(from Dennis) Fellow Church Music Today contributor John Cashion has been at his current church, Beaver Dam Baptist Church for 29 years. He, in fact, is a large reason I am in the ministry today. His influence, along with Glenn Armstrong and Doug King provided the large stepping stone of encouragement and leadership in my life as I was being called by God into the ministry at the age of 16.
Read today as John posts about his motivation in ministry (and life)…enlightening words from a veteran minister of music that can encourage part-time, bi-vocational and even the full-time ministry folks.
Sometimes an actor will ask the director of the play or the screenwriter of the movie this question: “What’s my motivation?” The actor does so in an effort to understand and better portray the character they are pretending to be.
I believe those of us engaged in worship leadership (both through the arts and the spoken word), must ask that question of ourselves. We ask it not so we can pretend, but so we can understand our true character. When I honestly search my heart, I find that my motivations are at best mixed, and sometimes perilously close to pure self-interest.
Paul wrote a letter to the Thessalonians and addressed this issue in the form of a spirited defense of his own motivation for ministry:
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.
Instead, we were like young children among you.
(1st. Thessalonians 1:2-7)
Reading this makes me uncomfortable, for in every assertion Paul makes of what does not motivate him, I sense a disturbing familiarity with those motives in my own life. It’s not a very attractive list:
Trying to trick others. This resonates more with me if expressed a little differently: using our cleverness (or creativity or skill or whatever) to convince others rather than allowing the Spirit to convict others. Manipulating people results in shallow results, superficial disciples, and ministries that are limited to our own ability to create spiritual illusions.
Pleasing people. Perhaps this is the most delicate balancing act for those of us who design worship experiences for our congregations. The line between sensitivity and pandering is sometimes blurred. Not to mention there is the quandry of choosing which people to please—the seekers, the tithers, the deacons, the young, the old, the friends, the vocal critics, the quiet supporters . . . or even the pastor. I know, Paul says we should please God. But most of us serve in congregations where maintaining positive relationships with the membership and leadership is a necessity for effective ministry. And since those members and leaders are flawed people like us, our various conceptions of what pleases God will differ because of our limited grasp of His nature and His will. We know we must seek above all to please God. We can’t find our nourishment in the approval of others. Listening to others can help us keep our balance, evaluate our effectiveness, and ultimately help us please God. But working primarily to please others is destined to result in frustration rather than fruitfulness.
Using flattery. Again, there is a fine line—this time between sincere encouragement and self-seeking flattery. But the line has some definition to it: are my words intended to build up the other person or build up their impression of me?
Putting on a mask. Masks are about hiding, disguising, assuming a different persona. In this era of digital communication and video screens, it has never been easier for us to create an image of spiritual depth and authentic commitment. How easy it becomes to use Christian jargon in ways that make us appear to be rich in faith while our spirits are actually impoverished.
Greed. No explanation needed, but a word of caution is in order: We can be greedy for a lot of things besides money.
Looking for praise. Much sin is the perversion of a God-given appetite. Certainly our need for affirmation is a legitimate and healthy part of being human. But if an appetite for praise drives our efforts, we will soon discover how unsatisfying that diet can be. Needing applause (in all it’s various forms) is a dangerous addiction that can fuel the most unhealthy choices, attitudes, and emotions.
Asserting our authority. In a world where so much is beyond our control, positions of authority can be a welcome antidote to feeling powerless. To be called “minister” still conveys respect among some people, and if we live up to that calling, over time that respect is earned. But woe be unto us if garnering that respect and exercising that influence becomes the end rather than the means. If we use whatever authority we are granted to point people toward Christ and his Lordship, we are demonstrating true leadership. If we use it gain attention for ourselves, we become a stumbling block.
So there is the list—probably not complete—of what Paul would call impure motives. I did not need this scripture to inform me about those impurities—I struggle with them daily.
Which makes another passage somewhat intriguing to me.
In the first chapter of Phillipians, Paul refers to those who were preaching Christ out of envy and selfish ambition, speculating they were seeking to injure him because he was under house arrest and could not freely move about as he desired. Then he makes what I consider an amazing statement: “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
I don’t think we can infer from this statement that motives do not matter. The Thessalonians passage refutes that pretty clearly. But I think we can conclude that the Message is bigger than the messenger. The gospel has a power of its own, not dependent on the motive, skill, or purity of the one communicating the truth. Obviously, God’s intention is for our hearts to be perfectly consistent with our communication. That is the goal of our personal spiritual formation. But in the meantime, we can be encouraged by this truth: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2. Corinthians 4:7)
So I rejoice that God can take this earthen vessel with it’s inconsistent motives and use me to advance His kingdom, not because of my power or purity, but because of His.
The more I think about that grace, the more motivated I am.
And that motivation is about as pure as it gets.