Friday, September 14, 2012
The Idolatry of Ministry
Attendance at FLOOD had been strong all summer. I was so excited for this new series that we started on Wednesday night called, "What Jesus Doesn't Like About Church." I just knew that crowds of people would show up for this series, especially college-aged people.
The attendance was the lowest that I had seen in a long time. And it hit me. Discouragement came over me like a wet blanket. I couldn't shake it. I went to bed with it hanging over my head. I woke up in the middle of the night, once again being greeted by discouragement. The next day, more of the same.
So after dropping my boys off at school, I drove to a nearby park to have a life-changing "quiet time" with Jesus to figure out the problem. But when I got to the park, a lake about 40 minutes away came to mind (Lake Gregory in Crestline, CA). So, I got in the car and went there.
When I made it to Lake Gregory, I grabbed my chair and Bible and find a sweet spot right on the lake. And so I was ready for the secret to seeing growth multiply like never before at FLOOD. But the problem that was brought to me was not a quick fix for it was not a simple dilemma.
I opened up my Bible to where I stopped a couple of days before. 2 Chronicles 20. And here's what "popped out" of the page at me:
"Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah." — 2 Chronicles 20:3, ESV
He set his face to seek the LORD. And I began to sense the Lord leading me to look at my own life. And the truth of the matter was this: I haven't been setting my face to seek God. Rather, I've fallen back into the duties of following Christ instead of simply loving and relating with Jesus. I had become the very person that I had preached about the night before at FLOOD (see Revelation 2:1-7).
I had become an idol worshipper, and my idol of choice was not technically a "graven image" or some fake deity that demanded sacrifices upon sacrifices to appease it's angry temper. Rather, my idol is called "FLOOD." That's right: the ministry that God has allowed me to lead the past few years has become and idol that I put all of my focus and attention on to "see it grow."All of my efforts and most of my adoration has been spent on a ministry rather than the God of and over that ministry.
I sat there embarrassed. I confessed my sin of idolatry. I remembered how things were before they got so complicated. I repented of that sin, the sin of forsaking my first love, and changed things. One way I changed things was to schedule out my times spent with Jesus before I did anything else. I want to be a man who sets his face to seek the LORD.
The main problem with allowing ministry to take the place of God in your life is that you're always disappointed with ministry. There will always be something that didn't go right or an event that didn't have enough people show up to it (because if I'm really honest, there is always room for one more person to show up). Disappointment and discouragement set in and affected the other aspects of our lives.
So I repented. I came back to that which I knew. I surrendered completely to Jesus once again. I don't want to be consumed by failures or achievements. Rather, I want to be consumed by Jesus, and then follow his lead to see his dreams become a reality. Pete Wilson says it this way:
"Surrendering doesn't mean we spend less energy on pursuing our dreams, but it does mean we spend less nervous energy. It means we see our dreams for what they are—possibilities and promises and goals, not sources of our peace and security. It means our confidence is no longer in our ability to achieve each one of our dreams, but in the strength and power of the God we claim to follow" (Wilson, Pete, "Empty Promises", pg. 153).
To completely surrender is tough for a person who likes as much control over a situation as possible (and if you missed that, I'm speaking about myself). What if I completely surrendered and then everything went south? What if I surrendered, worked hard and then everything failed?
And then I received a Facebook notification. And it showed a good group of people who liked my post from that day. Here is that post:
"But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded." — 2 Chronicles 16:7, ESV
And I knew it was Jesus.
So, I confess to you my idolatry in order that I may be free from of it. I am tired of "doing ministry" with this constant check box and grade book attached to every movement that I do. I confess my need to achieve to feel valued. I confess that I am no more of an expert in ministry after almost 20 years as I was the first day I started (the only problem is that I knew what I was doing that first day of ministry - or so I arrogantly thought).
So, I'm getting back to loving Jesus. I'm getting back to my relationship with him, and my time with him in his word (this morning) was absolutely mind-blowing.
And I learned this: "Our dreams, no matter how great or noble they may be, always make lousy gods" (Wilson, Pete; "What Jesus Doesn't Like About Church", 153).
SO FLOOD FAMILY: I love you more than you know, but I love Jesus more than you could imagine. I am all in for Jesus. I am sorry that I once again fell into what we studied on Wednesday night at FLOOD, achieving so much for the kingdom that I actually neglected my relationship with the King. I ask for your forgiveness, for I desire to help you go deeper with Jesus, but in order for that to happen, I have to be diving deeper into Jesus myself.
I can't promise an increase in attendance at anything that we do. But this I can guarantee: Jesus will be present and lives will be changed, no matter how many show up.
I love you more than you.
What a ride,