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02 Apr '12

Five choices to avoid the dangerous false gods of ministry

Yesterday I wrote on the Dangerous and false ministry Gods of success, recognition, power and money. It generated unusual interest which did not surprise me given the propensity of leaders to allow these false gods to capture them. I hope leaders read it and I suspect that many staff and constituents read it since they are often the first to see their leaders moving down this destructive route.

In my experience, those who walk down this route have five common characteristics: They have neglected their inner life because of their busyness; they start to believe their own press; they stop listening to people they used to listen to and now listen only to those who tell them what they want to hear; they start to divide people into friends, those who agree with them and enemies, those who don't, and finally they have become significantly isolated from others.

In other words, leaders make choices about how they live which can lead them down paths that are exceedingly dangerous to their personal lives, families, relationship with god and ultimately ministry effectiveness. Or, they can embrace lifestyles that will keep them in safe waters. Either way these are leadership choices and not random events of fate.

1. I will modify my schedule so that there is time to think, reflect, spend time with God and time with key life friends. Our schedules are dangerous if not carefully regulated because they squeeze out margin necessary for time with God and for introspection, keep us from deep interactions with others, suck our spiritual lives dry and keep us on the edge of fatigue. 

This is clearly not how Jesus lived and it is clearly not how our physical or spiritual bodies were meant to function well. Only we can make the choice to slow down. With time, one can press deeply into God's word, evaluating our lives against what He wants of us and taking the time to compare our lives against that of Jesus.

2. I will not listen to or believe the press that others give me because while some of it may be true, I know the real me and the real me is much less impressive than the public me. Believing what others say about us is choosing to become delusional about who we really are. We are deeply flawed and broken sinners and the very fact we get caught up with false ministry gods is proof of our brokenness. 

The moment I allow others to put me on a pedestal and I start to believe their words as gospel, I am entering an "alternate reality field" which most of those around us know is not true but which we choose to buy into. Jesus was unimpressed by the accolades of others because He knew how fickle people can be.

3. I will continue to dialogue with those who have been truth tellers to me in the past. There is one caveat here. Those who have been faithful friends in the past will not always press into to a leader who is walking down a destructive path. This is because they intuitively understand that the individual does not really want to hear what they have to say. 

Thus it is incumbent on the leader to proactively ask these faithful friends what they see in their lives today and then to listen. Often they will not like to hear what they will hear but those are the wounds of faithful friends. Again, we make the choice.

4. I will not divide people into camps (friends - those who are loyal and agree with me) and (enemies - those who disagree with me and are therefore no longer loyal). Ironically those who disagree with us when we are walking down these paths are the most faithful friends we could ever have and those who agree with us are usually simply desiring to be on the in with fame and someone important like fans flock to rock stars. It is at this stage that wise leaders are deeply discerning about who their friends really are and who the "groupies" are.

5. I will not isolate myself from friendships, those I am accountable to, those who have spoken into my life faithfully in the past or from those around me.Isolation breeds a skewed view of reality because those who isolate themselves with a leader like this tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. Isolation in any walk of life is dangerous. Isolation is particularly dangerous for those chasing false ministry gods.

Why is this so important? Because unchecked, these behaviors lead to what I call a Spiritual Narcissism whose outcomes are sad indeed.