Why Do I Need to be Right?

Warding off ministry viruses

Maintaining or regaining emotional health in ministry usually doesn't come from some big, new insight. It comes from a daily realignment with some simple truths we already know. Here are a few things I try to remember frequently in order to stave off ministry viruses.

God's in charge, not me.

I work for God, not God's people.

When I serve my congregation, I am serving God.

I deserve nothing from God, but He blesses me anyway.

My security comes in knowing I was worth redeeming by the blood of Jesus.

Nothing I can do will make God love me more.

Nothing I can do will make God love me less.

If I cultivate a servant heart, I'll be blessed more than anyone I serve.

The rewards of ministry are not only awaiting me in eternity; they are all around me if I will learn to look and listen.

What drives me to be right?

The reasons vary. Maybe it's an absolutely brilliant idea I've had for years. I've been patiently fishing for support from among my lay leaders, but haven't had so much as a nibble. Then, at the monthly board meeting, someone else brings up the very same idea, everyone agrees it's brilliant and before you know it, the church has adopted it. I should be happy, but I'm not. I'm ticked. Why didn't they accept it when I suggested it?

Some time ago I realized that I had adopted a "sometimes right, always confident" attitude. When asked what I thought about something (heck, I didn't even have to be asked), I always had an answer, delivered with pastoral authority, even if I knew virtually nothing about the topic.

Calling all shrinks. What's going on here?

It gets even worse. A pastor friend calls asking me to speak at his senior adult retreat. Most of my ministry experience has been among younger adults, so we're talking about a group with which I have limited experience and affinity. It falls on Friday and Saturday, my so-called days off. They are assigning me a topic, so it will require more work than just dusting off a few of my favorite messages. The honorarium seems insufficient given the number of times I'm asked to speak and the amount of time away from my family. Plus, this retreat is in May, when I know there will be end-of-school activities my daughters will want me to attend. Lots of reasons to say no. Still, I hear myself give an enthusiastic yes to the invitation. Can somebody please intervene before I commit stupid again?

Viral Infections

You could build a good case for saying that I'm just nuts. Yet if that's true, you'd better add a new wing onto the Home for the Pastorally Befuddled, because there's a whole bunch of us headed that way.

It's our need to be seen as the expert. The need to be right. The need to be recognized for our gifts, especially away from home where they give you a glorious introduction before you speak. There seems to be within us an ongoing cycle — unmet needs that lead us to irrational behavior or emotions under particular circumstances.

In the laboratory of my own heart, I've discovered that two viruses — to which we never become immune — cause this state of pastoral disease. The first, a contagious sense of expectation. The second, a raging case of insecurity.

Expectation spreads when we allow ourselves to believe we're owed something. They owe me respect because I've got Rev. before my name. They owe me because of the incredible sacrifices I've made — financial, time and otherwise. They owe me because I've been there for them in times of trouble and travail, or because ____. Fill in the blank yourself. Unchecked expectation leads to dissatisfaction, resentment, even rage.

There's a simple truth that can liberate us from the infection of expectation. Jesus paid all these debts, and they don't owe me a thing. They owed Him, but he cancelled the debt. I owed Him, and He canceled my debt. Am I really willing to keep a mental list of accounts payable when Jesus was willing to say, "Father, forgive them"? I don't think so. I've read the parable about the guy who owed a million bucks and refused to forgive his neighbor who owed him fifty. I can't both remember it and maintain a "they owe me" mindset.

Gaining perspective is absolutely essential to keeping this virus at bay. And the day we forget that our life in ministry is under the umbrella of His greater work of redemption, the infection sets in again.

Insecurity. This particular virus is activated by the false belief that our worth as a person is directly tied to our effectiveness as a pastor. So we start keeping score, trying to tabulate all our credits. If we adapt a scorekeeping mentality, we can't give points to someone else — because if we do — we end up with a lower score. So we've got to get the credit for every action, every idea, every success.

This scorekeeping mentality is only held at bay by the continual cultivation of a servant's heart. He must increase, I must decrease. If the credit goes to God, it no longer matters if people recognized it was my idea. When I'm secure in who I am because of Him, I'm no longer insecure because of what I do or don't do. I can say no, because my ego no longer needs to be stroked by someone else's praise or request.

We've all read the books and gone to the conferences on servant leadership. I must admit I like the concept in theory, but in reality it fights against my old nature. I don't really want to be a servant; I want to be served. So I must decide, on a more-than-daily basis, which it will be. That decision determines whether the infection of insecurity spreads or recedes.

Preventative medicine is always preferable to restorative care. And by incorporating an ongoing maintenance therapy, I can help keep ministerial viruses at bay.

Article copyright © 2003, Ed Rowell.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Ed Rowell has learned about ministry viruses while serving as a pastor at The People’s Church in Franklin, Tenn.