Asked to share with my staff a final thought before leaving Village at the end of this week, I shared a quote from A.W. Tozer:
“The thing that most interferes with our relationship to God is our service to Him. “
One would expect that being in the ministry, there would be no such interference. I am guessing there are some salesmen and corporate heads and medical workers who would love the privilege to give their lives to full time ministry. What an opportunity to grow deep with God! It is a reasonable expectation. Ministry is signing on to an honorable purpose. The Welsh Protestant pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones left a promising medical career, but while some admired his self-denial, he replied, “I gave up nothing—I received everything.”
There is a glory in watching over souls. What other vocation allows one to get so close to so many people in such life-changing ways? In ministry, we get the best seat for life’s greatest moments—be it in a hospital room to celebrate a birth, the altar to celebrate a marriage, or the front of a chapel to reflect on someone’s passing. We are invited into the counsel of God to receive a word from Him, and sent out to the pulpit to be His prophetic voice. In all of these moments, there are these opportunities to go extraordinarily deep with God. I count it the greatest privilege to experience many of these moments.
But in an ironic way, ministry can sometimes distance one from God. Serving the Lord as one’s profession can work against one’s bond with God. Ministry can get us off track in subtle ways—
-ministry becomes a job—rather than a calling
-the Bible becomes a textbook, a sermon source book, a proof text—rather than the Word of life
-people become units—rather than a flock to which we devote our care
-leadership becomes a means of control—rather than an opportunity to serve
-giving becomes another bill—rather than a joyous sacrifice
-unexpected calls become interruptions—rather than pastorable moments
-sharing faith becomes an obligation—rather than a privilege
-worship becomes another production—a performance rather than a journey into wonder
-prayer becomes a ritual—rather than our priestly act
-staff become employees—rather than our brothers and sisters, our fellow warriors
-church buildings become brick and mortar—rather than sacred space
Ministry is this fragile profession where things can become routine, banal. Things reverent can easily slide into things irreverent. Reminds me of a nearby ministry, where I was told the worship band often played cards while waiting for the preacher to conclude. Everyone folded when it was time to go out and perform. Worship was just another gig.
If we’re not careful, God can become background to our business. We begin paying more attention to what we are doing, than what He is doing. We spend less time knowing God, and more time ministering the things of God. Eventually—there is little to give.