There’s just something about the weight of vocational ministry that tends to cause us to doubt who we are and how God made us. I think we all know Satan is out to get us, but I’m not sure we recognize his schemes. If Satan can cause us to feel insecure about who we are, about our leadership and about our calling, he’s got us headed down a slippery slope to ineffectiveness, insecurity, discouragement, and defeat. When we are insecure in our own ministry and calling, we will inevitably begin to measure ourselves by the success of others. When this happens we often exhibit what I call the THREE Cs of insecurity:
Two years after launching Mountain Lake, we were averaging approximately two hundred people in weekly attendance. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, and blogs had not yet become the way we kept up with the world. Without these outside sources of social media allowing me to compare our church to others, I thought Mountain Lake was the fastest-growing church in America! Zero to two hundred in two years?! We felt like kings of the world! But because of the technology available today we can always find a church that’s building it bigger, better, and faster than we are.
We read the articles online, the status updates, and the blog posts, and suddenly what is happening at our church is not good enough. We realize our creativity is anything but. Our growth is not quite as impressive. Our facilities are lacking. We aren’t staffed as well. We’re not baptizing as many people as they are. Simply put, our church pales in comparison!
What happens next? When our church is not growing as quickly as another, we think, “Maybe if our church was more like their church we would be growing faster.” That’s when we begin copying another successful leader’s strategy or tactics hoping to reproduce what God has done in that ministry.
We surf the Web. We go to their conference. We take notes. We take pictures. We tweak our vision or rip off theirs altogether. We start viewing, listening, and downloading. Pretty soon, we’re doing the same message series, singing the same songs, and using the same language on our church websites. Have you been to a “successful” pastors’ conference lately? We even all dress the same!
When comparing ourselves to other churches and copying other pastors doesn’t produce the growth in our ministry that it has in theirs, we grow discouraged. We’re tempted to believe that God isn’t blessing us or that He has forgotten us. We might even become bitter since this whole ministry thing isn’t quite turning out the way we dreamed. Often our first instinct is not to look inward. Instead we choose to look outward.
We think to ourselves, "For their ministry to be growing like that, they must be watering down the Gospel.” It’s usually not the case, but it makes us feel better. We catch ourselves saying negative things about other pastors whose churches are bigger than ours or too close to ours. We question motives, intentions, and methods. Often, it’s our jealousy that is driving us, not our zeal for holiness.
All three of the dangerous C's—comparing, copying, and condemning—are symptoms of the larger problem many pastors face: failure to measure ourselves or our ministries the way God does. Too many of us are trying to fulfill someone else’s ministry. As a result there are too many cookie-cutter pastors, churches, and ministries and not enough pastors fulfilling their unique calling. The most troubling part is the fact that without a true change of heart, we’ll repeat this vicious cycle over and over again.
Maybe all of this why Paul said what he did to his young mentee, Timothy: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5 ESV). After studying this passage of Scripture in six translations and in the original language, do you know what I’ve discovered? Not one translation reads, “fulfill Rick Warren’s ministry,” or “the ministry of First Baptist X,” or even “X Community Church.” The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said: “Fulfill your ministry.”
Wow! I don’t have to be like anyone else. I don’t have to do ministry like anyone else. I don’t have to preach as good as he does. My church doesn’t have to grow as fast as their church. I don’t have to fulfill anyone else’s ministry! I just need to be what God has called me to be and do what He has called me to do, and I will be successful in His eyes! That is all that matters.
I don’t have to put a yoke on myself that Jesus doesn’t place on me. If I do, I’m going to weigh myself down, and my life and ministry will be more difficult than Jesus intends. Yet, an amazing sense of freedom comes into our lives and ministries when we become secure in our own skin: secure in who we are, and secure in what God has called us to be and do.
Today, will you choose to be secure...in your own skin?