Abraham Lincoln once said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Few of us handle power well.
We see this even in small children. Give a few kids power and watch how they use it to lord over others. Adults don’t handle power any better than kids. Watch a season of the TV show “Survivor” and you will notice how the people in the dominant alliance feel quite comfortable abusing those who have no power. Power seems to flip a switch in most people. And it isn’t a good switch.
Tim Keller argues that one of the three greatest idols in America is power. If only Christians were immune from this power idolatry.
Power idolatry is present even in vocational ministry. Those who experience great ministry success are treated as celebrities and those who are less “successful” sit in the audience at ministry conferences. Not every large church pastor sees himself as God’s gift to the world, but when people treat us as so important, humility is often elusive.
The challenge for large church pastors is to remember that you are nothing more than a servant. The challenge for those who feel less than successful is to avoid jealousy and envy. At a ministry conference where the stage is packed with talented men who have seen much ministry success it’s hard to feel awesome about yourself when you pastor a church of 100 people. In light of these realities here is a word of encouragement for those who have been wildly successful in ministry and a word of encouragement for those who wake up wondering if you are even gifted to do this:
For the ministry superstars:
If you have achieved much ministry success, what are you doing to stay humble? Do you have normal people who speak into your life? Who are you teachable to? Who can correct you? Are you a celebrity or a servant? Jesus says that true greatness is measured by being the chief servant.
For those who don’t feel successful:
Perhaps, your lack of perceived success is a great gift. Don’t long for notoriety, ministry achievement, and the dangers that power brings. Be faithful. Make disciples. Impact people one at a time. I watched my dad do this for 40 years. He never pastored a church larger than 150 people but he just might be the conference speaker in the afterlife.