Doing ministry for your full-time job can be dangerous. I'm not talking about those brave men and women who risk their lives in far-flung places selflessly laying it all on the line in order to bring good news to those in darkness. They face a kind of danger that many of us pray we never face. I'm referring to a more subtle, but spiritually speaking, a potentially far more deadly danger. Maybe the biggest threat to a minister's life and ministry is the minister himself. One's own sense of worth is often derived from the work that one does, and this can be extremely dangerous for those employed by churches. Pride is probably the nastiest of sins and a deadly enemy for any believer, but I believe it can be especially damning for members of the clergy. I've fought this sin all of my life and I have become increasingly aware of it the past decade or so as I've made Christian ministry my life's vocation.
But one of the things that has helped me to have a more realistic picture of myself is to look around me at all the ways that God is at work through my brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom are not dependent on the church for their source of income (they in fact are the source of income for people like myself). When I see dozens upon dozens of my fellow sojourners offering their bodies as living sacrifices, often going unnoticed in the process, I'm reminded that God's kingdom is built upon the foundation of humble servants who quietly and consistently demonstrate the love of the Lord and their neighbor, not expecting anything in return. Sure, vocational ministers like myself have a role to play in Christ's church, and we should seek to play our parts well. But anytime we begin to place a higher value on what we offer to the collective, compared to what our compatriots might offer, we are on dangerous ground. Regardless of our role in Christ's church, we need to all be reminded that our worth is derived not from what we do, but from whose we are by virtue of the gospel. We are the adopted children of the Father in whose hearts the Spirit of the Son cries "Abba Father!"
That last line comes straight out of Galatians chapter four. The Apostle Paul is dealing with an imminent threat to the gospel as he writes the churches in Galatia. The cliff-notes version of the backstory is this: Jewish Christians have infiltrated the Galatian churches claiming that in order to truly be a part of God's people, Gentile Christians have to keep the entire Mosaic Law, including the visible signs of covenant membership such as Jewish dietary restrictions, the Sabbath, and especially the rite of circumcision for male converts. Paul claims that this version of the gospel is in fact not the gospel at all, but a distortion of the gospel. Paul's argument in the letter could be fairly well summarized as this, "...in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise...And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." (Galatians 3:26-29 & 4:6-7).
Thousands of years prior to this God had redeemed a people from slavery in the land of Egypt. This people of course was Israel. God had set them free from slavery and given them a new identity as his children. Now, in Christ, God has formed a new people for himself derived from every tribe, nation, and tongue. In God's family, ethnic identity counts for nothing. In God's family, social standing counts for nothing. In God's family, gender differences, count for nothing. The only thing that counts for anything is being one of God's adopted children. That's where our identity and our own sense of worth is to be found.
This sets me free from the slavery of finding my self worth through the success or failure of "my ministry". This identity in Christ brings freedom to the believer who struggles to meet their own personal expectations in life and spirituality. When a child of God discovers that there's nothing they can do that would make God love them more, and there's nothing they can do that would make God love them less, they are free to live boldly before God. A fear a failure is replaced by a longing for love.
I can't say that I've fully embraced this new identity in Christ. But I want to. When I find myself becoming prideful over things that I think I've achieved, I need to be reminded of where my sense of worth is to come from. When I feel like I've failed and that I'm just not good enough, I need to be reminded that that's true - I'm not good enough! I never have been and I never will be. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that I am a child of God and that he has given me the Spirit of his Son. If I allow the Spirit to do his work in me, then I will slowly, but surely, put to death my fleshly desires, including the nastiest of them all: pride!
Where do you find your sense of worth? Is it in your job or vocation? Do you find your identity in your skills or hobbies? Is it found in your favorite sports teams? Is your sense of self found in your social or economic standing? Do you find your identity in your level of education (or your lack of education)? Do you view yourself primarily through your present life stage (single, married, children, no children, employed, unemployed, etc.)? Is your self worth bound up completely in your physical family? Wherever you derive your sense of self worth, God invites you to find your identity through his Son. He welcomes you into his family where all the social and spiritual barriers that so often divide our world can be torn down and demolished. You can discover a new identity in and through him. If you are curious about what life in Christ might be like, talk to someone who may have already taken those first steps down this path. Life in Christ really does open up a whole new identity and a whole new world (Gal 6:15). - Shay