Today I begin my position as Executive Pastoral Assistant at Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois. I am excited, nervous, anxious, and thankful to be able to serve alongside Pastor Joe, Pastor Pat, and the rest of the pastors/elders. As I move into this position, in conjunction with my elder candidacy, I will be focusing on shepherding, systems, management, communication, and implementation of the churches mission and vision. The response from family and friends has been encouraging. Some have asked me if I am excited to be "moving up" in ministry.
I cannot tell you how much I hate that phrase.
I know people are well-meaning, but the phrase embodies a systemic failure in the pastorate today--a failure of contentment. Over the years I have come to identify and embrace what I (and others) believe is the gifting and role that God has for me in ministry, that of a support role. Often in the church there is a mentality of advancement that is modeled on the business world. We all love hearing stories of a janitor that worked their way up to CEO. But this is perversely modeled in ministry as, one strives to achieve the “pinnacle” of ministerial employment, that of Lead/Sr. Pastor, author, conference speaker, or mega church personality.
A common approach to advancing in position is to start in children’s ministry or youth ministry and “moving up” to young adults, then Associate Pastor, and then one day to be Lead or Senior Pastor. I can't even count how many times I was asked as a youth minister, “When do you think you're going to move past youth into a better ministry position?” Almost seeing youth ministry as a “stepping stone” to bigger and better ministry opportunities. Unfortunately, some ministers buy into this approach. They take a position to “cut their teeth” and gain experience until an Associate position opens. I loved my time in youth ministry but at one point felt called out of youth ministry. It broke our hearts because we loved the teens that God had brought into our lives. Others that I know have continued to be involved and sense that it is where God has them for the foreseeable future. I praise God for those ministers who will spend their lives investing in children and youth. It is disrespectful and a slap to the face of those ministers who sense their calling in children/youth ministry to consider such ministries starter programs. When those positions are seen as stepping-stones their value (and the value of the minister) is depreciated.
Pastor, are you content with a church of 50 individuals? Are you always trying to find the next program or evangelism campaign to reach more people? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for sharing the Gospel and leading the church to be outward focused rather than selfishly inward focused on programs and tithes. But does church numerical growth drive your understanding and barometer of success? Those that do are often discontent to serve “smaller” churches but merely use those churches as onramps to larger ones. Too many are continually on the look out for a church the next size up knowing that a church of 5000 consider applicants with experience in a church of 1200.
Here is how you know size is too important to you. When someone asks the size of your church, do you tack on an extra 50 people? Do you give them the high and uncommon number of attendees, or the realistic number of regulars? What's wrong with saying you serve a church of 100 people? On the flip side, why is it so important for you to ask others what the size of their church is? Maybe you are genuinely interested, but I am willing to bet you want to gauge how your church measures up with others. We as a modern church culture have ascribed church size to prominence, the more people, the more prominent. This is why individuals are continually on the look out for positions at larger churches so they themselves will be seen as more prominent by piggy backing off the name of their church. We tend to pay attention when someone is from Sojourn, Bethel Baptist, or Willow Creek.
A sad phenomenon in Christian culture is that of celebrity pastor/blogger/author/personality. These individuals, whether from larger churches, popular blogs, or successful books, have built a platform to help showcase their talents, gifts, and thoughts. Let me be clear, there are some individuals that God has called to speak into the church at large by challenging, encouraging, and edifying her. I praise God for individuals like Pastors John Piper, Paul Tripp, and Tim Keller; these individuals through their sermons and writings have challenged me to abandon sin and cling to Christ. So I am not against those that have a platform, I am just aware of my pride that seeks to make much of myself.
When I seek my glory, I grow envy or jealous of others. I’m not against having a platform but against seeking a platform that showcases and feeds into my self-idolatry rather than pointing to the God who deserves all glory and honor. If you have something to say, say it, blog it, tweet it, but don’t lose sight of whom we are pointing to.
Once we begin to see ministry as goals to be achieved and conquered, then we have lost sight of the calling the Lord has given. We begin to be anxious in our current position, wanting more authority, more privilege, more prominence, more money, more of a platform, and more prestige. We cease to be grateful for the position we have been placed in and out of a spirit of discontent want to climb higher and higher upon the rung of ministerial advancement.