As you lead in ministry, do you struggle to have an accurate view of self? I am discovering, as every year of pastoral ministry passes, that I am prone to a very skewed view on this front. As I was recently rereading through Dangerous Calling, a book well-worth doing so, the following excerpt reached out and grabbed my heart with divine conviction and challenge:
“I wasn’t consciously proud. Maybe most proud people aren’t conscious of how proud they really are. But I felt that I had arrived. In ways that now shock and embarrass me, I thought of myself as a grace graduate. I didn’t minister out of my own need. I had done very well in seminary. I had planted a church in a very hard place. I had founded a Christian school that was growing rapidly. (Both the church and the school I had founded along with others, but I didn’t look at it that way.) I was getting invitations all over the place to speak. In ways that are hard for me to imagine now, I thought I had spiritually arrived. I had a scary self-assurance. I often looked at the people I was ministering to with a self-congratulatory pity, assuming, of course, that they were essentially different from me. No, I didn’t make fun of people, and I didn’t spend my time bragging about my accomplishments, but an attitude of arrival did shape my ministry.
I was incredibly impatient and often quietly irritated. I found it hard to delegate ministry to others. I wanted more control than was actually necessary and productive. I gave my opinion way too often. I treated the ministries God had called me to as if they belonged to me. I wanted people to quickly sign on to support my brainstorms. My sermons were rather arrogant lectures—you know, the final word on the topic or the passage. I once preached what I thought was the ultimate sermon on pride that was actually a living example of the same! My preaching and teaching was more law than gospel. This is typical of a person who thinks he is a law keeper.
As a pastor, I was making a dangerous self-assessment mistake. I had bought into a fallacious, distorted view of my spiritual maturity. This view is both very tempting and very comfortable for people in ministry, and when we buy into this view, it sets us up for a catalog of temptations:
- Rather than looking at myself in the accurate mirror of the Word of God—the only place where you will get both an accurate definition of spiritual maturity and a reliable read on your own spiritual condition—I looked elsewhere. I looked to excellent grades and student prizes in seminary to tell me how mature I was. It is a dangerous intellectual and knowledge-based method of assessing your spiritual condition. I looked to ministry skill to tell me how spiritually mature I was, forgetting that God gives gifts to whomever he wills. I looked to my ministry experience; the years of labor made me feel spiritually seasoned and mature.
- Rather than humbly standing before the honest assessment of the mirror of the Bible to see myself as I really was, I looked into carnival mirrors. Now, the problem with the carnival mirror is that it really does show you you, but with distortion. You don’t actually have a 20-inch-high neck and a 6-inch torso; yes, it’s you in that concave mirror, but it’s not showing you the way you actually look. The danger of assessments of arrival greets everyone in ministry. The danger that you would quit thinking of yourself as weak and needy is always near. The danger that you would see yourself as being in a different category from those to whom you minister is right around the corner. This danger greets you every day because there are carnival mirrors all around that have the power to give you a distorted view of you. And when you think you’ve arrived, when you quit being convicted of and broken by your own weakness, failures, and sins, you will begin to make bad personal and ministry choices.
The reality and confession of personal spiritual weakness is not a grave danger to your ministry. God has chosen to build his church through the instrumentality of bent and broken tools. It is your delusions of strength that will get you in trouble and cause you to form a ministry that is less than Christ-centered and gospel-driven.
…I am afraid that there is a whole lot of pride in the modern pulpit. There is a whole lot of pride in the seminary classroom. There is a whole lot of pride in the church staff. It is one of the reasons for all the relational conflict that takes place in the church. It is why we are often better theological gatekeepers than tender and humble spokesmen for the gospel. It is why pastors often seem unapproachable. It is why we get angry in meetings or defensive when someone disagrees with us or points out a wrong.
We are too self-assured.
We are too confident.
We too quickly assess that we are okay.
We too quickly make heroes out of ourselves and others.
We too often take credit for what sovereign grace produced.
We too often assess that we don’t need the help that the normal believer needs.
We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen.
We too often take as personal affronts things that are not personal.
We quit being students too soon.
We don’t see ourselves as needy often enough.
We have too little meditative-communion-with-Christ time nailed into our schedules.
We confidently assign to ourselves more ministry work than we can do.
We live in more isolation than is spiritually healthy.
Pastor, there is ample evidence all around us that we tend to forget who we are and that we allow ourselves to be defined by things that should not define us…If you are a pastor or ministry leader, you are at the same time a person in the middle of your own sanctification.“
Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (pp. 152-154). Crossway. Kindle Edition.