Paul Madson


Author: Paul Madson (page 1 of 3)

Lesson #3b: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Who or what defines your identity (who you are)?” This week we continue with our focus on where we derive our primary identity from…our ministry or from Christ.

Number 3: Your identity is defined by your relationship with Jesus…not by your ministry!

Where we derive our primary identity from will have a profound impact upon our ministry and our enjoyment of that ministry (or lack of enjoyment).

Samuel Rima, in his book Leading from the Inside Out: The Art of Self-Leadership, writes the following:

“Never before have there been more demands and pressures for those in positions of spiritual leadership. As a result of these increased demands and expectations, a higher percentage of pastors than ever before are leaving the ministry as a result of burnout and depression.”


I would suggest that one reason for this is the fact that over time, our identity as a person becomes too deeply tied to our ministry, rather than our relationship with Christ!

In other words, our core identity is intertwined with our “profession” (pastoring) rather than our personal relationship with Christ. I think all men (in particular) struggle with this – whether they are in full-time vocational ministry or not. As men we tend to identify ourselves by what we do…by our career.

Again, Samuel Rima writes…

“…one of the principal reasons for the escalating number of clergy members who are experiencing serious depression is the perceived inability to produce success in their ministry. It is vitally important that we as spiritual leaders recognize that we can do our very best and in fact be doing everything right and still not realize the growth and ministry expansion for which we long. When our emotional and spiritual well-being become inordinately dependent on the growth of our ministry rather than on who we are in Christ, the imbalance can create for us serious emotional problems.”


C.S. Lewis, in his remarkable book The Screwtape Letters, advises a demon in training to keep Christians in a state of mind that he calls “Christianity and.” He says, “Keep your patient (by patient, he’s talking about this young convert) in a constant state of mind that I call ‘Christianity and.'”

In other words, he says that if people must be Christians, let them be Christians with a diversion. Christianity and success. Christianity and politics. Jesus and tradition. Jesus and a certain type of dress or music.

Screwtape says, “Never let them come to a place where mere Christianity is enough. Ever.” In other words, he is saying, “Don’t ever let them get to the place where they really believe that Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”

The idolatry issue and the identity issue are interconnected because idolatry is trying to build your identity on something besides God. This is not just a problem for non-Christians. It’s a problem for Christians, too. Christians are also guilty of trusting in things smaller than Jesus to give their lives meaning and significance. Jesus and our achievements. Jesus and our reputation. Jesus and our relationships. Jesus and our strengths, our place in society, our ambitions, our goals, our dreams, and on and on it goes. Jesus plus something. And there are a host of things inside the Church that are trying to keep us from believing that Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

It doesn’t say Jesus plus your political power. Jesus plus your national influence, Jesus plus your abilities, or your money. The Gospel is Jesus plus nothing equals everything and that everything minus Jesus equals nothing. That’s pure unadulterated, unambiguous Gospel math. That’s what the Gospel does, it comes in and it smashes our idols. It reorients us back to pure Gospel math each and every day. Plus, let’s not make the mistake in thinking that idolatry is only just a non-Christian problem.

So…how about you? What is the one thing, or what are those few things that if you lost them, or if you had to part with them, would devastate you? What is your non-negotiable?”


Is your ministry an idol? Do you value it more than you value Jesus? Next week I will share with you four signs that give us a clue that we are deriving our primary identity and value from our ministry instead of Jesus.

The two passages that I have always clung to throughout the ups and downs of ministry life are Psalm 73:25-26 and Psalm 62:5-7

“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26 NASB)


“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-7 NIV)

Until then, my prayer for all of us is that we would keep Jesus as our supreme treasure and greatest passion! No matter what happens in our life, we will always have Him and He will always have us! Our core identity is: We are children of the living God!

Lesson #3a: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Who or what defines your identity (who you are)?” This week, we return to the third lesson I’ve learned (or I should say, still learning) after reflecting on my time in the pastorate. (As a side note: realize that this particular series of blog posts are primarily related to men in the pastorate, but many of the principles apply to people in all walks of life – both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, from all countries and cultures).

Number 3: Your identity is defined by your relationship with Jesus…not by your ministry!

By “identity” I mean the place from which you derive your sense of worth, your sense of value, your sense of significance as a person.

What you do (your ministry) does not define who you are. If your ministry went up in a puff of smoke and disappeared off the face of the earth – you would still be who you are. Your core identity would not have changed at all. Your core identity is: “I am a child of God.” He loves you “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). That will never change. God is your “mighty rock, your refuge” (Psalm 62:5-7).


The world constantly tempts us to find our identity in someone or something that is smaller than Jesus. It tempts us to place our identity in what we can achieve, attain or accomplish. In direct contrast, Colossians tells us that our identity is found “in Christ!” (Colossians 3:1-4).

It’s so easy to “default” into deriving our sense of worth from human approval and acceptance by others. As long as things are going well and people seem to be approving and accepting of what we do and who we are, life is pretty easy. But once the tables are turned and you begin to experience rejection from people instead of acceptance, disapproval instead of approval…it is then that your true identity is put to the test! Who are you at that moment? Do you still have value? Do you still have worth?

I have found that it is usually during the hard times – when you are experiencing rejection and disapproval – that the true source of your identity rises to the surface. Is it Jesus? Or is it your ministry?

Remember: Jesus is my supreme treasure! For me to live is Christ…not my job or ministry! My core identity is found in Christ! Christ defines who I am.

Is your ministry your idol? One way to tell is how you would respond if it all collapsed tomorrow. Where do you draw your “life” from? Jesus…or your ministry? Jesus never changes and will always be the same. Ministry is a roller coaster from week to week, month to month, year to year.

Remember: Because you are a child of God, who is loved and accepted by Him, you have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. You have total and complete acceptance from the only One who really matters – God!

As the Apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

“When we are united to Christ, we don’t need to spend our lives trying to earn the approval, earn the acceptance, earn the affection of those around us, because Jesus has already earned God’s approval, acceptance, and affection for us. Do you realize how freeing that is? How liberating that is? How that will radically change every relationship that you have?


Because of Christ’s finished work, we can have the justification and the love and the mercy and the grace and cleansing and the new beginning and the approval and the acceptance and the righteousness and the rescue that all of us long for, and that all of us are looking for in a thousand things that are smaller than Jesus.


It was rediscovering the Gospel that enabled me to see that because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak. Because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose. Now I could lose my place and my position and my reputation, I could lose all those things and not lose my core identity, because my identity was located, anchored in Christ. Not in anything I could do, not in anyone I could become. It was rediscovering this Gospel that freed me.


Let me tell you a little secret…when you are free to lose, it enables you to live a life of unbounded courage, sacrifice, and generosity. You can spend your life going to the back instead of trying to get to the front. Listen, life cannot beat a man who doesn’t care if he loses!


It’s why Paul was able to say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain!”


Nothing and no one in this world can take away from me that which makes me, me. Namely Christ. You can slander my name, you can tell the whole world lies about me, you can beat my body, you can beat my reputation, you can throw me under the bus and run me over again and again and again, and I can suffer with a smile because you are not taking away who I am.


In Christ my identity is secure, which frees me to give everything I have because in Christ, I already have everything I need. That sentence changed my life… The Gospel calls us to live radically and generously.”

Until next week…may Jesus be your supreme treasure and your greatest passion! And may you find your true identity in Him and in Him alone! Remember: He (Jesus) is the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46), not your ministry! Your identity is anchored to Him!

Lesson #2: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Live to an audience of One.” Some of you may recall a series of blog posts that I began back in November entitled “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago.” I said that I would share “12 Lessons” (out of 50 that I started with).

The first lesson was: “Decide which hills are worth dying on, and which are not.” Since that initial post, I have pretty much put my blog on hiatus, simply because my schedule became a bit overwhelming. This week, I wanted to pick up where I left off by sharing with you the “Second Lesson” on my list:

Number 2: Live to an audience of One.

You can’t please all the people all the time…or even most of the people most of the time.

Be far more concerned with the opinions of heaven than the opinions of earth!

You will never be able to live up to everyone’s expectations of you – including some of your closest friends.

You will be misunderstood. People will believe hurtful, false things about you and your family. The larger your ministry grows, the more this will be true! Know that this is normal. Every leader faces this.

The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can get on with pleasing the only One that really matters (God). Entrust yourself to Him who judges justly! (1 Peter 2:23).

Nine passages of Scripture, in particular, have brought consistent comfort and encouragement to me throughout my years of ministry related to this issue. I committed these verses to memory in my early 20’s and they have helped me to keep my focus on “living to an audience of One.”

Here are those nine passages…

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV)

“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB)

“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26 NASB)

“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5 NASB)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NASB)

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-7 NIV)

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NASB)

“For they [the Pharisees] loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” (John 12:43 NASB)

“We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV)

(Note: most of the passages are from the NASB because this was the translation that I memorized almost all of my verses in, with a few from the NIV)

Next week we will move to number three.

Stand Alone Post: Like an Unopened Love Letter

This picture is one I took back in the Summer of 1983 when Lisa and I were visiting Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. Next door to Multnomah’s campus was Central Bible Church, both of which were founded by Dr. John G. Mitchell. One of his most memorable sayings was “Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?” Years after John Mitchell had left Central Bible (1967), they placed Mitchell’s now famous saying into the brick wall at the front entrance of the sanctuary.

I thought of this recently when I was sent a YouTube video from a friend. The video showed a remote tribe (the Kimyal people) in the mountains of West Papua, Indonesia receiving the very first Bible in their own language. This just happened in 2010. Never in the history of the Kimyal people group have they ever had the Scriptures in their own language!
Continue reading

Lesson #1: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Decide which hills are worth dying on, and which are not.” Recently, I had the privilege and opportunity to speak to a group of pastors on the subject of “What I Wish (as a Pastor) I Had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years Ago.” I narrowed my list down to “12 Lessons” (out of 50 that I began with). I thought I would share with you one or two of these each week for the next few weeks. Even if you are not a pastor, I think you will find that most of the principles that I will be sharing are applicable to all of life…your personal life, family life and ministry.
Continue reading

Stand Alone Post: Suffering hardship, experiencing pain, and dealing with discouragement

What happens when your dreams are shattered?

Called to Suffer

Recently I read an excellent book by Pete Wilson (lead pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN) entitled…

Plan B

Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?
Continue reading

Stand Alone Post: Tears of the Saints

I wanted to share two incredibly powerful and excellent ministry-related resources with you today from the historic Lausanne Congress that just wrapped up last weekend in Cape Town, South Africa. The first is a heart-grabbing, tear-producing video entitled “The Tears of the Saints” relating the latest statistics on the needs in our world today. I would encourage you to take 4-5 minutes and watch it (I sat at my desk in stunned silence with tears welling up in my eyes after I watched it). I think you will agree with my assessment of it and I believe that you won’t regret it.
Continue reading

Stand Alone Post: How Do We Overcome Sin?

Over the years, one of my favorite writers and speakers has been Randy Alcorn. When I was in seminary (Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon) back in the late 1980’s, our family attended Good Shepherd Community Church where Stu Weber was lead pastor and Randy Alcorn was associate pastor. We learned much from both Stu and Randy during those years (and have since through their books).
Continue reading

Stand Alone Post: Think – The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The theme for this year’s conference was:

“Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”

The speakers this year ranged from…

Francis Chan

R.C. Sproul

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Rick Warren

Randy Alcorn

to John Piper (who sponsors the conference each year).
Continue reading

Stand Alone Post: Decisions, Choices, and Wisdom . . .

Here are a few quotes on decisions, choices and wisdom

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. The little decisions you and I make every day are of infinite importance.” (C. S. Lewis)

“Our lives are (to a large degree) a product of the choices we make. Make right choices.” (Chuck Swindoll)

“Everyday we are either going forward or backwards in our walk with God. There is no such thing as ‘standing still.’ The moment we stop giving our utmost attention to following Christ, we begin to decline in your walk with Him!”

“If you would win the world, melt it, don’t hammer it.” (Scottish Preacher – Alexander MacLaren … 1826 – 1910)

“Our choices flow out of our hearts, and therefore we must take care to guard them from contamination: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’ (Prov. 4:23). What’s the most effective way to contaminate a water supply? Poison it at its source. If you don’t guard your heart from the world’s values, you will be conformed to the world.” (Randy Alcorn)

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Older posts

© 2021 Paul Madson

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑