I remember a few years ago going through some pretty severe depression. I don’t think anyone knew about it. I guess I was able to keep it under wraps, but I remember very clearly going through some dark days wondering what I was doing with my life, rethinking about ministry and so many other things. During this time I happen to have come across Kent Hughes great book “Liberating ministry from the Success Syndrome”. As I read it, it exactly describe what I was going through and the emotional roller coaster ride I was on. Kent Hughes describes how he had fallen for the Success Syndrome in evaluating his ministry and because things were not “successful” he was spiraling ever into more spiritual depression. But by God’s grace he was able to recover from his depression and regain a biblical perspective in evaluating his life and ministry.
What Hughes had fallen prey to was what I was falling prey to as well. I had fallen victim to the success syndrome. A chief cause of this was my tendency to compare myself to others. I would compare my preaching to others, my skill to others, my intelligence to others, my pastoral skills to others. I would compare everything to everyone else. Not surprisingly I was falling ever into depression. But by God’s grace I was able to pull myself out of it, yet the cry to be “Successful” is an ever present taunt in my ears and it’s a daily battle to fight against it.
While the message that we are called to be faithful rather than successful is something many of us have heard over and over again, yet it remains a constant struggle. Unfortunately this is not helped when the Christian community, both near and far, have themselves bought into the ‘success’ lie.
Inadvertently, in the way we talk or even treat our leaders, we can make it very hard for our leaders to focus on being faithful rather than on being successful.
So personally here are some thoughts I’ve had to think about. Firstly to us leaders:
a. When you are jealous of other people’s success work even harder to pray for their ministry and give thanks to God for them. Now I’m not so naive to know that no one is perfect and so it’s easy to punch holes in their ministry and look at their flaws. For everything good there is always a mixture of bad. That’s life. We’re not in heaven as yet. However as far as we are concerned let’s just concentrate on praying that they will stay focused on the gospel, keep preaching the scriptures and that God will use their ministry to his glory even more so than our own ministry.
b. When things are going well with your ministry and growing make it a special point to pray that God will all the more make you last in the eyes of the world so that you will be first in his eyes. And when everyone wants to talk up how great you are make it an even special point to fervently pray that God will make you a nobody in the eyes of the world so that you will be a somebody in his eyes.
Lord make me last in the eyes of the world that I might be first in your eyes.
c. Accept the fact that you are not as “good” as someone else but that’s ok. So stop comparing. The fact is that God has wired you differently and that’s OK. Remember God never makes mistakes and that includes you.
d. If someone wants to put you on a pedestal tell them they’re stupid and they need to see a doctor. (Ok maybe in a more pastorally sensitive way).
e. Finally we need to realise the fact that change is difficult and painful. The key to glory is always via the way of the cross and in this case, the cross is personally wanting that others will to be more successful than you.
OK a word to the rest of us, here are some thing to think about so that we don’t make it hard for our leaders and cause them to fall victim to the success syndrome.
a. Avoid avoid avoid, playing the “comparing game”. This is wrong and ungodly. Ok, so your pastor may not be a great preacher like……. or they might not be a great leader like…………… but don’t play the comparison game. Accept the fact that God may have wired your leader like……….. If that is the case then learn to work with what you’ve been given and be thankful. But whatever you do don’t play the comparison games. Of course there are real cases in which you leader is just not the right person for your congregation. If that is the case then it’s ok to tell the person, but just don’t play the comparison game. This doesn’t help anyone.
b. Avoid playing the “I saw……………” game. You know this game the world plays.
- “I saw Keanu Reeves.”
- “I ate in the same restaurant as Tom Cruise”
- “I touched Matt Damon
Unconsciously we do the same thing. We can play up that we know……….. or that we had a chat with……………or that we are related to….. etc etc. All this tends to do is to put someone else on a pedestal but make your leaders feel really bad.
c. Watch what gifts you give to your leaders. I think this is great. I’m all for it, but there is a danger that we can favour one over and above the other by what we are prepared to do for one and not the other. I’m not saying that we don’t be generous to our leaders but rather we need to show equal generosity to all and not just to some.
d. Be careful not to play up one over and above the other. This only creates jealousy and makes one feel bad and the other big headed.
e. Stop complaining about your leaders.
f. Just one more thing, if you’re organising a camp, concert, or a function of any sort avoid all the soppy thank you’s at the end. Why do some get more thank you’s than others? You know what it’s like to be overlooked while others are thanked. So my suggestion is a general thank you to one and all. Give a personal and private thank you to all concerned. And don’t forget the guys who picks up the garbage.
Ok, these are just some personal reflections. So now back to my church growth book on how to be a successful pastor. Hmmmm….