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Can Success Kill Your Ministry Passion?

Joe started a church in the late ’90s with a white-hot passion for Jesus and a strong sense of calling. His prior eight years of ministry experience was mixed with both challenging and frustrating ministry assignments. Right out of seminary, he was an associate pastor in a downtown church with a 20-year decline.

It was a pain-in-the-butt assignment, but God used it to shape his convictions. A few years later, he joined the leadership team of a growing, suburban gig with purpose-driven roots. God used this place to validate his leadership and shave the rough edges off his communication and team-building skills.

Today, Joe is successful (as church folk tend to score it.) In fact, last spring, his congregation emerged from “almost-megachurch” status and broke the 2,000 barrier in worship attendance.

Yet with everything sharp and spit-polished on the outside, Joe has a passion drain on the inside.

How did Joe lose his passion?

His ministry success caused it.

Say what?!

Believe it or not, it is actually Joe’s success that has assaulted his passion—passion for Jesus and passion for people.

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Joe has experienced the dynamic tension of what I call the passion-success conundrum.

And the conundrum is this:

Great passion breeds success, but great success buries passion.

The best way to illustrate this dynamic is a snapshot of walking into Starbucks at the beginning of Joe’s church plant versus today.

When Joe’s church was 100 people, time at Starbucks was daily and intentional (not to mention expensive but worth it for escaping the kid-cluttered home office). Joe paid attention to every person in the place. Are they believers? Do they have a church home? How could he start a spiritual conversation?

At the start, Joe was “hungry,” desperately on mission and readily responsive for the next person to meet.

Today, Joe’s church runs 2,000 in worship.

Truthfully, Starbucks is the last place he wants to go. He knows people will recognize him. He knows he’ll be pulled into three conversations before he orders and hit up with a “dumb church question” or shallow prayer request from an infrequent attendee before he leaves. Even wearing his baseball cap and dark glasses, he was spotted last Saturday. So from here on out, he’s silently committed to drive-thru only.

What happened to Joe’s passion to meet the next new person for the Gospel?

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Will Mancini emerged from the trenches of local church leadership to found Auxano, a first-of-kind consulting ministry that focuses on vision clarity. As a “clarity evangelist,” Will has served as vision architect for hundreds of churches across the country, including such notable pastors as Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado. Will holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary and has authored Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture and Create Movement; he also co-authored Building Leaders with Aubrey Malphurs.