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Confronting Entitlement as a Young Minister

sense of entitlement

“I guess I just imagined things would be different than they are. This isn’t how I thought it would go…”

I sat with a friend from out of town, catching up over coffee and pastries. We talked about how the last year of ministry had gone, and the whole conversation was laced with sadness, disappointment and weariness.

When I was 20, I graduated from a Christian university with a ministry degree, some internship experience, and a head full of ideas of how church was supposed to be. My wife of two months and I packed up our little apartment of secondhand furniture and moved hours away from our families and friends to work at a church in Kansas City. It’s a good church with good people, but I quickly realized ministry is different than I thought it would be.

I wasn’t the confident, charismatic, visionary leader I imagined when I fantasized about my future. Young adulthood is a tumultuous time where many of the stabilizing forces in your life change and you figure out who you are in a new way. I discovered I was more anxious, self-conscious and restless than I had thought. I learned that I had a lot to learn.

We All Need to Fight a Sense of Entitlement

In my first year of ministry, I honed in on how Jesus framed leadership for his disciples. As Jesus worked with his disciples, he focused specifically on the nature of leadership. He would often send them out to apply what they’d learned, then process their failures when they returned. Like me, they had certain expectations for the way a leader would behave and be treated, often exemplified by their fixation on “glory.”

“I learned that I had a lot to learn.

I was confronted and challenged by Jesus’ words to his disciples in their temptation toward entitlement. Some of these same temptations kept cropping up in my life.

So I made a list of temptations leaders face, and paired them with virtues in Jesus’ own character and teaching. Framing these temptations of entitlement side-by-side with the virtues of humility and fidelity is helping me stay grounded as I work through my own temptations. Perhaps they can help you as well.

Humility Shrinks Your Need for Recognition

I entered ministry wanting to prove myself: to my friends, my parents, my wife, my church and to myself. I wanted to show I was worthy of affirmation. I wanted to be perfect, and to lead perfectly. I wanted to check all the boxes of what a healthy ministry should look like.

Little did I know that work with eternal results begets eternal anxiety about that work. This anxiety is like a spur in my side. On one level, the pressure is justified: to care for others’ faith is a serious, sobering responsibility. The problem comes when I confuse important work with self-importance.

Jesus warned his disciples to not be like the Pharisees, because “everything they do is done for people to see” (Matt. 23:5 NIV). What a gut-wrenching accusation!

Reflect on the last couple of days. How much of what you did was motivated by being seen by others, either positively or negatively? Over-developed self-consciousness turns us all into performance artists; playing at goodness for the sake of appearing good to others.

This temptation is amplified and easily recognized by social media, which allows what we do and say to be seen instantaneously by everyone around the world. Who among us is not guilty of uploading a picture of a book we’re reading, tweeting out 140-character distillations of our great ideas, or sharing how much “God is doing” in what we’re doing?

“If we are all brothers and sisters, I don’t need to focus my attention or energy on becoming greater than anyone.

I know I’m guilty of doing good to be seen by others, and I’m sure you have been as well. Being constantly “on” is draining because our attention is drawn away from what we’re actually doing to focus on projecting our desired image into the world.