The Cost of Ministry

I have a friend who is the most talented salesperson and one of the most gifted minds in business that I have ever known. He has the capacity to make money with seemingly effortless ease. He also has struggled personally to an extreme that is rare and, in the middle of it all loves Jesus and pursues God as fervently as anyone I know. From that place of ability, struggle, relationship and pursuit, there appears to be an invitation from God for this friend to step into ministry.

“Ministry,” by definition, is service to others. In this context, that service is related to eternal things grounded in the Word of God. That calling, to serve, doesn’t require special schools or a job at a 501(c)3, as 2 Corinthians 5 makes clear. In that chapter, Paul teaches that once we are reconciled to Christ, we are ministers of reconciliation. It isn’t dependent on a profession, but a relationship.

In the unfolding of this calling, my friend called me in tears. The tears come from the pain of dying to himself. What God is doing within him requires that any pride and any needs for attention or affirmation from the service of reconciliation must die. He has realized that the reason God is talking to him about that is because it needs to be talked about when he considers himself.

Ministry will eat you up. A desire to serve without the ongoing death of your soul will pervert your service. It will be a service to needs for the filling of your voids instead of in submission to the purposes of Jesus. What God was doing with and in my friend is a favor to my friend and a requirement of true service. It can’t be about us, or it wasn’t ministry in the first place because it wasn’t about serving.

Our soul has wants and needs that will be satisfied in the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills us and fills us again. The grace of Jesus will lead us to the love of the Father and that love is a perfect satisfier. That perfect love fills us and affirms us and satisfies temporal voids with eternal relationship. The shortcut can be ministry.

If we serve others in their effort or need to be reconciled to the Father through the Son, they often times will ascribe value to us in the process. They will affirm the “anointing” or gifts of the servant. If there is anything in the minister’s soul that feeds, it can stir an addictive cycle of attention seeking in Jesus name.

Want to serve? Have to die first. Want to minister? It will cost you everything, starting with yourself. You’ll never regret it but if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you are probably missing it.

 

You Can’t Be Accountable to Yourself and Maximize Your Potential at the Same Time

The Packer’s head coach got fired with the rumor being that he and his quarterback didn’t get along. There then arose some questions about who would lead or hold the quarterback accountable if the coach were going to get fired for contradicting the wishes of the quarterback.

The quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is quoted as saying, “There’s nobody that holds me more accountable than myself . . . I mean, I’m always checking myself on my preparation habits and my practice habits and my mindset, but there’s always been a great deal of accountability under Mike’s program for the last 13 years.”

I have no idea about the relationship between the two or who needs what accountability. What I am convinced of is that none of us are as adept at holding ourselves accountable as we would like to believe. The presence of an accountable authority is a benefit, not a detriment. The reason being is that for as long as we are accountable to ourselves, we are bound by our own limitations.

Where there is healthy authority, there is a multiplying factor. We are better when accountable to others because our strengths have the context of the group. That means that our shortcomings or weaknesses can be compensated by the strengths of others in the group. Thus, we are elevated despite our limitations as are the others in the group because of our strengths.

Accountability for results is a necessary component to collaboration and collaboration is necessary for greater capacity. Accountability to ourselves, or self-discipline, is a great starting point but it is limited by an incomplete perspective. The view of us that is the least comfortable for us is often the most beneficial for us.

Accountability is more than just correction; it is context and encouragement as well as adjustments and critique. In it’s best form, it is based on a set of finite and defined standards that remove personal preferences and bias to leave cultural norms important to the purpose of the group. Those standards aren’t susceptible to excuse or personality but are deemed necessary for the goals of the group.

You can’t, or at least you shouldn’t, be accountable only to yourself. I assume Aaron Rodgers believes that because he is an accomplished professional in his field. At the same time, the perspective of “me” is not only erroneous, but it is growing in our culture and it presents a limiting factor on our individual and collective potential.

Multiplying Impact and Results By Developing Culture

I was reading a post-game interview with a major college coach who has been in his current position for two years. His team was coming off of a big, program defining win. There was a particular play where a team rallied with extraordinary effort around the ball carrier.

The play had come on 3rd and 19 and there was about a 10 yard pass; well short of the first down. The receiver pushed and pulled, with the help of his teammates, another 7 yards or so and set up 4th and short. Ultimately, the team went for it on 4th down and converted the first down.

The call – the strategy and tactics – only produced about 1/2 of what was required. It was the unity of agreement towards a goal that pushed the situation to favorable. The coach had done all that he could do and he was left to simply watch as the team took matters into their own hands beyond the result of the strategy and tactic.

Immediately following the play, the coach reportedly said, “That’s a culture play right there.” The culture was changing. He inherited a program with limited success and he was trying to get them to achieve more. He was going about it by attempting to change the culture. If the culture changes, the norms change. If the norms change, people agree related to how and what to do. They already know why; it’s cultural. They agree with the why and are unified towards the what.

Culture multiplies leadership. Culture is the multiplier because it extends beyond the direct control of the leader. The leader doesn’t have to direct the specifics, but can trust that hearts are aligned towards a common goal and the extra effort, creativity and perseverance is a produce of agreement. Skills, talents, abilities and creativity are released to multiply. All the leader is left to do, at times, is watch as the team results exceeds the strategy or tactics employed.

When the leader doesn’t have to be present but the vision is “caught” in the culture, there can be exponential momentum. Ultimately, it is the test of truly outstanding leadership; how do they perform in your absence? Additionally, how do they perform in your absence when faced with unexpected challenges? Can they adapt collectively and push through the variables that weren’t planned for?

Strategy and tactics are easy by comparison. Culture is the hard, slower process of agreement towards a common goal. It’s the “why” becoming so inherent in the language and consciousness of an organization that the leader’s immediate presence isn’t necessary. It’s also the only true multiplier of the three.

What Fills Your Tank Could Mess You Up

It’s good right up until the point that it isn’t. Things you do for the right reasons can be something that gets done within you when the reasons get twisted. When what was intended as service becomes sustenance, it’s time to put it down.

Once people meet Jesus, they naturally and appropriately want to agree with Him in His purposes. They have a story to tell personally and they want to tell His story passionately. That is so good and so right. The issue comes when that natural and organic desire to share and serve becomes more. When the outpouring produces a return and the return becomes an addiction, it’s a problem.

Two things that can happen in ministry is the assumption of an identity based on the service of ministry and the need for affirmation to fill/refresh the space that has been emptied in service.When your whole world revolves around your ministry, then your ministry has become worldly.

Ministry is the operation of gifts and it’s the Lord’s sovereignty in His choosing of how and when He distributes those gifts. He gives them to His children because they are HIs children; not because they are special. The “anointing” is in everyone that carries the Holy Spirit within if/when they will die to themselves to put Him on display. Dying to self is the key and ongoing ingredient to ministering in Him and not in our own ability.

Wanting or needing people to depend on or affirm you based on your position or gifting subtly shifts the focus and purpose from Jesus to you. He is the One from whom affirmation flows; from the Head down, not the bottom up. It’s out-of-order when the affirmation comes from the receiving perspective. It’s like a father waiting on his kids to affirm him or a boss needing employees to be their source of encouragement. Backwards.

When you need it, it’s time to stop. When you have to do a thing, even a good thing, a reasonable question arises regarding where grace and identity are in the equation. Has it become your source in place of the intended Source? Has religion hijacked your passions and become a formula for what relationship is intended to satisfy?

The Kingdom of God will advance in it’s purposes without any one of us. The things that God wants to do are going to get done without our involvement, yet He chooses to include us. As such, we can/should enjoy the ride and appreciate the invitation. Along the way, the commission we enjoy should never be worn as our identity or source for fulfillment as it’s always His authority and His deal; never ours.

Legitimate Leadership is Born Within Everyone that Chooses to Be Made

There is a timeless question regarding the production of leadership that asks, “are leaders born or made?” The answer has to be “yes,” leaders are born and then made. Further examination of the question would reveal that leadership potential is more universal than it is exclusive because the essence of true leadership is deeper than the qualities we may initially identify. We are all born with leadership potential and our impact is dependent largely on our development but our development is unto different qualities than we often associate with leadership.

Regardless of your faith or belief, few could argue that Jesus has to be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. He initiated a movement that has spanned centuries and changed cultures. His leadership has reached far beyond his tangible touch or span of years on earth. Within the context of the faith He invited, we are told “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, He was born for His destiny.

As difficult as it is to fully grasp, He also developed into it. Specifically, we know, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). While His destiny preceded creation, His capacity was developed by experience. In other words, He grew into His destiny.

While a study of His life would reveal great knowledge, discipline, influence and an extraordinary ability to communicate, the impact of His leadership if dependent on His character much more than it is attributable to the effect of His skills. Ultimately, the unleashing of centuries worth of global impact hinged on His humility which is grounded in the security of His identity. Humility and security are not necessarily natural in any of us no matter what we believe we may be born for. Humility and security have to be developed.

People follow leaders that sacrifice for their benefit. In fact, the very definition of legitimate authority depends on sacrifice for the benefit of others. “Leadership” that falls short of that isn’t leadership at all, and often it is manipulation or even abuse. The ability to lead which is born within each of us is unleashed by the development of our character and inherent understanding of that identity more than it is our skill at doing things or getting people to do things.

The production of a legitimate leader is the reduction of an aspiring leader. Those that will become less will be positioned for more. Willingness to embrace demotion will increase capacity for promotion. We are all born with the ability to sacrifice and decrease, but the making of our character dictates the extent to which we will influence others along the way and after we are gone.

Laying Down Celebrity Leadership

When Jim Collins wrote his book “Good to Great,” he unexpectedly found a common trait among excellent organizations. Where he thought he might find charismatic, bigger-than-life leaders, he found the opposite. He found leaders that were willing to not be the center of attention. He calls them “Level 5” leaders and defines their  primary characteristics as “a blend of personal humility and professional willpower.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which comes first among leaders that reject the deference of a Level 5 leader; were they arrogant before they were in a certain position or did the position foster the arrogance? Do they need attention and that drove them to a leadership role or did the leadership role nurture their need for attention? In either case, the celebrity of leadership is a trap that defeats potential personally and organizationally.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he did so by kissing Him on the cheek to identify Him for the soldiers to know to arrest Him. There is no account of Judas then testifying against Jesus before the authorities to make the case against Him. There is no Scripture of Judas affirming before Pilot or Herod that Jesus had claimed to be God, King or anything else. There is simply the identification.

This is curious because Judas had been given money to betray Jesus. Apparently, what Judas offered was of value to those that wanted to crucify Jesus but it wasn’t testimony they wanted. It was identification. This means that identification had value and this means that they weren’t certain of the exact identity of Jesus. That means Jesus wasn’t a celebrity.

I realize that there was no social media to popularize Jesus or His ministry and I realize that Jesus had clearly attracted a crowd throughout His ministry. Yet, when it was near the end, the ruling authority needed confirmation of who this alleged threat was.

Our impact in and beyond our lives is not dependent on our celebrity and our ministry is not one that needs to put us in a place of recognition. The power of our leadership is in our humility, not our ability. When they don’t know who we are, we are starting to smell like Level 5 and beginning to look like Jesus.