There was a time on my spiritual journey toward Anglicanism when I was absolutely certain of my “calling” toward music ministry. I just knew that I was supposed to be a full-time, vocational worship leader at a large church where I could compose music, lead choirs, and play guitar–all for the glory of God.
The problem was that despite my best efforts, I simply couldn’t get hired. Now, there were some very good reasons that multiple churches discerned I wasn’t a good fit, but this experience of continual rejection as I tried to be obedient to my “call” shook me more than I cared to admit.
Things got worse when–out of desperation to provide for my young family–I “settled” for a non-ministry position in another state. To be honest, my world felt in some ways as if it was collapsing around me. Why–if I was doing my part to be obedient–wasn’t God opening the doors for me to fulfill my “call”? And why did I feel so defeated inside when I knew I was doing my best to follow God one step at a time?
Identity is about who you follow, not what you do.
Now I realize my sense of defeat was closely linked with where I was finding my identity. Somewhere along my ministry journey, I had made a subtle–yet deadly–shift. I had begun to find my identity not as a faithful follower of Christ, living in a dynamic relationship with the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but as a worship leader.
The music guy. That’s who I thought I was at the most fundamental level, so when God closed some doors and opened others along a new and different path, I felt lost. My identity had lost its grounding in Christ and had become anchored in what I was doing for Christ.
It’s an easy mistake to make. In fact, now as I work in university ministry I have to struggle against being “that discipleship guy” in my head. Yes, the skills and knowledge I have for spiritual formation and mentoring are important, good parts of who I am. So is being a musician and worship leader! Yet, identity is ultimately about who you follow, not what you do.
It’s a little scary how quickly our various “assignments” here on Earth for building the kingdom become ends in and of themselves instead of means toward a greater communion with God. The unfortunate truth is that ministry can become an idol if you’re not on guard against selfishness and pride.
4 ways to smash the ministry idol
Here are four ways to keep yourself from succumbing to the temptation of “ministry idolatry”:
1) Don’t think less of yourself, but think of yourself less. Practice putting others first in your acts of service, in your thoughts, in your prayers. Above all, think of Jesus.
2) Keep your disciplines going. Don’t neglect your personal time for prayer and reading the Bible devotionally–especially the Psalms. This has a way of helping you focus on God’s will and not your own.
3) Make a habit of examining your actions, emotions and motivations as honestly as possible each day.
4) Keep the ultimate aim of your ministry in mind: building the Kingdom of God so that you and others may have a fuller relationship with him. Big picture thinking will help you hold whatever task God has called you to for this time a little more loosely.
Let’s keep this conversation going. How have you fought against making what you do for Jesus more important than following Jesus? Let us know in the comments!