The seduction is subtle, but so strong. We in the Independent Baptist world aren’t particularly more engrossed in it than other groups in Christianity, but engrossed we are. We give the all-too-common sin its own unique flavor. We drive relentlessly, as Jehu of old, to the ever elusive designation of success. In its pursuit, we lose things far more valuable.
In far too many cases, we (translation: pastors) get up every day and let success be the fuel that drives us in God’s work. We are a little hazy on how we will know if we reach the pinnacle of success, but on we go. We either: 1) decide we are farther along the road to success than others and become unbearably egotistical, or 2) decide we are behind and fall into the deepest depression. It is, in either case, the same problem. Yes, pastors are the worst offenders, but some, as it were, hitch their wagon to a star hoping to ride up into the glory of the star pastor.
It becomes the unsuspecting catalyst of abuse too. Success is never listed by our Lord as a spiritual commodity, so we are left to our own devices to procure it. That leaves us lonely in the unsteady hands of our flesh to guide our way. People become the pawns in our game. Pawns, as you know, are meant to be sacrificed to obtain the greater prizes. We start charging up the ladder stepping on fingers and even pushing a few right off. There is that greater goal you know. We push people to pull off a big day or have many bus riders or baptisms. Those things aren’t bad until we probe under the surface of why they are being pushed so intensely.
In many cases you don’t have to probe too deeply either. Whether the pastor is preaching in a guest pulpit, writing an article, or putting out a Facebook status or Tweet, he does the probing right before our eyes. There might a token “thank you” to those who worked hard, but the message comes through loud and clear–look at me and the great work I am doing for God. Can’t you see that I have got it! Success! The name of Jesus might get sprinkled here and there in the comments, but those comments really say you are looking at success and you should be impressed.
The abuse comes out in that the ones doing the work and those getting the credit are not the same person. Further, if success is not at the pastor’s perceived level of success he preaches hard sermons on their lack of dedication until they hit the altar and, more importantly, do better. Some get caught up in the same drama by seeking success in the pastor’s approval and praise. It comes, to the surprise of many, at quite a cost.
People are different. Some can go for years and never think it unnatural and stay relatively happy serving the pastor’s ego. Others go along for a while and then have their epiphany moment–they see what the pastor is really up to and they become angry and even cynical. Christ had nothing to do with the Christianity that got sucked into, but He gets collateral hard feelings from them. People leave churches for their own issues, and sometimes from their own backslidings, but some times from being used in an abusive, clandestine ego-building campaign of a pastor who lives for success.
I read recently where one speaking about some people’s mistrust of pastors said, “They have never known a pastor’s love; they have only known a pastor’s lust.” Perhaps if we want the sheep to act right we should quit treating them like mules.
I can’t say I’ve never been bitten by this bug. But I am learning. I think sometimes now of the pastor of 16 years of my growing up, Milburn White. With every passing day I see that he understood some things about pastoring that I need to see. He loved me. He never used me. He never wanted anything from me but what was best for me. Strangely enough, I had every possible job in the church I could and was involved with everything. He never rode me hard, but would always at just the right time say, I believe you can do _____. I was the type that often thought I most certainly could not. He believed in me. I was convinced that what I did was for Jesus because he NEVER made it about him. He made it about Jesus. When I saw him at my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago ( I had not seen him in many years before), he hobbled up and said he was so proud that I was serving the Lord, and that it made him so happy. Again, he made it not about himself. Yet he got what eludes many of us pastors–eternal and deserved gratitude and you can’t manufacture that. He made the ministry what God intended–to others and for Christ! Success? Would you say he had it? I pray when I am hobbling around someday someone will feel about me what I feel about him.
He had real success, something far removed from what I am writing against today. This success that so many go after today is insidious; it is treachery against the very idea of ministry; it is twisted service, misspent on me at the Master’s expense. The success-mad ministry of today is idolatry– the idolatry of self. I can’t serve Him and worship me.
Results come from many factors. Yes I should work hard and use up my very life in the ministry I have been given. (Don’t misunderstand me–I am not advocating a half-hearted approach to ministry). I should lead others to serve Him too. But never forget–Him, not me.
O Lord help me cast down the idol of success so that my blood, sweat, and tears, yes, my very life, may be given to You. Let me not live for the temporary applause of success here, but rather for the “Well done” from Christ’s lips.
Find all articles in the series here.