I think Pastoral ministry can be a hazardous occupation sometimes. Well, many get into this work with a noble and godly calling: to bring glory to Jesus by shepherding and equipping his flock to make disciples who make disciples. However, too many of them put a weight of responsibility on themselves that only Jesus can carry, and even look to their ministry to gain or attain something that only Jesus can give.
The problem for many pastors is that they are not self-aware. They are not aware of their own sense of self-importance (arrogance), and also they do not know how much they need people to like them or need them (relationship addiction or codependency). They think too highly of themselves, while also falsely believing what people really need is more of them, more of their time, and more of their ministry which is not only idolatrous but deeply damaging to the health of the church.
Paul is clear in his admonition to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5) as well as in his qualification of elders (1 Timothy 3:2) that church leaders must be sober-minded. In Romans 12:3, Paul instructs all believers not to think too highly of themselves, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” This means humbly accepting our own limitations, and embracing both our need for Jesus and his sufficiency as well as help from others.
Our job is not to be Jesus. Our job is to depend on Jesus, believe in Jesus, and submit to Jesus working in and through us to accomplish his work. We are not meant to carry the weight of the world or the mission of Jesus on our shoulders. Jesus came to seek and save. He doesn’t expect us to be saviors. And he doesn’t want your “success” in ministry, or the approval ratings of others, to become your savior either. We are accepted and loved by God through faith in what Jesus has done, not because of any work we might do.
For us to be faithful in the work of the gospel, Christ must live and work through us. “I have been crucified with Christ,” the apostle Paul says. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Elsewhere he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
The works of justification, sanctification, and glorification are all the works of God, from beginning to end. Sure, we work out what God is doing in us, but even then it is still his work in and through us. The same is true with the ministry of the church. Jesus said he, not we, will build his church (Matthew 16:18).
We need to regularly remember that Jesus is sufficient and also come to see that we need people of understanding to help draw out the deep waters of our hearts as well.
Paul warns against this kind of ministry: “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). When anyone or anything other than Jesus has mastery over us, we are not free.
So, what are we to do? We must remember and trust in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for our acceptance, significance, and security. You and I are forgiven, accepted, and made complete not by our own work, but by the work of Jesus Christ. You also need the help of others. Some may find that for a season you need more help than your friends can provide. But more significantly, for the long run, we need to look for gospel-centered men or women of understanding who can come alongside us as friends, and graciously and lovingly draw out the deep waters of our heart (Proverbs 20:5). People who walk closely with God, have gone through their own journey of healing, have wisdom from God and his word, and love people genuinely and carefully.
Moving toward you will find yourself having a greater dependency on Jesus and healthy interdependency with others.
Article written by Tracy Ndlovu, a wife, and mom who loves Jesus and writing for the edification of the saints.