Ministry should be about God, not me or you. In ministry training classes both undergraduate and graduate level, this theme was frequently addressed. I remember classes in which we spent most of the time trying to sort out our motives. Why do you want to be a minister? Why do you want to get involved in the lives of people? Why do you want to lead? Be honest, is it really about you?
I knew then, but more fully understand now, why this was such an issue. There is a real danger in wanting to “minister” for selfish, personal purposes rather than for God’s glory and the benefit of others. It is a real temptation to try to cover your own personal short-comings and sins by being involved in ministry. Equally tempting is to try to use ministry to gain control when something in your life is out of control, for example, your relationship with wife or your children.
All this reminds me of a brother named Diotrophes, to whom we are introduced in 3 John 9. “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.” He loves to be first. Put in other words, Diotrophes – “loveth to have the preeminence” (ASV), “loves to be the leader” (NLT), “loves being in charge” (MSG), or “loves to be first among them” (NASB). The text makes it clear that he had no trouble pushing people to the side or stepping all over them to achieve his coveted status.
Diotrophes had hijacked the church for his personal fulfillment!
The truth is, it is possible to be involved in ministry when your motivations have little to do with God and much to do with battles raging within your own heart. It is possible for church involvement, church leadership, Christian ministry, or even involvement in helping people to be one giant ego trip rather than anything to do with God, ministry or service.
Throughout 2 Corinthians Paul is battling critics of his ministry. Paul wants his ministry to honor God by lifting up Jesus. In other words, he wants his ministry to be about Jesus, not Paul. But how does Paul stay focused when people are criticizing him personally? As you read Paul’s reluctant “boasting” in 2 Corinthians, you can just tell that he is doing everything he can to keep the focus on Jesus.
Not so with his critics. They have made ministry all about them. No longer was it about ministry, that is service; rather it had become about getting attention for themselves. Seeking the spotlight had replaced closet prayers and the washing of feet. There was nothing unassuming about these characters.
My reading in 2 Corinthians and the following quotation from John Stott is what got me thinking about this today. I’ll let Stott have the last word —
“Our fallen human nature is incurably self-centered, and pride is the elemental human sin, whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self-righteousness. If we human beings were left to our own self-absorption, even our religion would be pressed into the service of ourselves. Instead of being the vehicle for the selfless adoration of God, our piety would become the base on which we would presume to approach God and to attempt to establish a claim on him. The ethnic religions all seem to degenerate thus, and so does Christianity.”
–From “The Message of Romans” (The Bible Speaks Today series: Leicester: IVP, 1994), p. 29.