This doesn't get talked about nearly often enough. Church ministry is not generally associated with money: there are no old expressions of someone being "poor as a corporation mouse." It's the "church mouse" that's poor.
But I don't have to possess a lot of money to be driven by the desire for it. Sometimes people early on in ministry find themselves motivated more by finances than by sense of calling. Sometimes people in ministry find themselves in a position where they are not making great contributions, but they allow themselves to be locked in by a paycheck.
To be able to serve a church rightly, I have to be able to trust God enough to say: "I don't need this job."
It's possible to draw motivation from seeing someone else in church ministry work at a larger church, or give a better talk, or receive more widespread recognition. It's an endless source of motivation (someone is always doing better than me), but it carries the whiff of the insatiable torment of hell.
People in the Jesus Camp have been comparing themselves to each other ever since Peter found out he was going to have an unpleasant death and wanted to make himself feel better by finding out how John would check out.
"What does that have to do with you?" asked Jesus. Still a good question.
The "I know theology" trump card
Sometimes we pastors will use our alleged expertise as a way to motivate people to do what we want.
"I know you have to work at your secular kingdom-of-this-world day jobs, but get that done as quickly as possible so you can come and volunteer at my church." We can imply that "ministry" is the same thing as "church work."
We may get more hours of church work this way. But workplaces will miss getting trained, wide-awake agents of the kingdom on the job.
For another audience, this might require more explanation. But I don't need to tell someone as discerning as you about this one.
Upon further review …
I said at the top of this piece that I've never used steroids. When I look at this list, I realize that sometimes I have. Sometimes I do. These performance enhancing ministry substances are always nearby.
But I'm trying to get off.
Because the health at stake involves a little thing called my soul. And the souls of those I touch.
John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership Journal and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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