The Sanctified Elephant in the Room


“Ambition is a frightening thing in the Kingdom of God”

– Chap Clark


I have a confession: I really want to matter.

I secretly (well it’s not secret anymore) long for the knowledge that I am contributing to the world, and to God’s mission. I want to be a small player in the enormous Kingdom efforts happening today. Ok, I said small, I really want to be a big player. I want people to pat me on the back, I enjoy applause, I want people to know that I exist, and that I’m doing something good. I want to leave a legacy and a mark. Wow that sounds really bad saying that I guess…
 I am ambitious, I want to do new things, enable growth, positive change, and innovation, I want to see “results”, changed lives, strengthen fledgling disciples, and lead people to Jesus. I want to lead studies, prepare and deliver good talks, plan life-changing events, hang out with students and journey through life with them.

These are good things, ministry-worthy goals. This all sounds right, right?

The questions is, who am I doing all this stuff for? Oh, for God of course, to say anything else would be very unbecoming of me.

On a good day, I’m doing it for my Father in heaven, that’s what I signed up for, selfless service, giving not taking, shepherding sheep. Pouring out to others as he has poured out for me.

The next day, I’m doing it for me, a subtle and silent shift in motivation, working hard to taste the “fruit” of ministry, success, results, more, grasp at some self-worth.

What does this look like for those of us in vocational ministry?

  • Desperately hoping that someone will congratulate you on what a great speaker you are. Is a congratulation really what we are called to?
  • Number Fudging (How many people were REALLY at youth group? Why does it matter so much if the number doesn’t please someone? Is it because it reflects on your ambition and ego?
  • Being too excited or  fearfully reluctant to answer the “how big is your ministry?” question. Is the size of the ministry a reflection on your worth?
  • Being personally crushed if your ministry skill or knowledge is critiqued, it feels like someone just punched you in the stomach. Why does it hurt so much? Maybe your identity as a Christian worker and as a child of God have become dangerously enmeshed.
  • Not being able to celebrate good things or success in others.
  • Viewing people in your ministry as tools to be used for your aims (nobody would ever say this, but ministers live it out every day)
  • Becoming resentful and bitter towards those who stand in the way of “our ministry”.
  • Making excuses for sin and poor behavior: “I’m a minister, I’ve got this under control. These rules are really for those in the congregation, I’m doing the Lord’s work here”
  • Add your own thing, we all have something that we are desperate for.

The worst part is that this kind of ambition is applauded in the Church. Ministers who “produce” are placed on a pedestal, they sell books, they speak at conferences, they matter. The not so subtle message is that we should be like them, if we worked harder, made better networking connections, did something new and exciting, then we could be on the cover of a magazine too. We would really be doing big things for God, changing the world, being awesome!

Vision and passion are from God, they help answer the prayer of making God’s Kingdom “on earth as in heaven”, but ambition is scary, it’s tempermental, like a playground see-saw , you never know which way the balance is about to shift.

True, great things have been done  by people who had the wrong motivation. Hungry children have been fed, poor people have been cared for, weary spiritual pilgrims have found Christ. Churches have grown. Ambition is powerful, it can “get things done”.

Ultimately, God calls us to a ministry that is for him, and through him. We minister and labor not because we want someone to tell us that we really matter, but because we are on mission with God, we are responding to a call.

Yes, a compliment feels good, it really does! Praise is sweet, but we cannot become addicted, we cannot depend on it as our life-source. If we do, ministry will be an angular rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows, sinking or swimming based on public feedback to our ministry.

That’s not healthy or sustainable, it’s definitely not what God wants for us. It’s empty.

What if you labored faithfully and never got a big pat on the back, publicly affirmed? What if your ministry was like a $10,000,000 anonymous donation to a charity. What if your name never got on the plaque?

Would obedience be reward enough?

We know what the right answer, but it hurts a bit. I know what the right choice is, but I still like acclaim, if I’m even slightly honest.

I pray that we will continue to learn that our identity is rooted as a beloved child of God, not as a do’er, an “important” person. No amount of ministry success will cause God to value you more, you’re already there, you’ve got all the love and worth you can possibly get. I know that, now I just want to live that way.

A reccomended resource that speaks about this topic in church leadership. Definitely worth looking at, a Christianity Today top book.

Reclaiming trash for beauty

Image

Hypergraphia- Photo by Richard Kranzler

This is a work by Gwyneth Leech called ‘Hypergraphia’, made from 700 used coffee cups.

There is something so cool about seeing old stuff used in creative new, life-giving ways. Saw this incredible work of art tonight while walking in the city. It was the last day of the exhibit, so we were fortunate to see it. This inspires me to see what other rejuvenation could be possible in our communities.

For more awesome photos, check out http://www.gwynethsfullbrew.com/

Valentine’s Day- My Day

In case you were not aware, my last name is Valentine. This name has many pros, it sounds warm and fuzzy, and gets me lots of mildly amusing jokes about “will you be my valentine” and how romantic I must be. In college, I was even asked how I could possibly be single with such a Casanova-like surname.

I often wonder if some old italian ancestor was the legendary “St. Valentine”, the patron saint of this love-centered day. I also wonder if my family has any commercial rights to the day, that would be just dandy. I used to tell other kids growing up that my ancestor was St. Valentine, it was complete nonsense, I honestly had no clue. My own delusional confidence was convincing enough for these kids. Gosh, so gullible!

The day wells up lots of emotions for people. For some, it is truly a day to be grateful for their significant other, a day to rekindle romance, or simply a reminder of the relational blessings they have been given. For others, the day brings about sadness or loss, of one who is no longer here, or one who never was. Others just plain hate the day. Valentines day is polarizing to say the least.

I don’t personally care too much for Valentine’s Day, as I think it alientates a lot of people who don’t have someone to celebrate with. Personally, the day serves as a half-year anniversary for Anne and I, so that helps remove some of the sense of obligation and Hallmark induced sense of guilt that could weigh on us. There seems to be a culturally approved “right way” to celebrate the day, which coincidentally comes as good news to the flower, chocolate, and stationery industries.

This day, let’s remember the real meaning of the occasion- that my possible ancestor was beheaded many years ago, and we get to celebrate with chocolates and stuffed animals.

And on a sincere note, February 14, however you feel emotionally,  remember that you have a God who loves you deeply and permanently. This day is for you too.

A voice sweeter than the angels

The first time I saw this video, I could not believe any of my senses. The sheer beauty of his voice, the overabundant confidence in his performance, the thunderous applause of his adulating fans. So many key changes. I watched it at least 35 times.

As time went on (about 2 minutes), I began to wonder if it was in fact real. First, the applause at the end sounds canned, and was definitely louder than it should have been for the caliber of his song. Second, there are no people in the crowd. Third: Come on, there is no way this is real.

At the same time, a deep part of me wishes this was real. A man this self-delusional about his own talents doesn’t come around everyday. I feel like I could enjoy this even more if it was authentic, but now I will continue to revel in his majesty of song, a sound that must certainly please the ears of God.