I've been attending some training by Scott Thomas, author of the excellent book Gospel Coach. Thomas does a good job talking about ministry idols. An idol is a rival god: something we look to other than God for meaning and identity.
Thomas identifies four root idols. They're not unique to pastors and those in ministry, but they're rampant in ministry. They are:
- Power Idol — control, positon, influence, success, strength
- Approval Idol — relationships, achievement, ethnicity, social circles, appearance
- Security Idol — family, finances, protection, religion, safety, future
- Comfort Idol — pleasure, health, freedom, excesses, home and vehicles, recreation
Thomas provides a helpful grid that helps you diagnose your idols. He also uses the gospel as the source of truth that helps us turn from our idols to God:
- Power Idol — God is glorious, so I don't have to produce results.
- Approval Idol — God is gracious, so I don't have to prove myself.
- Security Idol — God is great, so I don't have to be in control.
- Comfort Idol — God is good, so I don't have to look elsewhere for comfort, peace, and fulfillment.
It's worth reading Gospel Coach just for this section of the book. It's an issue that those in ministry can't afford to ignore.
Thomas says, "Ministry will expose your weaknesses; church planting will expose your idols." This certainly lines up with my experience.
It's not really a question of whether pastors struggle with these idols or not. We all do. Effective ministry goes far beyond techniques; it surely must begin with identifying and repenting of the idols that have captured our hearts, so that the ministry is offered as an act of worship to the one true God rather than to the idols that would both enslave us and destroy our ministries.
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). Good advice for pastors and those in ministry too.