How to Guard Against Letting Your Ministry Title Become Your Identity

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Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Tim Keller helps pastors spot when their title has become their identity and helps them address this identity crisis.

The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

This may sound pretty pessimistic but I just don’t think somebody can simply say, “Oh, I don’t want to let my ministry be my identity” and just stop it. What will happen is you will find situations in which you will act poorly, you’ll get criticism, and you will really respond very badly. Somebody in the church will come and give a criticism, and you will be very defensive and afterwards you’ll say, “Why did I get so emotional at that point?” and you’ll realize that you didn’t see this as just a criticism of the ministry but that it felt like an attack on me. And you’re going to have to catch your heart doing it and then you can take it to God and then you can repent of it.
Honestly it’s almost like you’re going to have to make some mistakes, you’re going to have some problems otherwise it’s very difficult. You almost have to catch yourself being bad and fixing it at the moment rather than just going home and saying, “Okay, I’m going to let God be my identity.” It’s the same thing with most people with their career. Plenty of people experience this outside of ministry. People think their career is their identity, and then when their career starts going down they realize that they’re much more destroyed emotionally than they ought to be. The thing with a career in ministry is that because it’s “for God,” it’s even easier to think that you’re really living for God when actually you’re doing it for yourself. You’re going to have to screw up and then through repentance and faith let God fix it. And that’s the only way that eventually you will find yourself shedding the ministry as an identity and finding your identity more in Christ.