doing ministry without losing your soul

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As you get older and serve in ministry longer, are you getting closer to Jesus? 

There is nothing more internally conflicting than trying to inspire people to be passionate about God when you have little or no passion yourself. There is nothing more hollow than trying to connect people to God when you feel disconnected from God. 

If you have been in ministry more than a week, you know that serving Jesus isn’t always filled with kumbaya moments, Holy Ghost goosebumps, or prayers of salvation on a moonlit night. I can relate to Henri Nouwen’s words as he speaks of his own spiritual struggles after years of ministry:

 “I began to experience a deep inner threat. As I entered my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’

After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger.” 

While the specific symptoms of spiritual drift might be different for each of us, Nouwen’s question is worth pondering:

As you get older and serve in ministry longer, are you getting closer to Jesus? 

That is a sobering and convicting question for me to reflect upon.

As you get older and serve in ministry longer, are you getting closer to Jesus? Share on X

The truth is, for much of my ministry, this issue wasn’t really on my radar. I was preoccupied with growing my church, impacting our community, managing the budget, preparing my sermons, and developing as a leader. 

Biblically, I certainly knew that loving and knowing Jesus was to be my highest priority. But if you examined how I spent my time, what I thought about, what I read, what motivated me, and what I talked about, it would have been obvious that a deep and loving relationship with Jesus was down the list.

An honest audit of my life would have revealed that my deepest longings were about ministry success.

I can relate to Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel’s honest confession,

 “I had healthy intentions to be faithful and grow in Christ. But my desire for power was stronger than those intentions and my desire came to the surface quickly.” 

What they call power, I would refer to as unhealthy ambition. They go on to say, 

“Our feet are trained to find paths of self-achievement and self-glorification. We use our vocations to build significance. We use our relationships to get ahead.” 

Balancing the Tension of Doing vs. Being

This reality highlights the tensions we live with in ministry—doing versus being:

  • Caring for others versus caring for self 
  • Waiting on God versus working for God 
  • Praying versus planning
  • Preparing spiritual meals for others versus feeding ourselves
  • Measurable deliverables versus the unmeasurable work of the Spirit 
  • Depth versus breadth
  • God working in us versus God working through us

In ministry, we must hold these tensions carefully. None of the tensions listed are an either/or proposition. They are a both/and. In fact, embracing only one side of the tension either leads to distorted thinking or dysfunction.

Your relationship with God transcends your role, your position, your title, your platform, and your ministry. Share on X

The gravitational pull in the 21st century is toward doing, leading, driving, and growing. None of those are negative unless they cause us to neglect having a healthy soul that is deeply pursuing a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

A life focused only on the doing/achieving side of the tension will lead to distorted motives, a skewed view of success, and dysfunction on the team. As Ruth Haley Barton says,  

“…it is possible to gain the world of ministry success and lose your own soul in the midst of it all.”

There have been seasons where I was so preoccupied with building the ministry and helping everyone else live the Christian life that I neglected my own spiritual life. We must intentionally pursue a loving relationship with Jesus as a beloved son or daughter, not as a professional minister. It also means pursuing Christ in community with our team. In the healthiest team cultures, you take time for spiritual conversations, spiritual growth is challenged and encouraged, you open God’s Word together, you speak about what God is doing in your life, and you regularly stop to pray with one another.

Deuteronomy 30 concludes with a challenge we need to hear. In the first part of that final verse, the people are implored to “love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” The key to experiencing this amazing life that God offers in Deuteronomy 30 is to be intentional about pursuing our relationship with God.

That, my friend, is your highest calling. Your deep and growing relationship with Jesus is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give your teammates. But the passage doesn’t end there. The next six words are the pinnacle of the entire chapter: “For the LORD is your life.”

Your deep and growing relationship with Jesus is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give your teammates. Share on X

Let those words wash over you for a moment. He doesn’t say, “Your ministry is your life.” Nor does he say, “Your church or non-profit is your life.” He doesn’t even say, “Your family is your life.” You see, someday your ministry position is going to go away. Someone else is going to take over your non-profit. Someone else will move into your office and they will throw your business cards in the trash.

No matter how “successful” you have been, someday the spotlight will shift to someone else. But if you have been pursuing Jesus and He is your life, it will be okay…

Because your relationship with him transcends your role, your position, your title, your platform, and your ministry.

For the Lord is your LIFE.

** This is an excerpt from High Impact Teams by Lance Witt.

Lance Witt

Lance is a pastor and a friend to leaders. He is passionate about helping people live well so they can lead well. Lance served 20 years as a Senior Pastor before serving 7 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He is also the founder of Replenish ministries and for more than a decade has been serving leaders and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Lance has written two books, Replenish and High Impact Teams.

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