Because we are all tempted to self-sufficiency and think that we are independently righteous, we are all attracted to over-inflated, aggrandized views of ourselves. To use Paul’s words, we think of ourselves “more highly than we ought.” We want our righteousness recognized and confirmed. We want to be seen as right and mature. We want to be esteemed. So we are attracted to things that seem to define us as Christlike and mature. Essentially, we all are susceptible to seeing ourselves in distorted carnival mirrors.
The Mirror of Knowledge
Biblical literacy and theological understanding are very important; after all, God chose to reveal himself and his plan in a book. It is a book you must determine to know in every way. It’s a book whose truth themes you must grow to understand thoroughly. You must see the fabric of truth; that is, how truths weave together and connect to one another. You must understand the flow of the plan of redemption.
But biblical knowledge must not be confused with true faith or spiritual maturity. Faith is more than what you do with your brain. Knowledge doesn’t define faith. For example, you can actually be mature in your understanding of God’s sovereignty but still live a life of fear, because in your immaturity you have attached your security more to your control than to God’s wise rule. Ultimately, faith is a heart investment that leads to a radically new way of life.
The Mirror of Experience
The longer your tenure, the more ministry blocks you’ve been around and the more ministry knocks you’ve taken, the more if feels that you’ve arrived. You’re no longer new to the push and pull of local church ministry. You’re not surprised, because you’ve just about seen it all. You know that ministry is war, often more disappointing than exciting. You know that you’ll have both detractors and celebrants. You know the pressures of balancing ministry and family. You know that local church ministry is seasonal. You will go through good and bad seasons as a pastor. All this experience makes you feel mature.
But there is a critical difference between street-level wisdom gained from experience and spiritual maturity. You may know what’s going to happen next, but you may not deal well with these circumstances because you lack maturity. If all we needed for maturity was experience, we’d know a lot more mature people, and Jesus would not have needed to come. Experience will teach you some things, but it has no power to make you holy. Sadly, when you let experience deceive you, you quit being committed to change, because you don’t think it’s needed.
The Mirror of Success
Local church ministry success results from factors profoundly deeper than a leader’s insights, strategic planning, sense of the moment, ability to build a ministry team, and compelling vision. If our ministry efforts are not propelled by God’s powerful grace and applied by the Holy Spirit, they will be for nothing. It is Christ and Christ alone who builds his church.
This is humbling stuff because it requires us to admit that we have no power whatsoever to change anyone. We have no ability to advance God’s kingdom. So ministry success always says more about the Lord we serve than it does about us. In fact, a God of grace will bless our ministries in spite of us because of his zeal for his church and his commitment to his own glory.
The Mirror of Celebrity
Those who only know your public ministry persona, who only read your books or articles, and only hear your voice when at a conference or on a DVD cannot give you an accurate view of yourself. You must take their congratulatory words as well intentioned but lacking in accuracy and spiritual helpfulness. They haven’t seen you in your private domain, they do not know your heart, and they have not interviewed those who live nearest to you.
That said, it is still tempting to listen too much to your own press. It is tempting to think you have arrived because people treat you as if you’re something special. It is tempting to forget who you really are. Public acclaim is often the seed bed for spiritual pride. The question of pastoral maturity cannot be answered by people who appreciate you but frankly don’t really know you at all.
Pastor, do you examine yourself daily by humbly placing yourself before the one mirror you can trust, the mirror of the Word of God? Or have you fallen into the habit of looking into carnival mirrors that will only ever give you a misshapen view of your spiritual journey? The cross of Jesus Christ liberates you from fear of Scripture’s exposure, because the grace of the cross has made provision for everything the Bible reveals about you.