Do you ever question the sacrifices you make for the Gospel? Jesus calls us to a life of sacrifice. In Luke 9:23, He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Over the years, I’ve watched dedicated Christ followers do this very thing by giving up prestige, power, lucrative careers, comfort, and even personal dreams to follow Christ. Choosing a life of sacrifice, they dedicate 100% of their lives for Kingdom causes.
But sometimes, leaders mistakenly confuse busyness, harried activity, or workaholism as sacrifice. Like Christ, Paul urges a life of sacrifice. In Romans 12, he challenges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. But look at the result, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” I don’t think God’s will is for sacrifice to deteriorate our physical, emotional, or relational health. There are some things that God never asked us to sacrifice.
#1- God doesn’t ask us to sacrifice our physical health. While technology has done wonders to make us more productive, it’s also made us more accessible and busier than ever. Too many pastors run on crazy schedules not taking care of themselves physically, totally ignoring the disciplines of exercise and eating healthy. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:19-20 our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yet often times, we consider the mismanagement of our health to be a lesser sin. Anyone who says, “I’m too busy to exercise” is in danger of reducing the efficiency and effectiveness of future ministry.
Self-Evaluation: Am I sacrificing my health because of the busyness of ministry?
I was talking with a friend the other day about pastors who have moral failures in their marriage when he said something incredibly insightful, “A man who has an affair with ministry makes himself more vulnerable to an affair with another woman.” The demands of ministry can be draining, but they can also be addicting. When we succumb to any addictive behavior, we become enslaved by that behavior and begin to make illegitimate sacrifices to meet our perceived need. As I pointed out previously, there are some things that God never asks us to sacrifice. Our health is one, but our marriage is another.
#2 God doesn’t ask us to sacrifice our marriage. Cindy shared a statistic with me the other day that claims 80% of pastors’ wives wish their husbands had chosen a different occupation. God designed the husband/wife relationship to complete one another (Genesis 2:18). Yet many couples find that the demands of ministry actually drive them further apart. God never asked us to sacrifice our marriages for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, in Ephesians 5, Paul tells us the demonstration of our love for our wives should reflect Christ’s love for the Church. We can easily begin to view our marriage partner solely as a ministry partner, and when we do, we begin to use them instead of love and serve them. Our role as husband and leader of the home is to make sure our wives are walking in the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose for their lives. But there is a lurking temptation to continually plug them into roles outside their gifting for the sake of “our church,” strap them to certain expectations for the image of “our church,” or neglect them for the calling of “our church.”
Self-Evaluation: Am I sacrificing my marriage because of the demands of ministry?
So God never asks us to sacrifice our health or our marriages. But when we confuse busyness for sacrifice, we excuse our illegitimate behaviors as the pursuit of Kingdom impact. In reality, these behaviors are evidence of pride and a deficient view of God. I’ll never forget driving down the road when my kids where younger and one of my sons said, “Dad, I hate you being a pastor.” When I asked why, he spoke of my ever-constant distraction with serving “my church.” While I never would have said it out loud, my behavior screamed, “God needs me in order to accomplish His work in my community.” That’s pride. That’s a low view of God. And that’s an attitude that leads pastors down a dangerous path. A preoccupation with ministry communicates to our children that our relationship with “our church” is a greater priority than our relationship with them.
#3 God doesn’t ask us to sacrifice our family. Many pastors, especially church planters, have children who are in the formative years of life. Right after Cindy and I announced that we were going to plant a church back in 1997, I heard a well-known pastor exclaim, “If you have young children, DO NOT plant a church!” That terrified us, but it was too late; the journey had begun, and the calling was too obvious. So right then and there, we decided that our kids would be better because of ministry. To be honest, it was difficult. The demands of planting were high. But we worked hard to have special time with our kids, show them the benefits of being in ministry, and include them in the God-moments along our ministry journey. Ministry can be a great classroom where our children have a front row seat to witness the provision and power of God. But ministry can also be a preoccupation that causes us to put parenting on autopilot.
Self-Evaluation: Am I sacrificing my family because of my pre-occupation with ministry?