This will be the last post on a little mini-series I've done on idolatry. These posts have had a logical progression to them as I've personally been working through issues of idolatry in my own heart and life. Here's that progression for those interested:
Idolatry is a human problem. (Post #1, "Show of hands: who bows to peer pressure?")
Idolatry is a Christian problem. (Post #2, "Worshiping our way out of idolatry")
Idolatry is a Christian ministry problem. This brings us to today's post, and unlike the first two, I cannot claim any originality for it. Mark Driscoll delivered a message back at the Advance '09 Resurgence Conference entitled "Ministry Idolatry". This list is offered at the very end of his message (the 54 minute mark if you wanna go watch it) and it's an insightful and convicting one.
1. Attendance idolatry - Does your joy change when your attendance does? Attendance is up; I am happy. Attendance is down; I am sad. Giving is up; I am happy. Giving is down; I am sad. That’s idolatry. It’s idolatry. A snowstorm hit our city. A bunch of churches cancelled. I asked pastors why. They said not many people would show up. Hm. I could have sworn we did this for Jesus. I could have sworn. I think He’ll make it. Cancel because the attendance isn’t enough for the pastor to have the audience that he deserves. The pastor usually had a thousand and he only had seven. He deserves more glory than that. We’re cancelling.
2. Gift idolatry - Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled? Deep down in your heart do you feel like, “Yeah. Lord, that was really smart that you picked me. That shows your omniscience. And you use me because I’m a good tool in Your hand.”
3. Truth idolatry - Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians? See, for some of you it’s truth idolatry. Keller hit this at the Gospel Coalition. It’s brilliant. Those of you guys who read a lot of books, get a lot of education, know a few words, you can think that you’re more righteous than the simple Christian because you believe that the idol of knowledge, which puffs up if not accompanied by love which builds up, makes you somehow superior and varsity. It’s one of the great problems in the history of Reformed theology. Right? We read books and we overlook humility. I’m guilty of it. If you don’t believe me Google my name. You’ll see examples. See, some of you think that your systematic theology makes you holier or closer to God. The grace of God is what reconciles you to God. The grace of God is what reconciles you to God. Am I against sound doctrine? No. I believe in it. The soundest doctrine of all leads to Christ being made much of and increased humility in those who worship Him. Any theology that leads to arrogance and pride is in and of itself idolatrous. Again, if you idolize something you have to demonize everything else. Be careful what you say. Be careful what you Twitter. Be careful what you Facebook. Be careful what you blog. And some of you will say, “You are chief of sinners, Pastor Mark.” And I would say, “Yes.” We all need to make sure that we don’t worship the idol of truth. Jesus says, “I am the Truth.” He’s the One we worship. I know people who worship theology and Jesus is an afterthought. And they are idolaters.
4. Fruit idolatry - Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you? “I know that God loves me and approves of me. Look at all the things that He has allowed me to do.” That’s fruit idolatry.
5. Tradition idolatry - Here’s the question. What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel? Because you are more committed to your traditions than Christ. “So you know, I know that this tradition from my denomination or my heritage or my family, it is not best for the forward progress of the gospel, but I prefer what Jesus calls the vain traditions of men because that idol is so important to me that I will even sacrifice the forward progress of the gospel in my ministry to do it the way that it was handed to me.”
6. Method idolatry - Do you worship your method as your mediator? Some of you worship your methods. You’re so convinced by house church, multi-site church, church-planting church, and you know what, methods can be used of God, but they can be idolized by people. GK Beale in We Become What we Worship he says that there’s a lot of discussion in the Old Testament about idolatry. Not so much in the New Testament. And the question particularly in the gospels is, “What is the idolatry there?” Now you do get echoes of idolatry later. The last word of 1 John is “Keep yourselves from idols.” So if you keep yourself from idols you obey the rest of the book. But what about the gospels? He asks this insightful question. What about the gospels? What’s the idol in the gospels? And you know what he says? It’s the temple. They felt that the temple made them closer to God, and when Christ came they crucified Him because He said He would destroy the temple. They worshiped the temple rather than Christ. And so God had the temple destroyed. For some, the church is their idol. Their ministry and its methods are their idols.
7. Office idolatry - Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title? Some of you young guys, you want to be called Pastor. It matters far too much to you. Some of you want to be called Deacon. It matters too much to you. Some of you want to be called Leader. It matters too much to you. It’s not about our office. It’s about our Christ.
8. Success idolatry - Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level? Do you want to win? However you define “win.” Growth, numbers, nickels, whatever it is. Winning. Is your idol winning? “I have to do better. I have to out-perform myself.”
9. Ministry idolatry - Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God? Do you walk with God because you love Him or do you walk with Him because if you don’t you’ll be in trouble as a minister and your ministry won’t go well and you may lose your job and shame your family and end up in the newspaper, and your idol is your office and your identity that is in something other than Christ?
10. Innovative idolatry - Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique? Why do you want your ministry to be unique? Why do you, as soon as you introduce yourself, say, “Yeah. We do it different than they do. They do it like this; we do it like…” Why does that matter? Because your idolatry is uniqueness and creativity and innovation, and for some contextualization, which isn’t a bad thing, but when it becomes a god thing it’s a bad thing. Why do you want to be unique? Wouldn’t it be better to be faithful and fruitful?
11. Leader idolatry - Who other than Christ are you imaging? Which pastor do you want to be like? Which church do you want your church to be like? What ministry do you want your ministry to be like? Who do you want to preach like? Who do you want to lead like? Who do you want to teach like? Who do you want to serve like? Really? Were you created to image, to mirror, to reflect them? You say, “But they’re a servant of God.” Right. But you’re not. You’re a servant of them. Some of you come from denominations, traditions, networks; the leader becomes the idol. That’s why anyone who even criticizes or raises any questions about it is demonized. Because if you idolize you must demonize. Be very careful.
- Mark Driscoll, "Ministry Idolatry" Advance '09