When Church Becomes an Idol for a Pastor

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

The Spring 2013 issue of Leadership Journal interviewed pastors Craig Groeschel and Kyle Idleman.

They talked about what it looks like when pastors succumb to the temptation of allowing the church itself to become their "idol."

When asked, "What happens when your church becomes your idol?", Craig Groeschel answered,

"I have to speak from personal experience. In the early years of my ministry, my church was unquestionably an idol for me. Eventually I had to do two different rounds of counseling to break out of it. I was a workaholic; my whole identity had become wrapped around what I produced. Who I was—in God's view—was withering away. I had become a full-time pastor and part-time follower of Christ.

I've made a lot of progress, but I'm not 100 percent over that. I've had to ask honest questions about why I'm driven to minister in the first place. Am I driven to please God, or to accomplish something selfish? Am I driven to reach people, or to build a church that makes me feel good?"

Kyle Idleman added,

"We can worship the god of achievement, and put our hope in what we are able to accomplish. Ultimately that always leads to disappointment. As a preacher, I constantly ask myself two questions: What does God want me to say? and How will the people respond? I get into trouble when I get those out of order.

When the first thing that I consider is how people will respond, that's idolatry. That's me putting the response of people ahead of my faithfulness to what God has called me to. I think most preachers can relate to that, constantly struggling with those two questions, but we have to have them in the right order."

Next, they were asked to identify some practical indicators that your church is becoming an idol.

Groeschel: If you don't take a regular day off, that's a real good sign. Or if your family resents the church. If you are not willing to openly listen to correction or criticism about your ministry or work habits, that's a sign. If your emotions rise and fall largely based on "results," that's another indicator.

Idleman: When our church becomes an idol, we pastors have a hard time giving ourselves to people who can't advance our "cause." Our calendars morph. We begin to schedule conversations only with people who we feel advance our cause of growing the church. Our questions of church members center on what they can give to the church. We begin to forget "the least of these." Eventually, we begin to get frustrated with people in the church; they seem like obstacles to our goals, rather than the people we're called to love and serve and pour our lives into. We start to act as if they're in our way.

Groeschel: Yes, like they are just tools to build "our vision" instead of people to love.

This issue of idolatry hits close to home for many of us who have been in pastoral ministry. There is a lot of pressure to be "successful" as the leader of the church.

And success is too often determined by the three "B"s, Bodies, Bucks, and Buildings.

We need to check to see if we are indeed idolizing our church. Here at The High Calling, we want to help pastors to better minister to the people in their congregations. We feel that the best way we can help you with that is to help you honor the vocations of each of your congregants.

I think that a sure sign that church is an idol is if I am more concerned with how a person in my congregation can serve me and my need to grow the church than with how I can serve that person to glorify God in their callings.

What if, instead of getting together for lunch with a prominent businessperson in order to ask him to serve on a church board, I rather ask him about his frustrations, opportinities, and dreams as he leads his business for the common good and the glory of God?

Is my agenda just to grow the church? Or should I focus more on equipping people so that they can more fully participate in the Kingdom of God through their daily vocations (i.e., their work, family, participation in the community, and yes, their participation in our church)?

Good stuff from these two pastors. Read the entire interview here: "When Church Becomes an Idol: A Leadership Journal interview with Craig Groeschel and Kyle Idleman"

Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Post by Bob Robinson, Faith Editor for The High Calling and the Executive Director of The Center to Reintegrate Faith, Life, and Vocations. Follow Reintegrate's tweets at @re_integrate and Bob's personal twitter at @Bob_Robinson_re