Christian leaders do the dumbest stuff. All of us know pastors or ministry leaders who have tripped up. Some have crashed and burned. If it was only a few, then we could chalk it up to statistics. After all, a certain percentage of anything goes haywire. But it is more than a few.
I’ve been told that Satan attacks Christian leaders more viciously. That’s probably true. But doesn’t our faith equip us to handle that? The Bible does call faith a shield (Ephesians 6:16).
I know firsthand that Christian leaders get too busy in church work and often neglect their own walk with the Lord. I’ve made that mistake. But there’s something more, something deeper that makes Christian leadership a profound challenge. Something else is going on. It’s that “something else” that I want to expose.
Christian leaders have one big, crazy challenge that others don’t have, and if ignored, it can/will wreck their faith and ministry. Take a deep breath. Here we go.
Christian leaders tend to define themselves by their ministry instead of by who they are in Christ. Their title and what others say about them move to the forefront of their thinking. It becomes who they are. And this is a spiritual killer.
Instead of identifying themselves by who they are in Christ, they identify themselves by their work. Instead of thinking of themselves as a child of God or a vessel of God’s Spirit, they think of themselves as Pastor Henry or Director Mildred. The problem is that there is no personal power in your ministry title to live out your faith. There is power in your identity in Christ.
Even Paul, the apostle, never refers to himself in his letters as the “Apostle Paul.” He used the term “apostle” as a ministry designation, not a title.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)” (Galatians 1:1).
Notice how he uses the word “apostle” to explain his role in the church but not as a title. He knew it was helpful to establish his calling to write to the churches with authority, so he includes his position as apostle. But you never hear him say, “Listen up. I’m the Apostle Paul.”
This might seem like a petty distinction, but it is deeply profound to note that even Paul avoided using titles for himself. He certainly had the personality and inclination to do so. He talks about it in his letter to the Philippians.
“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever thing were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:4-9).
Paul made the shift from thinking of himself in terms of titles and accomplishments to thinking of himself in relationship to Christ. Many of us in ministry have reverted back to a style of thinking that Paul left behind. Even after his conversion he was still a properly circumcised Pharisee from the most elite Jewish tribe. But he doesn’t seem to care.
Maybe we should take Paul’s path. It might be that Bob, the pastor, might be more useful than Pastor Bob. Maybe we children’s ministry leaders should make sure we think of ourselves first in relation to Jesus instead of what we do at the church office.
- If you are struggling with grief, knowing you are the children’s pastor will not help. Knowing you are a child of Almighty God will help.
- If you are struggling to forgive, knowing you are Pastor Wilbur will not help. Knowing that you are a forgiven child of your Heavenly Father will help.
- If you are depressed, knowing that you are the director of your department will not help. Knowing that Christ is your life will help.
Paul not only knew that Jesus gave him His righteousness in exchange for his sins, he knew that Jesus gave him His life in exchange for Paul’s. Paul’s core identity would never be the same. He was in Christ. He says it this way. It’s a statement of faith.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
There is more spiritual power with our identity in Christ than in our job description. When our ministry titles and work define us more than our identity in Christ, then we will eventually skid off the road. Some will crash hard.