depart internally from the Lord and yet they might stay working in ministry; maybe because fear, or because of not knowing what else they could do, but they stay working at the church, and they do more harm by staying then leaving.

You know ministry is an idol if…

#4. You talk about “up and coming pastors” more than Jesus

So often we talk about this new church, and that successful church, and what they do well, and we spend more time praising different podcasts, books, or speakers more than praising Jesus.

You know ministry is an idol if Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit is secondary to what some trendy church is doing.

You know ministry is an idol if…

#5. You get on the merry go round of ministry and don’t get off

There’s always going to be problems that need fixing, people in need, events that need to be planned and sermons that need to be taught, and we can say we put our family above ministry all day long, but do our actions display that?

Leadership, can say “we want you to be with your family; family is more important than ministry” but do they embody it?

Now don’t make the mistake many do, which is they miss out on a responsibility in the name of “family” when in reality it was a lack of responsibility.

But there is a fine line and it is difficult to navigate through many times.

Don’t look back on your life and think to yourself, “I wish I would have invested more in my own family then in the church community.”

Sadly I think Pastors invest more in the church then they do their own family, because it’s more public, it’s celebrated more, there’s a sense of pride attached to it. But if you’ve ever had the privilege of speaking to a Pastor who’s been in ministry for over 25 years their response usually is I wish I enjoyed my family more. So those of us who are younger lets learn from this!

Don’t be so consumed with working your way up the Church corporate latter and miss out on precious memories with your kids.

Many times things that we spend a lot of time on and think will make an eternal impact is just busy work, and it can wait. Investing in your family is making an eternal impact!

Don’t be the one in ministry who builds up families while your family is falling apart.

Get off the merry go round, get off the hamster wheel. Prioritize your time; invest in what really matters. Fulfill your calling!

You know ministry is an idol if…

#6. You think you have to always work for a church, or you’re in sin. (this is different then #3… you’ll see)

I was talking to a friend about this recently.

There seems to be this feeling that if you stop working for a church and get a job in a area of life that you’re passionate about then somehow you’re in sin.

Listen, I know very mature gospel centered Christians, who want to receive income in the world and give it back to Jesus. There’s a desire to provide for their family elsewhere, and even a sense that they don’t always want their income to come from working at a church.

Now yes, we know that “you shouldn’t muzzle an ox while it tread out the grain” meaning it isn’t a sin to provide for your family by making your vocation working for a church. It’s actually a good thing, a biblical thing.

But there is something holy about wanting to take a step of faith by getting paid from a job in the world, and taking the money from the world, and giving it back to Jesus.

But here’s what I’ve noticed… In the church, if someone leaves his or her job at the church for another job or passion, there’s talk like the person is somehow “in sin.” There’s almost this vibe that they’re not in their calling; when in reality they might actually be discovering their calling.

Paul made tents! We know this, it seems that Paul had some of his needs met by having a job and still he did “ministry” and served the church.

Instead of making Christians feel out of place when they stop working for a church we should celebrate the fact that they’re going to be around non-believers and use their gifting’s in the world for Jesus and bring people to Jesus. Again working at a church isn’t necessarily “ministry” as we use it, in reality “ministry” is reconciling the world to God in Christ, and we do that by being in the world!

You know ministry is an idol if…

#7. Everyone else see’s it but you.

I guess you wouldn’t know ministry was an idol then, but the truth is everyone else in your life sees it’s in idol.

If all you think about is the “ministry” when you get home. If you don’t talk to your spouse anymore about life, their feelings, their heart, their interests, and all you talk about is what happened at work, then ministry has become an idol to you.

Why do you think I’m writing about this? Because I saw an unhealthy trend in my life. I use to come home and talk about what God has done, and what God is doing. But several months ago I started to see myself talking about work a.k.a. “ministry” non-stop, and I’m realizing that this needs to stop.

I’m not saying you can’t talk about ministry, but if all you do is go home and talk about the ministry and not Jesus or what He’s doing, then maybe just maybe this is an idol.

Leaders, let’s talk about Jesus again in our homes! Let’s talk about the goodness of God!

Ask around!
If everyone else sees that you’re obsessed with ministry and no longer the things of the Lord, or eternal matters, then ministry is an idol.

So ask your friends, ask people who rub you the wrong way, ask people “am I someone who emphasizes the right things in ministry; do you think my personal relationship to Jesus, and my family comes before the ministry?”

You need to ask!

You know ministry is an idol if…

#8. You don’t know why you do it anymore?

Why do you work at a church? Why do you work for a church?

Do you remember why you first got into ministry? Do you remember the burden you had for people when you first started?

Do you still have the same burden?

If you’re in ministry just to collect a paycheck then this is an idol.

If you’re in ministry for any other reason other than what Paul said, “For the love of Christ compels us,” then ministry is an idol.

It was the love of Christ that compelled me to get in the ministry. I’m hoping for all of us that it was the love of Christ that compelled us to get into ministry.

Jesus’ love for me so transformed my life that I was burdened for people to experience the same transformation through God’s love.

Jesus told the church in Ephesus that “you have left your first love” referring to leaving Jesus’ love.

Have you left your first love?

Have you got caught up in the fast pace of ministry and walked away from Jesus love being your motivation?
Have you walked away from your spouse, your kids, your friends, and are you working at a church to keep your status, your paycheck, your job?

If so, then ministry is an idol.

It’s time to kill the idol of ministry. It’s time to repent and do our first works. It’s time to serve Jesus out of purity and passion.

How do we do this? The Gospel.

“Preach the Gospel to yourself daily.” Remember what Jesus did for you; He died so you could live. He crushed the power of sin, hell, and darkness. He is 2nd to none. He is Pre-eminent.

Jesus overturned the tables in the temple. Why? Because ministry for the sake of ministry became an idol, ministry became the god the people served. No longer was ministry done for the one true God, but it was done out of selfish ambition, pride, ego, and money.

So, Jesus overturned tables.

Does He need to do this in our lives? Probably.

Let Him do it.

Don’t let ministry be an idol any longer.

Jesus is better. Jesus is the goal.

When Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself.

John’s last words in 1 John were: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” – 1 John 5:21

Be aware of the idol of ministry; so often it has a form of godliness but denies it’s power.