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August 10, 2017

Your Ministry is Not Your Identity

By Daniel Im

Ministry Identity Theft (M.I.T.)

A few years back one of my friends received their credit card statement in the mail, and when they opened it, they saw charges for a Bartender School in Florida. Interestingly, he was in school—it just wasn’t that school. His wife and him knew that they had become victims of identity fraud as someone, somehow, had stolen their credit card for their educational needs. So they immediately called the credit card company and explained that this was a fraudulent charge (and that he was in school to serve disciples, not drinks) and asked if they would credit that amount back to their account, which they gladly did.

If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft or fraud you feel violated. According to a NBC article earlier this year, 15.4 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2016. That’s a lot of people! But identity theft not only violates the individuals to whom the act was done, it harms the financial system. Someone has to pay for the $16 billion dollars that the thieves stole. So that cost is passed to businesses and consumers. In short, there are a lot of losers when identity theft occurs.

Obviously, identity theft is a problem in our world. But, did you know that identity theft is a problem in the church? In a recent Ministry Grid training video, Paul Tripp discusses the ease to which Ministry Identity Theft (M.I.T.) creeps into the hearts of church leaders. Church leaders know (or should know) that their identity is in Christ—in His life, death, burial, and resurrection. But it seems, according to Paul, that many church leaders, rather than their service (ministry) flowing from their wholeness in Christ, it flows from an incomplete self that needs to be complete. In this brief blog, I want to highlight two particular questions to help church leaders think through M.I.T.

1. How does one know if they’re attempting to find their identity in ministry?

The simplest way to tell whether you are attempting to find your identity in or from ministry is to ask yourself the following question: Are you asking people to give you what you’ve already been given in Christ?

I can tell you personally, it’s easy to fall victim to M.I.T. as I turn my service into a way to feed my pride and ego. There have been times after I’ve preached that I will go on Facebook or Twitter and see if anyone posted about the message. What am I doing? I am seeking acceptance. I am seeking approval. I am seeking whether I did a good job and made a difference in the life of people. By engaging in such activity, I’ve turned the ministry of sermon delivery into something that serves me. Therefore, my ministry isn’t ultimately directed for the glory of God to the good and building up of others, it is directed to the enjoyment of others for the glory and completeness of myself.

The truth is, I’m already accepted in the Beloved; I’m already approved by the Father in light of Christ; and if I served Him from a pure heart, I’ve already got the “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Sure, it feels good to get encouraged by others; but I shouldn’t go out seeking those things to fill a void within. That void needs to be filled (and has been filled) by Jesus!

Paul Tripp expresses, “When you need other people’s acceptance to feel good about your ministry, you are in dangerous waters.” Why? Because ministry has ceased to be about what God has called you to do and has become more about what you need to feel complete. Here are some symptoms of M.I.T.:

  • Ministry devours. You believe if you’re not in ministry doing something, you feel incomplete.
  • Ministry disappoints. You believe if you’re not seeing the results you want, you’re incomplete. In other words, you are ministering out of an attempt to see something or prove something.
  • Ministry depresses. The difficulty of ministry robs you from the joy, honor, and privilege of serving.
  • Ministry distracts you from other ministries. When ministry has become one’s identity, it tends to distract you from other ministries like, namely, your family.

To read the final question of Ministry Identity Theft, click here for the full video and post.

This video is part of Plus Membership, so to get full access to it, and much more, I encourage you to become a Plus Member. Click here to see all the benefits of becoming a Plus Member.

Tweetables:

  • Ministry Identity Theft is when a leader’s service flows from the need “for” identity rather than “from” their identity in Christ.
  • Church Leader—asking people to give you what you’ve already been given in Christ might be a sign you’re a victim of Ministry Identity Theft
  • If ministry is directed towards others for the fulfillment of our identity, ministry ceases to be about Jesus and becomes about ourselves.
  • “When you need other people’s acceptance to feel good about your ministry, you are in dangerous waters.” –@PaulTripp
  • “If my goal [in ministry] was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being a Christ’s slave.” (Galatians 1:10 from the Message Bible).
  • Ministry Identity Theft isn’t something you exterminate once and it’s gone, it’s something you monitor consistently.
  • You cannot kill the idol of ministry, but you can starve it by feasting on and basking in the glory of God and Jesus’ finished work.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Founder of NewChurches.com and the Director of Church Multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.

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