By Brian Dodridge
When you’ve “arrived” in ministry, you begin to get a distorted view of self. A distorted view of self leads to an ineffective and unholy you, and then an ineffective ministry.
At a recent staff retreat, my friend and retreat speaker, Mark Bricker, using Paul Tripp’s A Dangerous Calling book as a framework, reminded us that “arriving” comes via:
- Ministry knowledge
- Ministry experience
- Ministry success
Each of these is relative to the person measuring. But suffice it to say, in our own heads, we arrive faster than what reality likely is. (As a friend of mine says, “We’re legends in our own minds.”)
The greatest symptom of arriving is self-glory. My friend defined self-glory as worshipping yourself more than you worship God.
This sounds so sinful. And it is. But it’s not so sinful that we wouldn’t do it. Self-glory happens incrementally. It’s smalls steps that get us to this state of self-glorification.
And for a while, others may not even notice what’s happening within you. In fact, you may not even know it’s happening within you. And even if you or others are aware of this increasing self-glory, it may be deemed acceptable behavior. A.W. Tozer in his book, The Pursuit of God, wrote the sad, yet truthful sentiment:
“Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ has become acceptable in church.”
Without guardrails, the path to self-glory is the natural path. (Remember, we’re fallen and depraved.) There are unintended consequences of ministry knowledge, experience, and success. It manifests in hubris, a lack of self-awareness, a sense of entitlement, or the feeling you’ve become indispensable. (I’ve written before about the danger of becoming or feeling indispensable to your church.)
My friend Mark provided self-diagnosing questions for self-glory, and I’ve listed several here:
- You worry too much about what other think about you.
- You care too little about what others think about you.
- You find yourself envying the success of others. (I’ve written previously about church leader jealousy.)
- You resist facing your sins, weaknesses, and failures.
- You lean toward the controlling side of ministry (having trouble letting go because you have an elevated view of self).
Slowing down the self-glory train—
Just because you’ve been doing ministry awhile and gained experience and knowledge, and maybe even had some successes, doesn’t mean you’re bound to self-glory. But, as we acknowledge that our natural human paths will lead us there, we have to find ways to slow down the self-glory trajectory. Here a few ways to combat self-glory:
- Admit you haven’t arrived. My friend reminded our staff, “We’re all in the middle of our own sanctification.”
- Give someone permission to speak frankly, and then ask them routinely, “How’s my self-glory meter?”
- Talk to others who have had ministry success, yet been able to steer away from self-glory.
- Memorize and put in your mindset Scriptures related to this (Here are a few: Romans 12:3, Philippians 2:3, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, James 4:10).
- Always try to get better. If you see your need to improve, it’s hard to be content with your previous “arrivals.”
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. There is strength in self-deprecation and to admitting you’re a work in progress. (I’ve written before on the benefits of the occasional self-deprecation in leadership.)
- Give it away…pass your experience and knowledge onto others who are in ministry, and when there is success, give that away too.
I hope we’re all vigilant in ensuring our self-glory doesn’t rise with our experience level.
Brian Dodridge has spent his adult life on staff in the local church and the last 10 years as an executive pastor.