The following is from 3 questions with Tim Keller at Towers Online.
Q: What safeguards should 20-something pastors have in place to avoid the idolatry of ministry fame and the attitude of big numbers equals success?
TK: If you know it is a danger, that is a very important start. Additionally, when you find yourself unusually discouraged because things aren’t growing or people aren’t listening to you — you have to catch yourself. You have to realize “This is an inordinate amount of discouragement, which reveals the idolatry of justification by ministry.” Meaning, you say you believe in justification by grace, but you feel like and are acting like you believe in justification by ministry. You have to recognize you are making something of an idol out of ministry. When you do experience inordinate discouragement because things aren’t going well, you need to say, “It’s okay to be discouraged but not to be this discouraged. This is discouragement that leads to idolatry,” and you repent.
Additionally, idols create a fantasy world. You may think that you are just thinking about ministry strategy, but it could be you’re fantasizing about success. So be careful about doing too much daydreaming about success, what you would like to see happen. Because it’s really a kind of pornography. You’re actually thinking about a beautiful church and people acclaiming you: be careful about fantasizing too much about ministry success and dreaming about it and thinking about what it’s going to look like.
I think the equation with fantasizing about the future is a good correction and reminder that I need. It’s hard to maintain a healthy dose of vision for your future, while remaining a minister in the present.
For you who are reading, how do you maintain a vision for the future without living in an alternate, fantasized reality?
2 replies on “Ministry Idolatry from Tim Keller”
Having a ministry idol is also tough on the team to whom you are casting vision. I left vocational youth ministry after 6 years because of a senior pastor who judged my effectiveness in ministry by what my numbers looked like.
I couldn’t live up to his expectations. More was never enough. Eventually, the youth ministry was becoming more about programs and how many kids we could squeeze into the building.
It isn’t effective and it will rob you of your joy in ministry.