During the Advance conference several years ago, Mark Driscoll spoke on the issue of ministry idolatry. During his session, he asked the audience to consider eleven forms this idolatry can take:
- Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
- Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
- Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
- Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
- Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
- Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
- Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
- Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
- Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
- Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
- Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?
Looking back on this message in light of how Driscoll’s ministry has unfolded, I can’t help but think they represent an irony: A good warning unheeded by its messenger. He knew the dangers that faced him, clearly. And yet, based on what we see taking place before us, he either lacked self-awareness or voices willing to lovingly warn him with his own words.
Now, whether he does (or has) truly heard and repented, only the Lord can say, and time will tell. But whatever happens, reflecting on these questions should remind us to not view any church leader who falls in a “Lord, thank you I am not like that guy,” sort of way. Instead, they should make us consider how each of us would respond if our friends or we were to fall prey to our own weakness.
If a friend falls, will we encourage people to pray for him and his family (which is right to do), as well as to pray for those he’s wronged (which is equally right and necessary, as Matt Redmond has reminded us)? This is hard in some ways, because it requires us to challenge the idol of our preconceived notions and also the idol of “credibility” (and the danger, again, as Redmond has pointed out, is when we fail to speak out about glaring abuses we actually lose that which we sought to keep).
But were we to fall, would we desperately cling to what we believed made us successful, pointing to the apparent fruit of our ministry, even as it all falls apart? Or would we let it go, repenting of our sin and looking to Jesus as something greater than any success we might have had?
For me, perhaps because I’ve not had much success from many perspectives—my books aren’t bestsellers, my blog doesn’t pull in hundreds of thousands of readers each month and I rarely preach at a church with more than 50 people in attendance—it’s pretty easy to hold the idea of success loosely. At least right now. And even as I try to figure out what to say next, I keep coming back to this: I really have no idea how I would respond. I don’t know what I’m blind to about myself.
Are any of us any different?
Note: this post was fully re-written in September 2014.