Almost every time you hear a teaching on idolatry, you’ll hear the speaker say “Anything can be an idol. Even something as good as ministry!” It’s actually even a church cliche. But what does it truly mean to make ministry an idol?
I’ve spent a good fourteen years of my life serving in ministry. Four of which I’ve serving at a full time capacity. You’d think that someone who’s stayed that long has no problems idolizing the ministry. I thought that too until very recently. I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve idolized the ministry all this time.
In the Philippines, an idol often correlates to a graven image that takes center stage in a household, office or public area. Many times those are dangerous idols, but the more dangerous ones are those that don’t take physical form. An idol is anything that can take the place of God as the source of one’s security, significance or satisfaction.
Anything can be an idol. Money, relationships, doctrine, social media, careers and- yes- even ministry.
Anything can be an idol. Money, relationships, doctrine, social media, careers and- yes- even ministry. So what does idolizing ministry really look like? Here are seven of the many signs that ministry might be becoming an idol. Many of these I struggled with and some I still struggle with today. Let’s pray together that God would correct these heart issues and draw us back to who really is Lord of our lives.
Serving to get something in return
One common mistake people who serve in ministry make is to serve with the idea of getting something in return. We serve as volunteers in church thinking God will bless us more. Or we jump into full time ministry thinking that it makes us more “special” in God’s eyes. This is a wrong notion.
Ministry is something we do in response to what grace God has already given us. It’s not a ticket to VIP treatment in God’s Kingdom. It’s also not a means of twisting God’s arm for a raise, boyfriend/girlfriend or popularity.
Drawing confidence out of ministry performance
After preaching, many times my default is to reach out to two to three people. I ask for comments and criticisms on my delivery or message. That’s definitely a good practice. But some times I catch myself doing it to gather praise and recognition. Not as a means to improve.
Have you ever done that in your exhortations, worship leading, ushering, technical stage management? When the heart idolizes ministry, our default is performance. The right attitude towards ministry is faith- believing that God will use you as a channel. I’m not saying we stop finding ways to improve, but we do it to glorify God not ourselves. Sounds easy, but many times it’s not.
Thinking more/less of yourself because you serve/don’t serve
I’ve often asked myself the question: “What would I be now if I wasn’t serving God?” And it brings an unmistakable horror when I ask myself that. Because deep down I assume my value in the eyes of God and others hangs on whether I’m serving God or not.
Nothing wrong about serving again, but our value is not based on how we serve God. It’s based on how God has served us. Remember that Christ came to pay the price for your sins and imputed His value upon you based solely on his gracious generosity. Not our ability to earn His favor (because we never can and we never will).
Using service as a means to position
Pastor Steve Murrell hit the nail on the head when he shares in his latest book “Multiplication Challenge” this bit of leadership. He said that leadership is a means to serve, and not the other way around.
It doesn’t matter if you start at the bottom. If you’re heart says, “I’m going to serve for now, but in the end, I’ll have that position,” you’re off to a wrong start. Often I catch myself unwilling to mop bathroom floors and arranging chairs. It’s usually from thinking I’ve “graduated” from that task. But we never graduate from serving. We serve until the end because Jesus served until His final breath. And He continues to serve us today.
Neglecting relationships for the sake of policies
We’ve all heard the phrase, “relationship not rules.” This doesn’t connote unprofessionalism. It instead teaches us that we set up rules to make people better. I like when Chinkee Tan always tells me “systems should serve people. Not the other way around”
I am reminded that the heart of ministry is people- friendships, community, family, partnerships. It’s not about building a building, making a great program, having a nice service. It’s about using buildings, programs and services to bless people.
Playing the “I am called” card too much
The concept of a calling brings empowerment, but it can sometimes also cause entitlement. A calling does not make you better. It instead causes you to become better. When we use calling as an excuse to not improve preaching, serving or leading, we’ve turned it into a crutch.
What matters more than calling is whether you steward it well. We have all been called to be in ministry- whether volunteer or paid. No one’s calling is higher than the other. Calling was meant to uplift God, not the self.