How to ensure ministry is not your idol

Image: How to ensure ministry is not your idol

Youthworks

This article was written for Youthworks by Matt Keller, Children's Minister at St Paul's Castle Hill.

I often reflect that I have the greatest job in the world.  I love Jesus, I love kids, and every week I get to bring the two together as a Children's Minister!  Whether I am teaching children about Jesus in their homes, schools, our church or the community, I love my job. 

I also love my family, but the thrill of coming home to them can sometimes pale next to the thrill of seeing someone coming home to Jesus.  The pressure and urgency of gospel work can make other work around the house seem comparatively undesirable.  The persistency of emails, the pastoral call that must be returned, the ministry plans percolating in the back of my mind; all these thoughts mean I can often be absent even when I am present.  Before I realise it, I have prioritised ministry to children above ministry to my own children!

I know I am not alone in this.  Many volunteers in our churches probably spend too many hours in ministry, even if they don’t acknowledge it. The expectations placed on our pastors also mean that colleagues regularly speak of working seventy- or eighty-hour weeks.  If parishioners pulled similar hours at the office, we might consider them workaholics, yet many of us in ministry either don’t count the hours we work or, as we don’t know where to start doing so in the first place, we justify not trying!

The problem is perhaps bigger than we might admit.  We know idolatry elevates a good thing to an ultimate thing.  Do we love ministry more than we love God? Do we find value and worth in our ministry that should only be found in Christ?  Has ministry become an idol? 

I have found accountability to be a useful tool that helps me guard against this.  In my present parish, our Job Descriptions include Key Result Areas.  As the Children’s Minister a Key Result Area for me is, of course, children’s ministry; another is transitioning into Youth.  These make sense. However, I really appreciate that the first Key Result Area for all our staff is Self-Care.  This means that weekly reports, monthly meetings with the boss, and biannual reviews all prioritise self-care above any other ministry areas.  We are all held accountable for how well we self-care.

Paradoxically, I find this accountability immensely freeing. My effectiveness as a minister is not primarily judged by how many children attend programmes or accept Christ as Lord.  These results are, after all, in God’s hands.  Instead, like every other disciple of Christ, I am called to be responsible for bearing fruit. 

This self-care is measured in several ways.  Firstly, since all members of our church are encouraged to fill out annual spiritual growth surveys and to belong to a bible study, I do the same.  I am asked what I praise God for, what I require prayer for and my plan for spiritual growth.  Accountability in my walk with the Lord helps me enjoy Him rather than simply enjoying ministry.

I am also accountable for how I care for those around me.  Whether I have been single or married, with no children or many, I am asked to invest in my family before my church.  I am required to invest in time with friends and my neighbours in our community.  In order to do so, I also report on my faithfulness in having a day off and how I am going with respect to my fitness, diet and sleeping habits.  All of this is done not in a spirit of control but because we believe our church will be blessed when I am at my best.

Finally, self-development is reckoned as part of self-care.  The books I am reading, the conferences I attend and volunteer at, and the courses of improvement I take all benefit the flock over which God has made me an overseer.  A growth mindset reminds us we have a long way to go in ministry and helps to keep us humble.

Because I want to safeguard myself against loving my ministry more than the Lord these are some ways I practice self-care.  What do you do to ensure ministry doesn’t become an idol?  How might you care for yourself over January to assist you in starting the year well?  What will you put into practice for 2019 to ensure you are in ministry for the long run? 

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