Four Signs that Ministry Has Become All About You

Recently, J. D. Greear considered some signs that pastors and other ministers can look for to discern if they have become all about themselves. Here’s an excerpt:

Sadly, most of us can all too easily recount stories of pastors who betrayed their congregations, who hurt the very people God had called them to love, who—in short—made their ministry all about them.


Some of these pastors may have had their own inflated sense of grandeur from day one. But more often than not, these are the same guys who entered the ministry legitimately wanting to serve others, not angling to build an empire. And yet somewhere along the way, they got a taste for glory. And instead of being the shepherds of God’s people, teaching them to have faith in God, they become stumbling blocks, impediments keeping people from considering God at all.

Read the full post here.

On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 7): On the Danger of Being THAT GUY

This installment is the last one in which I deal with the dangers of seminary (although I plan to follow up with a post speaking to the many positive aspects of seminary). I am certainly not saying that there are no more dangers. In fact, more than a few of you have pounded my inbox with suggestions for additional “dangers” that could be mentioned. Some of the suggestions were serious, but most of them were…not so much.

Actually, I have collated many of your suggestions and expressed your sentiments under the heading, “the danger of being THAT GUY.” Often, THAT GUY is the one who has only recently come to a new theological position and is positively obnoxious about it. You know, the guy who nobody wants to have a conversation with because of the axe he has to grind. A lot of attention has been given to “cage stage” Calvinists (these are freshly minted Calvinists who ought to be locked in a cage for a couple of years until they can stop referring to four-pointers as “quasi-Pelagian” and start learning to utter sentences that do not contain the phrase “the doctrines of grace”). But there are cage-stage anti-Calvinists too (and they can’t claim that God ordained them to be obnoxious).

And don’t forget the Contextual Seminarian (this guy is similar to the second type of dork to which I refer in an earlier post. He’s the guy with the wounded poet look, emerging church glasses, girl jeans, and a soul patch. And he doesn’t even have a prescription for the glasses). Or the “Courting Only” guy (I’d like to offer him a cold compress for his fevered brow). Or Mr. “Home-School Only” (If one more person at the SBC comes up to me and tells me that it is ungodly for me to send my kids to public school, I think I’m going to strangle him with a floral-patterned jumper).

Other times, THAT GUY is the one who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut in class. He is always pregnant with an inane question. Are you THAT GUY? If so, you are probably blissfully unaware. Did you know there is a Fantasy Seminary League? Are you aware that some of your fellow students choose the names of their favorite THAT GUYs at the beginning of the semester, and form their own Fantasy Seminary team? That’s right. Every time you start into another 4.5 minute question, the guy who picked you gets a point. If you ask three or four of those questions, he gets three or four points. If the teacher ignores you, reprimands you, or pokes a little fun at you, they get double points!

“Oh, no,” you opine. “I’m not THAT GUY.” Really? Well, here is a test: Do people groan and roll their eyes when you start showing off your knowledge, attempting to disguise it in the form of a question? Do you like to bring up your pet theories in every class, struggling to adapt them to interrogative form? Are you personally committed to uttering, in the form of a question, every stray thought you’ve conceived during the lecture? Do your questions start with the phrase, “But don’t you think that…?” Does your teacher get an odd look on his face when you raise your hand? Do your fellow students ever tell you that every time you talk in class they feel like a hamster swimming in a bucket of Thorazine? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be THAT GUY. And if you are THAT GUY, stop it. Stop it right now.

Still other times, THAT GUY is one who idolizes a particular man in the ministry. Usually, THAT GUY imports his idol’s interests, theological convictions, pulpit mannerisms, and sometimes even his clothing preferences. Take, for example, students who idolize John Piper (I call them “Pipettes”). When they preach, they try to imitate Piper’s intensity and earnest demeanor, and even his intonations, but instead they look like they are in great pain and might implode on the spot.

But it is not just Piper. Our campuses have students who seek to impersonate any number of other ministry figures. When I first started preaching (waaaaaay back in 1993), I had discovered James Merritt’s sermon library and started preaching his messages to my youth. Verbatim. Soon, I discovered Adrian Rogers and started preaching his sermons. I tried to imitate his voice and intonations, and even the Adrian Rogers “chuckle” at the end of my (his) jokes. Seriously. Of course, there is nothing wrong with looking up to certain men and women who have walked with the Lord longer than we, and who have much to teach us. However, any time we admire a man inordinately we are in trouble. Ultimately, we are called to emulate Christ (and not our heroes) and hold Him and his Word supreme (rather than some man’s theological system or methodological distinctives).

OK, enough of that. I hope that you are not offended by the warning not to be THAT GUY. I’ve tried to be candid, while staying on the nearside of disrespectful. On a more serious note, others suggested that I include the danger of burnout: Seminary brings with it many challenges. There are financial pressures, intellectual challenges, family responsibilities, and church commitments. It is not easy. Likely, you have never had to try to juggle a 30-hr. per week job, 12 hours of class, and 60 required books per semester at the same time that you try to love your family and serve your church.

The real question here is how to juggle the multiple callings God has given you: family, church, and two workplaces (seminary and job). This challenge is not easily met, and it continues throughout life, but two insights are particularly helpful: First, recognize that faithfulness should not necessarily be equated with excellence. Being faithful to your seminary studies is not to be equated with making A’s in your studies. This might be a season in life when the best thing for you to do is to make A’s at home and B’s and C’s at school. Second, recognize that there is a reason that the Lord gave us a day of rest. Enjoy your church’s fellowship and worship time, devote several hours to reading and reflecting upon Scripture, and if possible take a nap.

As for the dangers of seminary, this concludes my reflections. In the final installment, I will speak of tremendous assets of the seminary context, of the way in which it can be a catalyst for spiritual growth, theological maturity, and methodological game

Gospel, Church, and City (2): The Gospel Smashes a Church Planter’s Idols

In the first session of the Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp, we talked about the importance of a church planter’s submission to Jesus in all aspects of his life and ministry. I taught from Luke 14:25-33, in which Jesus makes clear that a disciple is one who loves Jesus more than any of life’s other loves-even more than wife and family and friends. Our love for him is to transcend and even position all of life’s other loves. If we love any person or thing more than we love Jesus, that person or thing has become an idol. And we are to bring our idols to the foot of the cross and allow our Lord to break the hold they have over us, so that we can once again love him supremely and love other things in a properly ordered manner.

We discussed approximately fifteen idols that obstruct a church planter from being God’s man in a given city. An idol is anything we love, trust, or obey more than we love, trust and obey Jesus. An idol is anything that becomes a functional savior and lord in our lives. I will list a few of those idols here for further reflection.

Sex: Sometimes we are tempted to love sexual pleasure more than we love Jesus. An inordinate love for sexual pleasure is what causes men to have sex before marriage, cheat on their wife, or go home after a long day of ministry and make love to an image on a computer screen or television. Sexual pleasure is a false savior; it never gives the happiness that it promises. It is a terrible lord; nothing will more quickly flatline the spiritual pulse and degrade the thoughts of a gospel man. This idol has destroyed many a man.

Money: Sometimes we love money more than we love Jesus. This inordinate love for money usually makes a person into a spender or a hoarder. A spender, on the one hand, finds functional salvation in buying “stuff” that will make him or her happy: clothes, shoes, cars, houses, TVs, gadgets, books, etc. This person functionally and practically finds joy in possessions rather than in Jesus. A hoarder, on the other hand, finds functional salvation in being a miser. This person finds his security in money and holdings rather than in God himself. Jesus talked about this idol more than any other. Money is a false savior and a tyrannical lord.

Comfort: Sometimes we love comfort more than we love Jesus. We refuse to write a blank check to the Lord, giving him complete control of our life’s account. We rule out inner city church planting or international missions because, deep down, we love comfortable homes and lives more than we love the Giver of those same gifts. We love suburban neighborhoods, SUVs, surround-sound and flat screens, decorative pillows, gentle foaming soap, and raspberry-kiwi thigh cream more than we love the King of the universe (For the record, I have never personally struggled with pillow, soap, or thigh-cream idolatry).

Success: Those of us who are “Type A” struggle mightily with this one. We are so driven and so beholden to success that we ignore family and friends, and even Jesus Christ himself. This is a sad and pathetic way to live. Do not worship this pseudo-Savior because it will destroy you rather than saving you.

Approval: Many of us are tempted to love and crave the approval of other people more than we crave the approval of God himself. The person who worships the idol of approval falls sick with a disease called “fear of man.” In young girls, this desire for approval might lead them to starve themselves (thinking that if they could just be as skinny as the 95 pound heroin addict who models the Tommy Hilfiger jeans, then some guy would love and adore her) or give their bodies away to men who don’t truly love them. In young men who are aspiring pastors and church planters, this desire for approval can lead them to become theological chameleons, saying and “believing” whatever sounds best to the particular group of people they happen to be engaging with at that particular moment. Or it can lead to a young man downloading his hero’s theological convictions and personality traits.

People: Many of us are tempted to worship people more than we love Jesus. Sometimes, we might worship a specific person. Often, we worship older pastors and church planters who we admire. These older pastors and church planters tend to be stationed out of Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York. We import these men’s theological convictions (without due time in prayer and the Word), clothing preferences, preaching styles, jokes, and even their intonations. Other times, we might worship a peer group or a sub-culture. Either way, this inordinate admiration for a person is a clear statement: Ultimately and practically, we admire this person more than we admire Christ.

Ministry Events: This idol can be closely related to the previous one. Sometimes, we desperately rely upon the latest Christian conference, sermon podcast, or book to get our much-needed “spiritual fix.” When we do this, what we are really saying is, “I am not satisfied with Christ, his Spirit, and his Word. I must have conferences and podcasts.” Ministry events will never sanctify us. Only God can do that.

Church Planting: Sometimes, church planting itself is an idol. You might find yourself jockeying for attention, always keeping an eye on the three Bs (baptisms, budgets, buildings), and eventually find that you have taken your eyes off of the Builder of the church, Christ himself. Even church planting can be a pseudo-Savior and a domineering Lord.

Reputation: We often love our reputation more than we love He who is without blemish. We have the “I’m such a good guy” syndrome. We refuse to admit when we are wrong. We refuse to confess our sins. In fact, you might be reading this blog post and realize that you refuse to confess the idols we’ve previously mentioned because you can’t bear to admit to your sin. You love your reputation more than you love Jesus.

In conclusion, there are many, many things that we can love more than we love Jesus. When we love those things we are saying, in effect, that we love God’s gifts more than we love God himself. We are trusting and loving false saviors; we are obeying puny and inferior lords.

If we do not confess our idols, we will never repent of them; if we do not consistently repent of our idolatries, we will never minister in the fullness of the power of God’s Spirit. And if we never minister in the fullness of the Spirit, one day we will look back at our lives and ministries and realize that we have wasted them.