As a pastor and church planter, I know all about the big egos and huge insecurities most pastors have. I know because I’ve been in the boxing ring with mine ever since I planted our church 8 years ago.
To answer my good-Christian prayers that I wanted to be more like Jesus (not even realizing this area was a problem at the time), God simply dragged me through the mud for a long time. Our first worship service had around 50 people at it, most of whom were friends from other churches coming to be supportive. I unintentionally lied to my prayer & support team and told them we had 90. The number 90 was an estimation since I didn’t ever want to count how many people were at church–counting your attendance leads to big egos you know. It felt like 90 though. And 90 was respectable in comparison to the 150 I was told I should have on my first week.
We had 18 the following week.
It’s hard not to count when you have 18 people at church.
As the balloon of ego deflated in humiliation, its fraternal twin insecurity took its place, erupting as a black hole inside of me.
A pastor with 18 people in his church is failure.
A church planter with 18 people in his church is an embarrassment.
Not to mention a liar. Raising tens of thousands of dollars from a financial support team with the promise of changing hearts for Jesus. It’s hard to find amazing conversion stories from 18 people.
Better to start making things up.
Of course this wasn’t done intentionally, and usually isn’t. But an empty soul searching for an identity has got to do something to keep other people thinking it’s valuable.
You get the idea…
When pastors put their value and identity in the size and success of their ministries, soul fallout is bound to come next. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this: denominational pressure, congregational pressure, the church planting pornography* found at most church conferences, church planting classes & textbooks (*church planting pornography = “Hi, I’m hip and cool and love Jesus and am a great speaker and my church grew to 5,000,000 people in 30 seconds and yours should to if you are hip, cool, and love Jesus and are a great speaker–even though there are 259 variables that my context has that yours doesn’t, but we can’t talk about those.”), and of course the biggest factor with is the umbrella over the rest: selfish ambition.
I think I’ll be on the journey of brokenness and humility a long time. I haven’t found an overnight cure to this, but in 8 years I know I have grown and pray I continue to grow. The growth typically comes in God simply shattering my ego over and over again until I finally realize my desperation for him. It’s not a fun process but it is good and is needed. Here are four excellent books that have been instrumental to me along the way:
- Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
- Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
- The Measure of Our Success by Shawn Lovejoy
- Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous
In summary, these books bring to light how I try to be Jesus (um, this is what got Satan thrown out of heaven…), how I try to get self-glory instead of bringing glory to Jesus, how I thirst for the approval of man, how I operate by the ways of the world rather than the ways of Jesus, how I add to the gospel by trying to earn God’s approval through my performance, and how I seek my identity in worldly things rather than resting in the identity I already have in Christ.
The hardest thing of all of this is that it is so easy–so easy–to rationalize all of this for the sake of serving God. We are typically so unaware of our subconscious intentions because our conscious intentions feel so worthy. This unawareness is where Satan, the father of lies and deception, does his best work.
1 Corinthians 3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
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