Piercing and convicting, this book is a must read for anyone who’s been in church life for more than a few years. This book explores the dark side of doing good, something seldom discussed yet distractingly dangerous for the committed Christian. Peter Greer is president of Hope International, a charity that provides microfinancing for the poor in developing parts of the world. He’s literally on the front lines of being the hands and feet of Jesus.
And yet, serving Jesus full-time has its own share of temptations, just not the ones that we normally think about. In essence, he argues that sometimes we can do the right thing while at the same time allowing our hearts to stray. “The church today is zealous, and we are doing great things. But my concern is that in doing great things for God, we will forget who we are becoming. Without a clear understanding of why we serve, we risk a backlash of relational ruin, spiritual disillusionment, and personal burnout (18).”
The layout of the book is simple. He shares fourteen spiritual dangers that we expose ourselves to when we serve others. As a full-time pastor, I have experienced each and every one of these dangers:
Giving leftovers to loved ones – the church is a mistress to too many pastors. We can become so caught up in our zeal to serve the church that we give it our best, leaving our family with the leftovers.
Doing instead of being – it’s easy to begin to find our value in what we do an accomplish as opposed to who we are in Christ. Although we preach faith over works, sometimes we don’t live it out.
Justifying minor moral lapses for a good cause – here’s what Greer says, “The spiritual danger of doing good is to think your service entitles you to make minor moral lapses, whether it’s stretching the truth or justifying guilty pleasures. Right after moments of significant service, my heart is most unguarded. Often doing good things makes you believe ‘I deserve just this little thing because of all my sacrifices'” (63). Very true.
Using the wrong measuring stick to define success – metrics are helpful in giving us a better picture of a church, but numbers alone cannot define true success. It’s tempting, however, to assume that we’re doing something right when attendance increases that that we’re failing when numbers stay flat. God gives us a different measuring stick of success.
Elevating the sacred over the secular – too many full-time Christian professionals are guilty of this, elevating their vocations as more important than those who work and witness full-time in the secular marketplace. Both sides are equally important in God’s eyes.
Thinking you’re the superhero in your story – when things go well, it’s tempting to forget that God is the superhero of the story, not us. Many Christians who serve full-time begin to feel that they’re absolutely vital to God’s plans. Bad mistake to make!
Not having ears to hear the uncomfortable truth – like all those engaged in areas of their passion, ministers can become immune to any type of criticism, wrapping themselves in the flag of God’s will and choosing to think they’re infallible. Hubris is always the first step to calamity.
What’s the danger of losing your perspective in serving others? “A study by Fuller Seminary professor Dr. J. Robert Clinton found that only one out of three biblical leaders maintained a dynamic faith that enabled them to avoid abusing their power or doing something harmful to themselves or others. Only one in three finished well” (16). What a heartbreaking reality!
At the core of this dangerous trend in ministry is a lie. As Greer describes it, “I had fallen for a dangerous lie in ministry. If Serving God Through Service = Good . . . then Serving God Through More Service = Better” (42). His counsel to those who serve full-time is to regain perspective and create margin.
1. The truth behind this book is something I need to continually remember. I have stumbled in all of the areas Greer talks about in his work. It’s too easy for me to get caught in my work. I pastor a growing church. Lives are being changed. I love what I do. Yet the demands on my time and attention are only increasing. Fighting for margin and the proper perspective is a continuous battle.
2. Leaders who win in ministry but lose at home, lose. Ministry cannot be my mistress. I have a wonderful wife and three (going on four) kids who don’t see me as a pastor, but as a husband and dad. If I lose at home, I lose. My first calling is to my family, not to my job.
Question: What spiritual danger do you struggle with?