A Pastor’s Strange Addiction: Performance-Based Ministry

This is a reposting of one of my most-read blogs in the past 18 months.

Most pastors I know struggle with a killer addiction. No, it is not an addiction to narcotics, alcohol, or pornography, although it could lead to any of these. What I am talking about is the addiction to performance-based ministry. To be honest I have struggled with this addiction all of my life. I love the thrill of being called the “biggest” or “fastest” or “most cutting-edge” or a “leading voice” in anything, whether or not it is true. I guess it is a part of human nature. Without a doubt it is rooted in pride and insecurity. How else do you explain the posturing, bragging, and competition among pastors? Why else are there “Top 100 Lists” of the largest or fastest-growing churches? Am I the only one who has ever read those in envy? Am I the only one who has felt insignificant after having read them? Am I the only one who has ever had the lustful drive to be on those lists? Probably not.

Performance-based ministry is when my security and identity come from the things that I accomplish rather than being found in Christ. At best being performance-driven leads to stress and burnout. At worst it leads to pride and idolatry.

Recently I had a godly man confront me with a shocking truth about myself. He looked me in the eyes and told me that I believed in two different gospels. I was shocked and outraged at first. How dare he question my commitment to the gospel? But what he told me was true. I am pretty good at giving out the grace of God to others. I preach it with complete sincerity and belief. Salvation is not performance-based. It is God’s free gift. God’s grace is free to us and complete in Christ. We can do nothing to earn God’s love and grace. Forgiveness is available to all who turn to Jesus. And yet, he told me, I tend not to apply these truths to my own life and ministry. Everything tends to be measured in bottom lines, reports, and performances. If the growth graph is on the rise, then I am good. If it goes the other direction, however, I live under a constant level of pressure, stress, and great feelings of inadequacy. I never even realized how true this was in my life.

Performance-based ministry is really a contradiction in terms. To serve is to be at the pleasure of the Lord, to do his will, to love him and operate in love. When I approach ministry or living in merely a performance-based mindset, I set myself up as the one who receives the glory or the blame. In essence being performance based is a form of idolatry. It is about worshipping self and one’s own accomplishments more than worshipping Jesus. It is rooted in pride.

How does any pastor get to that place?

o   Insecurity

o   Pride

o   Allowing the vision to be about you rather than about Jesus

o   Allowing your identity to come from your accomplishments

o   Always having to be in control

o   Not reflecting enough on the beauty of the gospel

o   Being driven by the opinions of others

o   Failing to embrace God’s design of many gifts in the body and trying to do too much yourself

Pastor, what you do is unique and difficult. Actually, it is impossible unless you live in the truth of the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to take a long look in the spiritual mirror and ask yourself if you are being driven by your calling or by the opinions of others. Does this mean that we should wallow in mediocrity? Of course not! It empowers us to live in the full power of the Holy Spirit and to give our best as an offering to God. It will free us to operate in a power that truly impacts the Kingdom of God.

Going from performance to security in Christ means that we must shed the insecurity, the pride, and the competiveness and embrace God’s grace and favor in our lives. We must believe that we are truly loved and accepted by God and embrace the truth that our identity is in Christ, not our accomplishments. Your worth is not in your pedigree. This requires seeing love and service as the win rather than trying to measure yourself by comparing your ministry to others. When we do that we can rejoice with the Apostle Paul when he wrote, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) This empowers us to practice what we preach and live for an audience of One.