There are some strange and peculiar temptations which afflict ministers of God. And they frequently express themselves in our motives for serving.
For some, the motive for serving can be monetary gain. Now, before you condemn ministers for having such an impure motive, understand this. If a minister is a member of the professional clergy, then it’s likely he or she has attended seminary, or at least a Bible college. If so, then they are probably entering the ministry under the burden of financial debt from student loans. So naturally, receiving an adequate income is a concern.
But financial gain must never be the chief concern. Finding and doing God’s will should be the minister’s main pursuit (Matt. 6:19–33). And God’s chosen place of ministry for the pastor might be in a church with an unpromising financial future. The pastor may have to exercise a greater faith by serving in a smaller church, rather than in a larger church with a guaranteed salary and benefits. Yet the pastor who exercises the greater faith will find God faithful and will enjoy a deeper walk with the Lord.
For others, the motive for serving might be to gain notoriety. Again, before you condemn pastors for yearning for a little recognition and fame, understand this. Many Christian denominations promote a very worldly conception of what constitutes success in the kingdom of God. Too often denominations showcase the largest and most prosperous churches as models of success. Denominations routinely advertise conferences and retreats in such a way that presents its “lineup” of guest speakers as though they are superstars in the Christian world. These speakers are chosen on the basis of their fame and reputation, rather than on their spirituality.
Now, for the impoverished pastor who labors tirelessly in obscurity, this kind of promotion can be deeply disheartening. This is because it sends the “small-time” pastor the message that he or she is a failure. For the denomination is defining success in terms of fame and notoriety. This, of course, is completely counter to the words of Jesus, who defined greatness in God’s kingdom as being a selfless servant (Matt. 20:17–28) and success as being faithful (Matt. 25:14–30). Therefore, if God should choose for us to be a mere “cog in a wheel” in His kingdom, then being a “cog” is the greatest thing we can do.
Our attitude should be that of the Psalmist, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10). I’m convinced it takes far greater faith to serve the Lord in obscurity and anonymity than to serve the Lord in the limelight. The unsung heroes will have a greater reward with God than those showered with praise throughout their ministry.
And for others, the motive for serving is to please people. This is more widespread than you think, especially among people who are naturally peer-dependent and who crave for the approval of others. Tragically, the pursuit of pleasing people allows others to define our ministry. We’re not serving God or seeking to please Him. We’re allowing the congregation to call the shots and mold us into their image of a pastor—or a chaplain.
In the military, units can often view their chaplains as good luck charms—something to have around to protect them on missions. But that should never be the chaplain’s motives for accompanying his servicemembers on their missions. The chaplain’s motives should be to share in their experiences so as to be a better witness for the Lord to them.
There is an obscure story from the Bible which addresses all of these impure motives for “serving” God. It’s found in the book of Judges, chapters 17 and 18. The story of a wandering Levite unfolds in these chapters, a young man who appears to have no particular goal or purpose in life except to survive.
If you recall, the Levites were one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They were set apart for the service of God—primarily in the Tabernacle and Temple—in place of all the firstborn of Israel (Num. 3–4). They were also to serve God as teachers of the law and as judges throughout Israel (Lev. 10:8-10; 14:54–57; Deut. 24:8; 33:8–10; 1 Chr. 24–26).
But this Levite was willing to hire himself out to anyone who would take him, pay him, and give him a place to live. First, a man named Micah hired the young Levite to be his family priest and to tend to the family shrine (Judg. 17:7–13). For money and sustenance the Levite allowed Micah to define his purpose and ministry—none of which was in accordance to God’s law. The Levite was nothing more than the custodian of a silver idol and a good luck charm to Micah’s family.
And since this Levite had a price, he could be easily bought by a higher bidder who offered more benefits—and more fame. That higher bidder turned out to be an expeditionary force of 600 Danites. They offered the Levite a more prominent position—be the priest of an entire tribe rather than merely serve one household. The pay would be better. The notoriety would be greater. So he dumped his old master and latched on to his new one (Judg. 18:3–31). But the Levite would still be allowing others to define his ministry—as a good luck charm to ensure his benefactor’s success. He’d still be pleasing people rather than pleasing God.
This is a tragic and pathetic example of a minister of God. Yet it parallels many of today’s Christian ministers.
Let’s ask the Lord to examine our own hearts and pray for Him to purify our motives. Let’s seek to please God rather than man and allow God to define who and what we are. And let’s be willing to serve God any way that He chooses—even if it means being a mere cog in a wheel or a doorkeeper in the House of God. Last but not least, let’s be faithful to Him in whatever task He calls us to perform.
Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked desire or impure motive in me. Cleanse and transform me into Your good and faithful servant who only seeks to please You and be a blessing to others. Amen.