I again have to share a section of Paul Tripp's book Dangerous Calling. As I have said before, this book has challenged me to look at my calling and service to the Lord in a powerfully candid and honest way. He is a pastor, writing to pastors and ministry leaders, and he pulls no punches and makes no excuses. So here is an excerpt from the chapter So, What Now?
Know Your Place
"It is a grief to me, but I must confess that as I look back on my years of ministry, I haven’t always known my place. There have been moments, even seasons, when I have viewed my ministry as my ministry. It is now clear to me that some of the most significant periods of ministry hardship were God-sent to pry the grip of my hands off my ministry. A letter sent to fellow pastors questioning my orthodoxy, a vote that removed me from the Christian school that I had founded , and an influential local-church leader demeaning my preaching were all much more than the expected struggles of gospel ministry in a fallen world. No, I now know that they were the tools God employed to rescue my ministry and recapture my heart. They were the result not of God turning his back on me but of God turning his face of grace toward me. Perhaps the church had morphed into my little ministry kingdom. Perhaps the school had become my school. Perhaps I carried into the pulpit way too much pride in my preaching. God was not willing to squeeze his church into the tiny confines of my kingdom purposes. He was not willing to forsake his throne so that I could be the royal sovereign of my own ministry. He would not allow me to stand in the pulpit and be a glory thief. So he again and again has used hard ministry moments to reclaim my allegiance to his kingdom and glory.
This is the bottom line. This is the great internal war of ministry. You are called to be a public and influential ambassador of a glorious King, but you must resist the desire to be a king. You are called to trumpet God’s glory, but you must never take that glory for yourself. You are called to a position of leadership, influence, and prominence, but in that position you are called to “humble yourself under the mighty hand of God” (v. 6). Perhaps there is nothing more important in ministry than knowing your place. Perhaps all the fear of man, the pride of knowing, the seduction of acclaim, the quest for control, the depression in the face of hardship, the envy of the ministry of others, the bitterness against detractors, and the anxiety of failure are all about the same thing. Each of these struggles is about the temptation to make your ministry about you. From that first dark moment in the garden, this has been the struggle— to make it all about us.
It is so easy to confuse your kingdom with the Lord’s. It is so easy to tell yourself that you are fighting for the gospel when what you’re really fighting for is your place. It is so easy to tell yourself that you’re simply trying to be a good leader when what you really want is control. It is so easy to tell yourself that you want to build healthy ministry relationships when what you really want is for people to like you. It is so easy to tell yourself that you’re trying to help people understand the details of their theology when what you’re actually working to do is impress them with how much you know. It is so easy to tell yourself that you’re fighting for what is right when what is really going on is that you’re threatened by someone’s rising influence. It’s so easy to tell yourself that you just want what is best when what you really want is a comfortable and predictable ministry life. It is so easy to tell yourself that you want God to get glory when really you enjoy ministry celebrity more than you are willing to admit. It is hard to be in a position of ministry prominence and influence and to know your place. It is very tempting in subtle ways to want God’s place. It is vital to realize that the temptation of the garden still lives in the pulpit, the study, the counseling office, and the ministry boardroom.
Here is the bottom line: wherever you are in ministry, whatever your position is, no matter how many people look up to you, whatever influence your ministry has collected, and no matter how long and successful your ministry has been, your ministry will never be about you because it is about him. God will not abandon his kingdom for yours. He will not offer up his throne to you. He will not give to you the glory that is his due. His kingdom and his glory are the hope of your ministry and the church. And when I forget my place and quest in some way for God’s position, I place my ministry and the church that I have been called to serve in danger. It is here that I need to be rescued from me. I can change ministry positions and locations, but I cannot escape the thoughts and desires of my own heart. So again this morning I cry out for the rescue of my Redeemer. I pray that he would fight on my behalf, that his grace would cause me to love him more than I love myself. I pray that he would give me such a profound satisfaction in his glory that I would have no interest in seeking my own. And as I pray, I know that I will need to pray this prayer again tomorrow, because tomorrow I will once again be tempted to lose my place and to make my ministry be the one thing it should never be— all about me."
Tripp, Paul David (2012-10-31). Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (pp. 214-216). Crossway. Kindle Edition.