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!