I remember the first time I heard Tim Keller say “Being in ministry will either make you a much better Christian, or a much worse Christian.” Those words cut me, because I knew the pain and disconnect of participating in ministry as a stagnant and hollow Christian.
It’s a temptation every one of us will face. There are sermons to prepare. Counseling appointments to hold. Teams to oversee. Meetings to run. The reality that you are not doing well spiritually, that your communion with God is off kilter, comes at inopportune times.
I mean, you’d love to make all those things right, right? (Right?) You’d love to sit down for a few hours and pray and deal with the things you’ve been putting off, right? (Right?) But you have work to do. Work to do for God, right? (Right?)
So you get your work done. You get good feedback from the sermon or the meeting. It seems like all is well. You begin to think, subconsciously, that maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s normal to do ministry for God without really being on the same page with God yourself. Maybe this is what everyone does. So you just keep doing it.
And before you know it, your professional growth has outpaced your spiritual growth. You are doing a good job. But are you?
You hear about the scandals of other pastors. The moral failures. And something in you pipes up, telling you that this is how that happens. This is how it starts. This is how they get there. But you won’t. No, you’re different. You can manage the duplicity. I mean, you already are, so ….
Maybe you will be different, but in a bad way. Maybe your hypocrisy won’t get exposed in a public way to force you to deal with it. Maybe you will just keep drifting, doing a good-enough job while your heart grows more distant from the Lord.
The uncomfortable reality is that we can use working for God as a way to run from God. This will be a temptation for every one of us in ministry.
Discipline: The antidote for drift
I find that, in my life, the starting place for drift is when I say some version of “You know what? I’m tired. I think I’ll take a break from (insert spiritual discipline here).” It turns out that though the phrase “quiet time” may sound like a punishment for a toddler, it’s what all of our souls need to stay in tune with God.
We desperately need time alone with God through Scripture, prayer, and other disciplines. These are times where we get realigned, where the seeds of duplicity in our hearts that blossom every single day get squashed by the power of God’s Spirit.
So friend, if you have been neglecting the discipline of regular, quality time with God, remedy that. Change that today. Don’t let busyness and drift and duplicity take root in your heart. Sit down with your Bible open. Get out a journal and a pen. Pray like your life and ministry depends on it, because it does.
Do this today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.
Ask the Spirit to remind your heart of the gospel, to deal with any shame you have from using ministry to run from God. He’s been praying for you with groanings too deep for words the whole time.
Do all of this for yourself, for your health, for your spiritual joy, and for the sake of your family. Not just because you’ll be a more faithful minister of the gospel after dealing with your hypocrisy.
Community: The guardrail for wayward hearts
Lastly, if you don’t have people in your life who are walking deeply enough with you to ask you hard questions, to notice drift in you before you may even notice it yourself, you should find that ASAP. Ministry is not a Lone Ranger effort, and if you operate like it is, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Find a group of people to whom you can confess the hypocrisy and drift of your heart. Find others who will fight with you for your own growth. If it would be helpful, come up with a list of personalized “deadly questions” for them to ask you. Such as:
- Are you creating the impression with others that you are doing better than you are spiritually?
- Is there any hypocrisy or duplicity in your ministry or relationship with God?
- Is there anything you want to keep a secret?
- Is there anything in your digital life you are hiding from God and others?
- Are you allowing ministry to help you be a better Christian through dependence on God, or a worse Christian through dependence on yourself?
- Are there any areas where you are resisting the Holy Spirit right now?
- Are you using working for God as a way to run from God?
- What is the current state of your spiritual disciplines, and your heart while practicing them?
- Is there any unresolved tension, sin, or weirdness in your relationship with God right now?
Published January 24, 2018