Ministry Is Not a Place to ‘Find Yourself’

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

“Is this some sort of attempt to find yourself?”

I can clearly remember my mom asking teenage-me this question as I had been caught getting into trouble for the umpteenth time. My parents had watched their boy change his persona, his appearance, and his crew, all in his grunge-fueled efforts of self-discovery.

To be fair, it must have been strange for my suburban, godly parents to suddenly have a teenager who liked cigarettes, dirty clothes, scowled expressions of self-loathing, and shouty songs about how much I hated “the man.”

I resented the question my mom asked me, because I knew she was on to something. I was trying to “find myself.” I wanted to know where I fit in the universe and how I could feel more secure and complete. I thought I’d finally found a tribe in which to run, where this quest of self-discovery would come to some sort of conclusion.

It never really did.

There was a real, clear danger that the disciples would find their identity in ministry. If that was possible for them, how much more so for us today?

The angst burned away, and by God’s grace the cigarettes and poor hygiene routines did too. But the deep desire for self-actualization, self-realization, and self-worth remained. I’m sad to say that I carried it with me into church leadership and church planting.

Thankfully, Jesus was having none of it. He graciously stood in my way, refusing to allow me to find myself in those marvelous endeavors. I’m really glad he did.

Self-Denial

Jesus warned us about this very thing. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). The context of that remarkable warning is the Lord sending out the 12 on their first missionary journey without him.

Jesus was clear: this mission was to be marked by self-denial. The disciples were to lose themselves in pursuit of his kingdom. In so doing, they would find who they truly were as servants and sons of God.

There was a real, clear danger that the disciples would find their identity in ministry. If that was possible for them, how much more so for us today? Our hearts twist the words of Jesus, and we begin to believe that finding our lives will somehow result in something other than losing them.

True, biblical church planting is profoundly others-centered. It’s about the glory of God and the good of others.

True, biblical church planting is profoundly others-centered. It’s about the glory of God and the good of others. Therefore, church planting ought to be one of the most self-denying causes we could ever pursue. But somehow, we manage to make the glorious story of the progress and prevailing of Christ’s bride about us.

Warning Signs

So, here are some warning signs—things I’ve recognized in myself—that signal we might be attempting to “find ourselves” in ministry.

1. We’re tempted to treat our people as a platform.

There’s a real danger that the people the Lord entrusts us to shepherd end up serving our own interests; they begin to look like book-buyers, sermon-point-retweeters, and resume-builders ensuring conference speaking invites.

There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with people buying your books and retweeting your points of significant profundity. But, first and foremost, they are a people God has called you to shepherd and pastor, and most of that work should be in person and anonymous.

I love what Eugene Peterson said about the nature of pastoring, which is the primary role of a planter. He said, “Pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job.”

2. We fear the concept of anonymity.

What ends up being more terrifying to us than the thought of not doing a good job is the thought of not being seen to do a good job. In our hyper-connected, selfie-obsessed culture, we’ve imported the fear of “not being seen to be awesome” into ministry.

3. We struggle to celebrate the success of others.

There are always going to be success stories of other people’s churches. When we hear of these, do we rejoice at the advance of the gospel and the flourishing of Christ’s bride? If not, we need to ask if we’ve subtly turned Christ’s bride—the people for whom he bled and died—into “our” bride.

If we feel diminished because of other’s success, we’ve probably turned the church into a means to our self-centered ends.

If we feel diminished because of other’s success, we’ve probably turned the church into a means to our self-centered ends.

4. We don’t lead in robust biblical plurality.

If we end up building around our preaching, our vision, our insight, and our authority—and don’t build good systems of mutual leadership where all of those things can be lovingly challenged in a plurality—then we have to ask why.

Maybe we see any challenge to our vision and strategy as a challenge to who we are. Such is the danger of allowing who we are to intermingle with what we do.

5. Our spiritual temperature waxes and wanes with our ministry success.

Fluctuating numbers, rebellious and biting sheep, and many other ministry variables end up deeply affecting our sense of being loved and called by God.

Friends, Jesus loves us. He also loves his bride, and he won’t allow us to use her as some sort of self-realization quest. He will oppose us, insisting that he alone gets glory as the head of the church. We might experience this through church planting failure, or—perhaps more frightening—through the hollow and unsatisfactory experience of church planting success.

Either way, he will ensure his church is about him, and he won’t allow you to base your sense of worth, value, dignity, and purpose on anything other than himself.

So, I will let my mom ask you. . . “Is this some sort of attempt to find yourself?”

Please don’t let your church plant serve that end. Find yourself in the wonder and magnificence of a Savior who laid down his life for you. Then plant churches free from the burden and distraction of having to find you.

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