Why Egocentric Ministry Makes Apathetic People

“Whose kingdom are you building, yours or Mine?”

These words spoken to me by the Holy Spirit were not physically audible, but they could not have been louder. On that day in the fall of 1993, my life was forever changed.

Since starting into college ministry, I had been working tirelessly to get our campus group established. Yet, after 18 months of almost nonstop effort, we had only about a half dozen students coming to our meetings. Some weeks the number was even lower. Not surprisingly, I balked when the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray His blessings over a much larger (should I say, “rival”?) ministry on campus.

Building Monuments to Ourselves

In that moment I realized that, in the name of God, I had been practicing egocentric ministry. My identity had been wrapped in the idea of ministry success and my apparent failure left me feeling anxious and vulnerable. As much as I wanted to say that all of my hard work was for the glory of God, the reality was that I was also pursing the glory of Bob.

When it comes to fruitful Christian service motives matter—and they matter a lot.

Since that time, I have deliberately focused on building God’s kingdom instead of my own. But with my eyes now opened to a powerful reality, I could not help but notice how many Christian leaders were building ministries around themselves. Like me, they wanted to serve God in principle, but their vain egos corrupted their valiant efforts. And, like me, most did not even realize the error of their ways.

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Egocentric Ministry

I now see two primary models of pastoral ministry in our culture. In the first—the egocentric model—the pastor sees himself as a knight in shining armor sent by God to protect and care for his sheep.

The role of this pastor is central to the church because the people need him. They need him to tell them what to believe. They need him to guide their behavior. In short, they need him to meet the bulk of their spiritual needs. Interestingly, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep, but He never told the sheep to go to Peter for their daily bread.

Egocentric ministry feels good to a pastor. Don’t we all find value in being needed? But as the ego is being stroked, the soul is being destroyed. Can you say, “burnout”? The body of Christ is built of many parts and one person was never meant to carry the entire ministry load.

Furthermore, without being used by God for their destined purposes, the people become apathetic, out of sync with God and feeling as though they have nothing to offer to eternity beyond dropping funds in the offering plate, or serving as volunteers for the pastor’s vision. Without the life of the Spirit fanning the flames of their hearts, the burden on the pastor to prod and motivate becomes even heavier.

Pure Love in Action

In the second ministry model—the Biblical one—the pastor views himself as an equipper. His job is to help the people discover the ministries that God has created them to fulfill, helping to develop their character and skills along the way. Through this ministry lens, the pastor sees himself as somewhat expendable as he strives to bring about the goal of Christian maturity in each person’s life.

photo credit: Dave Wilson via flickr cc

While this approach may seem almost counter-intuitive to the role of the pastor, it is actually very freeing in the end. The kingdom of God has no unemployment and so his usefulness to God will never be exhausted. And the people? Many who are devoted to Christ will come alive! Few things energize the human heart like being used by God to do what He has designed us to do. Just check out the fire in the eyes of someone who has recently returned from a short-term mission trip. Sadly, not everyone will join the party. In fact, some who refuse to let go of the old paradigm may squawk quite loudly.

Jesus—Our Forever Example

Of course, I have presented two extremes; reality is often somewhere in between. And a humble pastor will protect his congregation every bit as much (if not more) than one who is egocentric. The real difference lies in how the leader sees himself, which then influences the image that he presents to others.

Jesus will forever stand as our beloved example. Though He was God in the flesh, Jesus never lifted Himself above others. His goal was always to lift them to new heights, to empower them to be all that He had created them to be. Jesus was the least egocentric minister that ever walked the face of the earth. What a worthy example for all of us to emulate!

4 Responses

  1. Linda King

    Hi Bob, just had the chance to share with someone who is interested in doing Campus Ministry at Penn State in DuBois. Since you were instrumental in helping me, I looked up your ministry and am happy to see you sharing such insight. Love the article – working at a Christian TV Station, and being in ministry for a long time, I have seen my share of egocentric ministers – and the damage that has been done to those who sit on the pew – even though they may not be aware of it. Apathy, lethargy, it is too easy to become complacent and let the fire go out when there is no opportunity to grow in the vision and plan God has for the individual. I am glad to see that the tide is turning back to the Biblical model of equipping / church planting…..
    Glad I had a chance to catch your site – I will continue reading!!! Blessings! Linda King – from UPG many moons ago…lol…

  2. Bob

    Linda, it’s great to hear from you! I’m encouraged to see you’re still plugging away for the kingdom. Thanks for commenting!