Christian ministry leaders and workers long for validation. We long for approval, joy, satisfaction, and gratification. However, if we are not careful, our temptation is to look for that validation and satisfaction apart from Christ. For many Christian leaders, ministry becomes a substitute Saviour. This is ministry idolatry. It is spiritualised workaholism and enjoying Jesus is the only way to overcome it.
Ministry Idolatry is Real
In December 2016, my wife and I took a leap of faith by planting a church in a lively IT neighbourhood in Pune. Our newborn daughter was barely six weeks old.
My previous ventures in ministry had been modest at best. So, when we started this new journey in Pune, my aspirations were loftier. I longed for significant growth. I wanted a thriving congregation to call our own.
My excessive glorification of ministry became clear to me, even as I saw its glory quickly fading away.
Our humble home gatherings flourished beyond my imagination. The congregation blossomed from three members at the beginning to 120 within three years. We upgraded our meeting space and secured funds to renovate a leased facility. It was a period marked by ministry achievements and exhilarating highs.
After that, various people gave me platforms to share my success story. I was asked to impart wisdom to others seeking similar progress. I felt validated and accomplished, as though every desire of my soul had finally found fulfilment. Ministry was functioning as my Saviour.
However, the unforeseen disruption caused by the pandemic significantly altered the course of our ministry. There was a sudden exodus of members and a significant decline in our church budget. I felt shocked, confused, and frustrated.
Despite my knowledge of the gospel and the years I spent teaching it, I felt deeply embarrassed and inadequate. Though I had memorised Bible verses, I could not find any comfort in the gospel. My excessive glorification of ministry became clear to me, even as I saw its glory quickly fading away.
Enjoying Jesus is Abiding in Him
In John 15, the Lord Jesus’s call to abide in him is beautifully situated between two key events—the washing of the disciples’s feet and the betrayal of Christ.
Ministry idolatry thrives on ungodly principles, unwise living, and unsound theology.
Christ Jesus spent over three years with his disciples—teaching and discipling them in ministry and service. Now that he was at the end of his earthly life, he wanted his disciples to learn to abide in him.
Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The words “remain” or “abide” occur over ten times in the first 17 verses of John 15. The repetition invites us to ponder the significance of the theme. The call to abide in Christ and his love for us means to stay bonded to him, regardless of successes or failures. It is a call to remain attached and united with Christ until the end.
Ministry idolatry thrives on ungodly principles, unwise living, and unsound theology. However, Jesus teaches us that any apparent success apart from Christ is ultimately fleeting and unsustainable.
Does your ministry flow from your dependence on your gifts or the power that comes from enjoying Jesus?
Examining Our Motives
Christian leaders ought to ponder their motivations in ministry. What is the next ministry achievement your heart craves? What do you seek from your ministry that you do not already enjoy in Christ? The truth is that we lack nothing in Christ. So, what is it about ministry that distracts us from earnestly pursuing him?
Ultimately, our ministry does not grow in our strength. God is the one who makes things grow.
Let’s face it. Christian ministry comes with some remarkable perks—the limelight, proximity to influencers, respect from people, and the occasional high-end dining experience. Is this what we really seek through ministry? Do you know that none of these privileges come close to the unparalleled riches we already possess by abiding with Christ?
In John 15, the promise is not limited to bearing fruit. This promise includes the assurance that we will never be separated from Jesus. Through his power, as his companions, we remain connected to his divine guidance and love. Jesus will ground us and sustain us in every circumstance by his grace.
The Key to Enjoying Jesus More
Just as we feed our bodies daily, we need to nourish our souls daily with the truth of the gospel. Ministry idolatry trains us to believe that we are only acceptable if we are successful. But the gospel reminds us that God enjoys us regardless of our ministry performance.
Trusting that Christ loves us no matter what we do is essential to grasping the gospel. Our value does not depend on what we achieve but on what he has achieved, through his love and kindness. By internalising this hope, we cultivate a spiritual diet that sustains and guards our souls daily.
The key to enjoying Christ more than our work in ministry is understanding that everything we do is ultimately for Jesus and the glory of God. Ministry is not what defines me. Christ defines me, and my ministry should seek his glory, not mine.
We are God’s Fellow Workers
Ultimately, our ministry does not grow in our strength. God is the one who makes things grow (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Our salvation depends on him. The fruit of our ministry depends on him. Everything flows from him.
One of the privileges of his grace is that God calls us his fellow workers. Our ministries provide us with a unique opportunity to partner with Christ. Enjoying Jesus more than ministry means finding joy in being his coworker. What a precious privilege!
We will truly enjoy our ministries when the good news of Christ’s redeeming work truly melts our hearts. Then our desire to enjoy him will be greater than our need for ministry success. We will be free from using ministry to save us and Jesus will truly be our Saviour.