By Paul Worcester
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Our ministry staff recently read the classic Campus Crusade book Principles God Honors by Jim Sylvester. In the book, his first principle is: God honors Himself, not men. Sylvester writes of five signs that indicate you may be seeking your own glory more than God’s glory.
I’ve struggled with each of these issues and suffered the consequences of them. I pray that this article will serve as a warning to those of us in ministry so that we can avoid these deadly traps.
1. You’re more concerned with your performance than your impact.
For me, the tendency to be concerned about performance over impact most often shows itself in how I feel after I give a sermon or talk at our college ministry large group meeting. Unfortunately, I’m often more concerned about how much I “nailed it” rather than the impact the talk made in our students’ lives.
Even listening back to our podcasts, I am often listening for all the mistakes I made or how I delivered the content rather than how the message was received. There is a place for working on the craft of speaking, but our primary motivation must not be to become a dynamic speaker.
Our motive must be to deliver the eternal, life-changing message of the gospel in a way that glorifies Jesus.
2. You’re bummed when others don’t mention your efforts.
I’ve met many ministry workers throughout the years, and I believe you are some of the most committed leaders on the planet.
Too often though, what we do is unnoticed and unappreciated by people. Too often, our church culture is driven by impressive numbers and attendance, and it is rare for a ministry to have hundreds or thousands involved.
If you lead an average-sized ministry, appreciation from others will be rare. Are you OK with that? I believe there are people leading small ministries we have never heard of who are famous in heaven.
This parable of Jesus speaks to what our attitude should be:
“Which one of you having a servant tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’?
Does he thank that servant because he did what was commanded?In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are worthless servants; we’ve only done our duty'” (Luke 17:7-10).
Spiritual multiplication takes time, and there are no shortcuts. Let me plead with you not to take shortcuts or get discouraged and give up if you are not getting the recognition you think you deserve! It takes time to build momentum in the things that matter most.
3. You make sure to let people know about the sacrifices you’re making and how committed you are.
Did you stay up until 1 a.m. meeting with a troubled person? Are you praying and fasting for revival in your community? Has God used you to lead people to Christ? Then praise the Lord! What a privilege to labor on one of the most strategic mission fields on earth!
Jesus warned His followers about mixing our motives when pursuing good works and spiritual disciplines. He knew even then about our natural desire to show off and exalt ourselves in the eyes of others.
“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
Keep in mind, you can’t fool God. You can fool everyone else, but God knows every motive of your heart.
4. You have a hidden sense of competition with those around you doing similar ministries.
I am sure you never struggle with this one. I know I don’t. Let’s move on … obviously I’m joking.
Honestly, this has been a huge lie the enemy has fed me over the years. It usually sounds like, “We need to be the biggest or ’the best’ ministry to really matter.”
Here’s a question for you if you struggle with this one: Who said your ministry needed to be the largest or even “the best” at anything?
I’ve heard church leaders talk about different ministries on campus and say things like, “That large ministry …they’re great at evangelism and bringing people into the group, but dude, they’re bad at discipleship.”
Or, “They may be growing deep in their faith, but they don’t share the gospel nearly as often as we do. It’s a bummer they don’t have a heart for the lost.”
It’s good to recognize the distinctions and strengths among different ministries. But, are such statements motivated by competition? If so, I believe it grieves the Lord. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of competition and comparison.
You are “the best” ministry for the people God has called you to reach. Go do it!
5. You live in fear of being “found out” as a fake. Your drive to achieve hides a deep insecurity.
Most leaders I know feel rightfully unworthy for the task the Lord has called them to. This can be a good thing if it results in humble dependence on God. The dark side of this is that our insecurities can quickly lead us to a “fake it until we make it” mentality.
If you believe the lie that, as a leader, you must have it all together, you’ll put a weight on yourself that you were never meant to bear.
So many ministry leaders I know feel a sense of loneliness and isolation. There are very few people who really “get” what God has called us to. It can be tricky being open and honest with our people because some of them lack the maturity to handle the messiness of their leaders struggling with sin.
Do you have a mentor or peer you can be completely open and honest with? If not, why?
Often, a lack of accountability in the life of a leader is due to a deep sense of insecurity that is fueled by pride. This is one of the classic strategies the enemy will try and use against Christian leaders. If he can get us faking it and isolated, it’s just a matter of time before a pattern of secret sin and compromise develops.
Let me challenge you to have a friend or two with whom you can share anything. A friend or mentor who will not be shocked by your struggles but will encourage and coach you to pursue holiness.
Paul and his wife Christy lead Christian Challenge at California State University, Chico. Paul is the author of Tips for Starting a College Ministry and the co-author of the new edition of The Fuel and The Flame with Steve Shadrach.
This adapted article first appeared on the Lifeway Young Adult Ministry blog.