When Holy Ambitions Take Wrong Turns

by Adam Cavalier June 12, 2015

Like most young pastors, my goals in ministry are ambitious. Driven, hard working, passionate, I want to make my time worth it. To use a popular phrase, I don’t want to waste my life. And that especially includes my ministry. God has entrusted me with time, resources, and opportunity. I want to make my ministry count for something. 

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, that youthful ambition often translates into a desire for wide influence. What church leader wouldn’t want to be a distinguished authority in the church? For one, I know I’d like to walk into a bookstore and see my name on a shelf. I’d love to have an eager congregation with notepads out, ready to take down notes from my penetrating sermons. I’d like to see my name on a conference speaker’s list, next to the most influential authorities. To be used in the same breath as top evangelical leaders would be a dream.

However, one thing I’ve noticed in my own heart is that my definition of ministry success is often determined by what other people think of me. Strong influence, wide recognition, and powerful spiritual authority can be good things. There is nothing inherently sinful in those things. Those things can be leveraged for tremendous impact in God’s kingdom.

But often my heart can gravitate towards those things quicker than they do the ultimate goal: honoring Christ. Don’t misunderstand me; all of those holy ambitions can glorify God. But if we're not careful to abide in Christ, check our pride, and surround ourselves with real accountability, what started as a noble ambition could end up in a ministry train wreck. Instead of being a laudable example of faithful ministry, we can easily become a cautionary tale.

This can negatively affect the people God has placed in our care. If we’re not on guard, we can tend to love an idea of what future ministry will look like, and not the people right in front of us. Sadly, we can end up on a path we never intended to walk down. I believe the thing to do is focus on the small steps we take today.

Every time I read the Pastoral Epistles, I am gently reminded that the qualifications of church leaders are first and foremost character qualities aimed at Christlikeness. Scripture is not so much concerned with our lofty professional aspirations. The Word of God is more concerned with our cultivating a relationship with the Savior. 

We are daily to remind ourselves that God’s grace is sufficient for us. This is a present reality secured for us today, not a promise of a more successful ministry for tomorrow. Therefore, our primary ambition should be to concern ourselves with pressing into Him - not impressing people. 

In fact, The Lord’s withholding those positions of influence may even be a gracious mercy. Jesus said that apart from Him, we can do nothing. Certainly, it is possible to achieve a highly prominent and widely influential ministry. However, it is possible to achieve a goal that bears no real spiritual fruit and has zero eternal value. Joyfully aiming our hearts toward pleasing God -above all other things- will bear us much fruit and provide the greatest ministry of all.