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Home > 2013 > September Web Exclusives > 7 Performance-Enhancing Drugs of Ministry

I personally have never used steroids. Just so we're clear on that. I've never really been tempted. Partly because I've never played the kind of sports where steroids come into play. Partly because I have always had the kind of body type that would be magnificently steroid-resistant.

But what if some denomination or church-planting network had a lab that came up with Pastor-Enhancing Drugs?

Jimmy Mellado, who recently became the CEO of Compassion International, was an Olympic decathlete a few years ago. For that grueling competition, he was somewhat undersized, and I remember him talking about how hard it was to compete by the rules while knowing others were taking chemical shortcuts to get ahead. He went on to describe the wrong sorts of fuel that all of us can use at times to energize us in life; motivations that may catalyze impressive performance for a while but put our spiritual and emotional health at risk.

So here's a list of ecclesiastical performance enhancers that you'll find available in the sacristy (or green room, depending on the kind of church you serve). They may fuel an impressive looking ministry run for a season. But the long term effects don't become fully visible until eternity.


This is the Human Growth Hormone of the ministry world.

We live in a celebrity culture, and the church has not escaped. In the early days of the church, people didn't refer to churches as if they were the possession of the senior pastor ("I go to John Chrysostom's church").

An interesting contrast: name one person who has become famous through Alcoholics Anonymous ("Bill W. is a 12-step rock star!"). Adam Grant's wonderful book Give & Take notes that ego-driven CEOs can be detected by little signs like having more and larger pictures of themselves in annual reports, and using "I," "me," and "mine" disproportionately often.

Instead of simply receiving feedback about ministry as a learning tool, I can start to use it for fuel. I can live as though being praised for a sermon is simply the way things ought to be.

How do you know if you've been using Ego as a performance-enhancer? In Acts 16, Herod was looking good and gave a great talk; the people said it was divine, and he didn't bother to contradict them. He ended up being struck down by an angel of the Lord, being eaten by worms, and dying. In that order. That's a bad sign.

Guilt and fear

A certain amount of this is healthy. I saw a movie recently where a mother was confronting her adult daughter for a series of terrible, destructive, dishonest choices.

"You're making me feel bad about myself," the daughter complained.

"In this case," her mother explained, "your low self-esteem is just good common sense."

However, as a general rule, in the Bible God rarely says, "Lead from fear."

In some church settings, a dynamic of "Fear/Relief" gets set up where the performance bar gets set impossibly hard; staff run on anxiety-fueled adrenaline to clear it, and when they do it feels so good that they think they must be happy. But it's not happiness or satisfaction; it's relief.

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John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership Journal and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Posted: September 30, 2013

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Jeri Bidinger

October 03, 2013  6:19am

All true, and evidence of our preference for charismatic and extroverted leaders. I especially appreciated, though, the not-so-often-noticed tendency to treat "ministry" as church work under the auspices of pastor/church staff. Or becoming a "missionary." As expatriate professionals who have long lived in "closed" countries, it took a good long season of prayer over various opportunities to lead us to the understanding that we are full-time Christians placed by God exactly where He wants to use us. And to stop being stymied by those in "full-time ministry" who don't seem to get that or to value it. Thank you for stating it plainly.

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Dwight Lehman

October 01, 2013  12:42pm

Yes...I agree with Marshall...been there, done that!

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Marshall Shelley

October 01, 2013  9:46am

Oof. Busted! I've used several of these substances. But I don't want to ...

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