I wasn’t consciously proud. Maybe most proud people aren’t conscious of how proud they really are. But I felt that I had arrived. In ways that now shock and embarrass me, I thought of myself as a grace graduate. I didn’t minister out of my own need. I had done very well in seminary. I had planted a church in a very hard place. I had founded a rapidly growing Christian school. (Both the church and also the school were founded with others, but I didn’t look at it that way.) I was getting invitations all over the place to speak. I often looked at the people I was ministering to with a self-congratulatory pity—assuming, of course, that they were essentially different from me. No, I didn’t make fun of people, and I didn’t spend my time bragging about my accomplishments, but an attitude of arrival still shaped my ministry.
I was incredibly impatient and often quietly irritated. I found it hard to delegate ministry to others. I wanted more control than was actually necessary and productive. I gave my opinion way too often. I treated the ministries God had called me to as if they belonged to me. I wanted people to quickly sign on to support my brainstorms. My sermons were rather arrogant lectures—you know, the final word on the topic or the passage. I once preached what I thought was the ultimate sermon on pride that was actually a living example of the same! My preaching and teaching was more law than gospel. This is typical of people who think they are law keepers.
As a pastor, I was making a dangerous self-assessment mistake. I had bought into a fallacious, distorted view of my spiritual maturity. This view is both tempting and comfortable for people in ministry. Rather than looking at myself in the accurate mirror of the Word of God, the only place where you will get both an accurate definition of spiritual maturity and a reliable read on your own spiritual condition, I looked elsewhere. I looked to excellent grades and student prizes in seminary. I looked to ministry skill, forgetting that God gives gifts to whomever he wills. I looked to my ministry experience; the years of labor made me feel spiritually seasoned and mature.
Rather than humbly standing before the honest assessment of the Bible mirror, I looked into carnival mirrors. The problem with the carnival mirror is that it really does show you, but with distortion. You don’t actually have a 20-inch neck and a 6-inch torso. Yes, it’s you in that concave mirror, but it’s not showing your actual appearance. Everyone in ministry must confront the danger of self-assessments that say you’ve “arrived.” The danger that you would quit thinking of yourself as weak and needy is always near. The danger that you would see yourself as being in a different category from those to whom you minister is right around the corner. This danger greets you every day, because there are carnival mirrors all around you. And when you think you’ve arrived, when you quit being convicted of and broken by your own weakness, failure, and sin, you will begin to make bad personal and ministry choices.
The reality and confession of personal spiritual weakness is not a grave danger to your ministry. God has chosen to build his church through the instrumentality of bent and broken tools. It is your delusions of strength that will get you in trouble and cause you to form a ministry that is less than Christ-centered and gospel-driven.
What about you, pastor? How does your view of you shape ministry to those God has placed in your care? Does pride cause the “what you should do” to overwhelm the “here’s what you’ve been given”? Remember, the tender ministry of grace grows in the soil of constant awareness of your need for grace.