Heart Risks for Christian Leaders

Editors’ note: 

I am a husband, a dad, a pastor and so on. But if that makes me who I am—and if any of those things change—then what?

Pexels Heart Shells Futility Bw

Being a Christian Leader is hard. There are constant challenges that every Christian leader will face. One of the dangers that I have been aware of more recently is finding Identity in what you do as to finding it in who you are. 

The reality is that what I do does define me in some sense. I am a husband, a dad, a pastor and so on. But if that makes me who I am—and if any of those things change, or if God removes them—then what? 

There is an amazing passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where the Apostle reviews the list of all things he had, and was, and then turns it upside down saying that:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8-9)

What a powerful testimony about his character! What mattered to him wasn’t who he was or what he had achieved. What really defined him was knowing Christ. Neither his identity, nor his righteousness were based in himself but in Jesus.

A Challenge for Leaders

What Paul writes is a beautiful reminder. It’s also a challenging word for any Christian leader.

Recently I have met several individuals who have reached retirement, or have experienced a change n their ministry context.  They’ve found it hard not to slip into depression. It’s been difficult for them to feel less needed and to come to terms with losing the sort of ministry (or pace of ministry) they once had. 

I wonder if this is an identity crisis. All the years of doing has slowly made them who they are; and so, as that gets removed, they forget who they really are. Sometimes that results in not being able to let go of a ministry context, or a role. Sometimes it makes them a challenge to those who have come after them.

I know I’m not immune to this. When I am chatting to someone in a ministry context and describing what I do, I sometimes have to catch myself; the way I’m talking about myself indicates that I’m finding my identity in my roles. It shows that I’ve forgotten that, when Jesus presents me to his Father, he isn’t going say, “Here is Shebu—his church roles were… ” I think it will be more like, “Here is Shebu, I died for him and purchased him with My blood.” 

That’s it. My greatest desire—and the prayer of everyone who serves Jesus—ought to be a sense of yearning for that one voice at the end of our ministry race—the voice of Jesus that declares that he accepts us on the basis of what he has done. 

So what are you being defined by as a Christian Leader? Is it based on how much you are wanted? Your title?  Your credentials? Or are you, like the apostle Paul, willing to say “I count them as rubbish?”

Tools for Heart Surgery

A. Here are some ways to remind yourself of these truths:

  • Remind yourself of the Gospel. The Gospel reminds us who we are.
  • Have a close network of ministry mates who can remind you of who you are
  • Ask yourself whether your titles are becoming idols. Hold them with an open hand, so Jesus can shape, mould or remove them—not with a clenched fist hanging on for dear life.
  • Read and pray-through Scriptures that remind you of who you are in Jesus. Often the start of every epistle has amazing reminders.

B. Some other resources to remind you of who you are:

  • I’ve found that pretty much anything by Jeff Vanderstelt has been deeply helpful in this area. Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader for the Soma Family of Churches, and the lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He has some great questions he asks which I find helpful to meditate-on during identity crisis times:
         a) Who is God?
         b) What has He done for us in and through Jesus?
         c) Who are we because of what Jesus has done?
         d) So what do I Do in because of all that?

     See a great talk on Gospel Fluency that unpacks the above here:
     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKyQbWkl5m4

  • Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp: http://www.paultripp.com/products/dcalling-hard-bk   
  • Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson: http://www.amazon.com/Pastors-Justification-Applying-Christ-Ministry/dp/1433536641 Do you find it hard to take time off? When you do are you feeling restless and not sure what to do with yourself? Maybe your identity has become what you do.
  • Are you jealous or envious of ministry leaders you ‘see’ as better than you. Better at preaching than you, wish you had their church context etc.
  • Do you find it hard to take feedback or criticism towards anything you do? Do you take it personally? Are you defensive?
  • Do you find it hard to let go of a ministry you have been running or doing? Remember the ministry is God’s not yours. You are a caretaker. 

C. Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you find it hard to take time off? When you do are you feeling restless and not sure what to do with yourself? Maybe your identity has become what you do.
  • Are you jealous or envious of ministry leaders you ‘see’ as better than you? Better at preaching than you, wish you had their church context etc.
  • Do you find it hard to take feedback or criticism towards anything you do? Do you take it personally? Are you defensive?
  • Do you find it hard to let go of a ministry you have been running or doing? Remember the ministry is God’s not yours. You are a caretaker. 

D. Shepherding ministry leaders struggling with identity crises.

  • Pray for them. Unless the Holy Spirit makes the truths of the Gospel come alive in their hearts it won’t capture them.
  • Listen to their struggles; encourage them back to passages that will remind them. Maybe use the questions above.
  • If appropriate, share your own shortfalls—this is to communicate we are all in need of reminders.
  • Ask them how they are, not what are they doing.


E. How to serve your Christian Leader:

  • Pray for them. Pray they will find their identity simply in who they are not in what they do
  • Pray for a multiplication heart for your leader, so they are constantly raising new people. 

Photos: pexels.com

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