Warning: Ministry Can Be Hazardous to Your Soul

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Leadership of any kind has a built-in set of challenges.

In my book, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary, I wrote about something you may have never heard before: Ministry is spiritually hazardous to your soul.

Actually, leadership of any kind has a built-in set of challenges.

Here are some of the reasons why that are ministry-specific, but are easily transferred over to other areas of leadership:

First, it is because you are constantly doing “spiritual” things, and it is easy to confuse those things with actually being spiritual.

For example, you are constantly in the Bible, studying it, in order to prepare a talk. It’s easy to confuse this with reading and studying the Bible devotionally for your own soul.

You’re not.

You are praying — in services, during meetings, at pot lucks — and it is easy to think you are leading a life of personal, private prayer.

You’re not.

You are planning worship, leading worship, attending worship, and it is easy to believe you, yourself, are actually worshipping.

Chances are, you’re not.

When you are in ministry, it is easy to confuse doing things for God with spending time with God; to confuse activity with intimacy; to mistake the trappings of spirituality for being spiritual.

It’s an easy deception. Think about something like the game of golf. I first started playing when I was in graduate school. I took all of two lessons from a course pro, which basically taught me which end of the stick to hold. I bought a cheap set of clubs and began to play. Initially, I made great strides. My score went from the 140s, to the 120s, then the low 100s. Sometimes even the 90s.

Then I’d play the back nine.

But then I began to play with less and less frequency. Soon, I only played at the annual Christmas gathering with my wife’s family. And as you might expect, I would play about the same each year — translation, horribly — because I hadn’t played since the previous year.

It’s gotten a little better these days, but it would be very easy to trick myself about the state of my game. Why? Because entering into “golf world” is easy and deceptive. I can subscribe to golf magazines, purchase golf equipment, live by a golf course, wear golf clothing, watch golf on TV and enjoy eating at the clubhouse — and feel like I’m a decent golfer!

But I’m not. Because simply being exposed to something has little bearing on whether or not we become proficient at it.

We can be this way spiritually through our vocations in ministry. Just swap out “church world” for “golf world.”

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

More from James Emery White or visit James Emery at http://www.churchandculture.org/

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.fahring Jason Fahring

    Very well put! Like a bullet between the eyes!! Something I’ve thought for a while, but never really been able to completely put my thumb on it. Thank you for writing this article!

  • Frank E.

    What a great read, and so true to life. As a group leader in our church I have been advocating the heart benefits of making time for God daily in the very terms spelled out above, but it seems to be one of the most resisted pieces of teaching: welcomed in principle but relegated to ‘impractical’ … along the lines of “anyway, I talk to God throughout the day!”

  • Ryan

    I found the same thing when I was deep in ministry, working the computer and sound during Sunday morning church services. I wasn’t worshipping God there. I was doing a job to which burnt me out. I was doing many other things also. I honestly bearly prayed at church. My relationship with God is and always was outside of church. This was one of many things that led to my decision not to go back to church after I moved.

  • Rev John Jackson

    Thank you! This was such a big slap to the side of my head. I can identify with everything you have just said. The train arrived at the station right on time


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