Confessions of a Ministry Snob
By Sarah Abbey
June 29, 2012
An avid C.S. Lewis fan, Sarah studied Christian apologetics at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics in Oxford, England. She blogs about the relationship between apologetics, theology and everyday life at Penny of a Thought.
Hello. My name is Sarah, and I’m a recovering ministry snob.
I grew up in a strong Christian family, the daughter of a pastor, where the Gospel was part of daily life. My parents were, and are, a blessing. At a young age, I recognized my need for the salvation Christ offered and put my trust in Him. This began my journey of knowing and serving God.
From the beginning, God planted in my heart a deep love for Him. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to walk with and serve the Lord. Unfortunately, like many on the journey, I have struggled with pride, and it showed up in ministry snobbery. Like a recurring cold which isn’t always there but refuses to fully go away, the symptoms of ministry snobbery surfaced in my life, indicating that I wasn’t always as healthy as I thought I was.
This is my story.
Symptom #1: Equating spiritual maturity with ministry success
I've learned the first symptom of ministry snobbery is associating spiritual maturity with ministry success. I believed that if I loved Jesus—and I did—and was having an impact in ministry, then all my endeavors for Him would be successful. People would notice. Lives would be changed. I would have value and matter.
The danger was in becoming more concerned with being godly than with God Himself.
I thought that if God was blessing the ministries where I served, if I was having an impact, that meant my walk with the Lord was healthy. So I sought opportunities that would bring success. The more I did, the more mature I thought I was. The danger was in becoming more concerned with being godly than with God Himself.
Symptom #2: Godliness by association
Because I believed my ministry success indicated my spiritual maturity, the next symptom to surface was assuming godliness by association. I thought maybe the godliness of other successful and influential Christians would rub off on me. And while it is right and biblical to imitate godly men and women and learn from their wisdom, there were times I imposed my perceptions of their success on myself and God. I was tempted to assume that learning from those humble people meant I was humble, too, and that God should—and would—use me in similar ways. I found a false sense of piety in being associated with those who were godly. To my great shame, there have been times when I was the person James describes, who ignores the ministry “poor” and favors the ministry “rich” (see James 2).
Symptom #3: The comparison game
I thought maybe the godliness of other successful and influential Christians would rub off on me.
By basing my worth on what I did and who I knew, I inevitably began to compare myself with others. It started in college—I compared the ministries I had participated in, or was now involved with, to others. I battled jealousy over others who got to go on amazing missions trips or had led “x” number of people to trust Christ. Sometimes I felt a sense of satisfaction when my ministry involvement appeared more significant or successful than someone else’s.
This game was exhausting. The constant comparisons made me anxious and insecure. I constantly questioned if I was doing enough for Jesus. There was always someone else doing more, saying more, or having a greater impact than I was. I felt the need to explain what I was doing or why I wasn’t doing more all the time.
Symptom #4: Loss of my first love
This fourth symptom of ministry snobbery is what truly makes it so tragic. Throughout my life, I have genuinely loved Christ and desired to serve Him. But He has not always been my first love. Too often, that first love has been myself.
I constantly questioned if I was doing enough for Jesus.
It was sobering to realize I was more concerned with how others perceived me than with loving God with all of my heart, soul and mind. I have known pride's suffocation while being ignorant of the damage it caused. Ignorance is not necessarily bliss.
These symptoms were very subtle in my life, which is why they were so dangerous. They didn’t always surface, and they weren’t always there. God had given me a true love for Himself and a desire to serve those around me. I found real joy in knowing Him and following wherever He led. Yet there were times I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit, warning me of the pride taking root in my soul. In His great love, He intervened on my behalf.
We love to quote the verse “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) as something negative, but it can be a great kindness from the Lord to fall. Recently, God allowed me to do so and, in the process, opened my eyes to the illusions of significance I too often had based my life upon.
How did he cure me of these symptoms of snobbery?
He took away the ministries I found worth in. In their absence, I experienced great confusion, anxiety and guilt that I wasn’t “doing” enough.
He allowed me to go through a time of depression. While I don’t think God made me depressed, He used the experience of depression to strip away my self-sufficiency. He exposed my insecurities for what they really were: pride and idolatry.
He allowed me to experience great disappointment and the discouragement that comes with unfulfilled dreams. With every shattered hope, I became more aware that I was more concerned with my agenda than God’s.
God stripped me of my sense of significance, self-sufficiency, and dreams. He broke me. And then I knew what He was doing. He took away everything I thought I needed or wanted in order to show me the one thing I truly need and want. I need Him. I want Him.
God stripped me of my pride and gave me the freedom I have always longed for.
Recovering ministry snob
My name is Sarah, and I am a recovering ministry snob. God stripped me of my pride and gave me the freedom I have always longed for. He freed me to live with true meaning and significance. He is freeing me from myself. He has removed everything that keeps me from seeing the only thing that matters: knowing Him. I have heard Him say:
“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:22-24)
By God's mercy, I no longer look for peace in my own abilities to serve Him. Because I have found rest in Christ and Christ alone, I can joyfully serve others without fear of what they think or what I do. My spiritual maturity and worth have nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him. God does not care about my ministry success. What He does care about—deeply—is my walk with Him.
The road of recovery is not easy, and there are days I have relapses. But I’m not alone. God is with me, drawing me further up and further into His riches of true meaning and success.