When Ministry Becomes Idolatry
If you haven’t looked at the whole paradigm of sin as idolatry, then you really need to do so. It’s transformative stuff. All of a sudden you begin to see the sin beneath the sin, as Keller says. You begin to discover that sin goes a lot deeper than you normally think. It’s getting meaning and identity from someone or something else than God.
Someone’s defined ungodliness as “finding fulfillment outside of God, which leads me to commit endless sins of the heart.” Sin is not always the pursuit of bad things; it’s inordinate affection for good things.
As I’ve been thinking about pastoral envy, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to find meaning and fulfillment in pastoring and the church. This means that ministry can become an idol. When it’s going well, then I feel good about myself. When it’s not going well, my identity is crushed. Pastoral ministry can become an idol and take the place of God.
Spurgeon used to say that we shouldn’t save souls to save our own soul. That doesn’t make sense until you realize that it’s possible to engage in ministry not for the glory of God and the good of others, but to fill some hole in our heart. I’ve heard Tim Keller talk about reading Romans 1:17, “The righteous shall live by faith,” realizing that he had been seeking his own justification not through faith in Christ’s work, but through his preaching. He was being his own functional Savior. We often make the same mistake, finding our self-worth in our ministries rather than Christ.
The only way to prevent ministry from becoming an idol is to find our identity in Jesus rather than in the church.
The prideful person is obsessed with comparisons, always measuring himself/herself against others. The proud person finds his identity in relation to someone he thinks of as a lesser (which encompasses just about everyone). The humble person finds his identity in relation to someone he knows is greater: Jesus! (Sam Storms – via)