Thanks for reading Greatheart’s Table. For reasons this post will explain I don’t know how many of you there are out there, but I’m grateful for all of you, or perhaps both of you, as the case may be.
In this post, I’m thinking about our motivation for ministry. It’s possible we pay more attention to the acclaim of the chosen than we do to the call of the Chooser, and that can be wearisome. What might it be like to be conscious only of “The Eyes of the Chooser?” Pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.
A Lot of Me
On a recent Tuesday, I had lunch with a man and talked more about my life than I listened to hear about his. Later I met with a young couple and was more concerned with the impression they had of me than how I ministered Christ to their hearts.
Though I want to be a good pastor, there is an awful lot of “me” in what I do for Jesus, an awful lot of concern for how I am seen by others. I’ve known this for a long time, but like many true things, I still struggle to live it.
When I began ministry in 1985 I was greatly helped by Gordon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World.1 Among many things, I resonated with the distinction he made between the inner motivations of those he termed “the driven” and the “called.”
Many pastors are driven by the need to produce so that they might be noticed and counted worthy. Some unmet need, some unfulfilled longing, propels them, unrelentingly and often unwittingly, to use ministry to accomplish notable things. Such may say all the right things about wanting to see the church grow, to see Christ glorified and to see the sheep cared for, but at some primarily inner place they are motivated to be successful so that they would be seen as successful.
When my daughter Hannah was fifteen I plopped down next to her on a Sunday just before our service began. She could tell I was grumpy and she knew why. “Dad,” she said, “I wish you would be happy with those who are here, and not upset about those who aren’t.” She could just as well have said, “Dad, your drivenness is showing; you need to tuck it in.”
Most of us are a little bit driven and some of us a lot. It is deadly and draining.
The “called,” on the other hand, are differently motivated. For these, being seen as successful is less important than being faithful to what Jesus calls them to do. John the Baptist, MacDonald suggests, was not driven but called. His ministry met with the kind of success many of us covet, but he was not motivated by success. When the crowds began to dissipate, when his church grew small, when his access to power was reduced to his head on a plate, he was not troubled. Success was not his master. His followers left him in order to join another, a newer, hotter group across town. He did not grow frantic. He simply said, “He must increase; I must decrease.”2
We might protest that while we lose members to churches with fancier programs and hotter music, he lost them to Jesus. It’s not the same, we say.
I get that. But the point is what is revealed about our inner motives when we lose or lack outward success. The driven see their resume crumbling and grow frantic. The called are untroubled, being “content to fill a little space if [God] be glorified”3 as a hymn puts it.
Knowing all of this, of course, has not cured me of drivenness. But it has given me a model to which I can frequently return. And that in large measure is the fuel of repentance. I can confess my sin and return to where I need to be and do so often. I’ll never function with the pure motives of a John the Baptist, but I can turn in that way. God, after all, does not use perfect people. He does, however, use repentant people.
I write all of this not knowing how many, if any, are paying attention. The internet provides all kinds of metrics for measuring a newsletter or podcast audience. I could chart it, observe its fluctuations, and feed my driven nature, or more likely, feed my despair. But I don’t and therefore I have no idea how many of you are out there.
I don’t because my son made me promise that I wouldn’t. He knew that I wouldn’t look at those things for the help they can be but as a measure of my self-worth. Doing so would feed the disease in me that I hoped to cure in others. That disease, as he put it, is the
. . . specter of finding . . . value in the eyes of the chosen, rather than those of the Chooser.
So he made me promise.
Your solution need not be as radical as that. But there will be greater joy, and greater contentment, and probably better pastoring, when we can turn from looking for our value in the fickle eyes of the chosen so that we might find it in the loving eyes of the Chooser.
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World (United States: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984). Soon after I read the book, MacDonald’s own private world was revealed to be a mess. Nevertheless, the book has value.