The other day I was talking with a good friend at my local church about my writing and ministry in general. We were talking about celebrity pastors and the tendency with this approach to pastoral success for them to fall from their ministry position. I made the comment that early on in my ministry, while certainly never very popular like many, the Lord graciously gave me a platform to speak to a lot of people online and offline. I noted at that time my immaturity and that I hurt many people in my younger years. While speaking with my friend, I made the following observation: ministry leaders need a lot of accountability and they need people speaking into their lives.
One of the main problems with the current paradigm of ministry prevalent among pastors and ministry leaders today is the desire to be heard. We feel that we must be heard. I know this tendency well as it is the one I was referring to earlier. However, we must remember that we get to serve people. We must first love God and then serve people. Yes, that is perhaps simplistic but we often forget the simple things for more advanced truths. Instead of basing our lives around the Great Commandment, we often add commandments to the already-established commandments of God.
One of my main problems with the current paradigm of ministry as it relates to pursuing platforms is how the conversation is framed. It seems that this conversation is all about my blog, my social media channels, my podcast, and the list goes on and on. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with getting our work out to people.
The question isn’t promotion as some seem to think. There is nothing wrong at all with having a desire to spread the gospel among the nations and build up God’s church. These are God-honoring, indeed God-glorifying, desires. Where it gets much messier is in application. Do we only post about our own work or do we promote others? Do we desire to partner with others in gospel work or are we only about ourselves? These diagnostic questions will help us to discover where our true allegiance lies—with God or with ourselves.
Admittedly when I was younger I was what I call a ‘ladder climber.’ I was on the fast track and I “knew” it. The problem was I wasn’t ready. I burned out. I hurt people. I have a lot of regret for that. I hate that I hurt people in my early years. I had much to repent of and apologize for. Thankfully as I’ve grown and matured, so has my ability to repent and apologize. Growing older has a way of either maturing you or hardening your heart.
There is nothing inherently wrong with desiring to have a platform to speak. What I’d prefer is if we used the language of stewardship instead. After all, we don’t see the idea of platform in the Bible. We do however see the concept and idea of stewardship in the Bible. Each and every single one of us has been given gifts and abilities to serve the Lord. We will be held accountable to the Lord for how we use these gifts. This is where the issue of influence in a digital age comes into play. However, let me be clear: this is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject; I’m merely wanting us to think about this issue and our motivations.
First, we must have lots of accountability. The more influence you have, the more accountability and people you need speaking into your life. Some people will think this is backward but like I said, I’ve been there and done that. The more influence you have, the more people you need to speak the truth in love into your life.
I have a team of people at church who do this. I have a team of people who do this at the leadership level of Servants of Grace. I have a team of people outside of Servants of Grace who do this, too. I have people all around me who speak the truth in love to me.
I can go to them with any issue, question, or thought I’m having that may be questionable. Perhaps it’s not even questionable, but I still want their thoughts on the matter. Just the other day I asked one of these people for help with an interview question I was going to ask on the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. This particular friend is gifted at asking a question, and I wanted to make sure the question was clear and to the point without being offensive.
Second, we need to rediscover the gospel for ourselves and be humble. One time, I had given a talk to the men’s ministry that was very well received. There was nothing wrong with the message at all. The next speaker up said I had “hit it out of the park” and he was going to have a hard time following up my message.
Later that evening after the last session, I waited to talk to a dear friend of mine. He said I needed to continue to develop humble relational maturity in my life. He was concerned that I was falling back into some traps that I tend to do at previous times. His words cut to my heart. I was broken. When I walked into my room one of my other accountability partners—a dear friend—saw me. I was already at the point of tears, and when he asked that question, I broke down and cried.
Third, we need people to speak into our lives. My previous story about my friend speaking into my life and another friend encouraging and praying with me demonstrate what I’m talking about. Yes, your online platform may be massive or not, but does it really matter? Yes, you might get a book deal or offers to speak to people. Serving people is great—we want to do this. But does all that truly matter at that end of the day? Does it matter if you have a massive following and lots of people clicking on what you read or listening to your podcast or sermons? Yes, these are opportunities to serve people. They are also opportunities for idols to take root.
What I want you to see is that you will never rise above any of it if your character is shaky. If you aren’t a qualified godly man seeking to increasingly repent of sin, then I want to caution you—you are in big danger. If you don’t have people speaking into your life and are in accountable relationships you are in big trouble. We need people to speak into our lives. We need to live in community. We desperately need to allow those close to us, and others, to speak into our lives. We need this. Sanctification is a community project.
Digital influence is great. Greater than digital influence, men, is leading in your homes. Loving your wife is not a secondary ministry. It is your first ministry. Loving your kids (if you have them) and serving them with the gospel is your first ministry, not your secondary ministry.
In my family tree, I have two great grandfathers who were pastors. They sacrificed their families on the altar of ministry. They went about and traveled all around preaching and teaching. Many today are falling into the same trap; maybe you reading this are sacrificing your family on the altar of ministry. You really want to write that one blog post you know will go viral. You feel you must deliver that one sermon or record that one podcast with that one person that will really help you get some notoriety.
Can I propose that we just repent of such notions entirely? The Christian life is not about you or me. We’ve been saved by grace—not of ourselves, lest we boast. The default of our hearts is to boast in self.
Instead of trusting God to broaden the reach of our ministry we want it our way right now. Instead of a service mentality we secretly want to be popular. We need to be heard. We must be heard. We feel that our words carry significance. True service to other people isn’t interested in any of those ideals. Instead, serving others means that we are first concerned with loving God and then loving others. That is where true influence lies.
We are living in a time of increasing platforms and we are seeing people falling by the wayside. My hope is that we would focus on being good stewards of the influence we already have. Instead of focusing on numbers, which represent real people being blessed by your ministry, I pray you’ll focus on your own spiritual growth. Instead of pointing the finger at others—first, point the finger at yourself.
Moreover, see your own great ongoing need of grace. Then you’ll grow to become the godly man or woman God wants you to be. The usefulness of the vessel is what God cares for; He will use you. But above all, God desires humble, servant-hearted vessels, not the man or woman with the massive platform.
He is more concerned with who you are before He cares about what you do for Him. Sadly in a church culture that focuses on success, we’ve moved away from a character approach to ministry and have instead adopted a success model that God never instituted. I pray that we’ll focus on being stewards of the manifold grace of God. Then, whether we have great breadth to our ministry or not, God will increase the depth of our character. Godly character is more important at the end of the day than whether we reached one person or five hundred million.