August 20th, 2012

How Joe Lost His Passion in Ministry

Joe started a church in the late-nineties, 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 a growing, suburban gig with purpose-driven roots.  God used this place to validate his leadership and shave the rough edges off of 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 loose his passion? His ministry success caused it.

Say what?!?

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

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 verses today. When Joe’s church was one hundred 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 two thousand 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 a infrequent attender 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?

In short,  it’s buried. It may still be their deep down inside, but he’s out of touch with it. He is in touch, however, with his success. His ministry has momentum, he’s managing an effective staff, and people like his preaching better than ever.

In the next few posts I want to consider further this passion-sucess conundrum. We will explore more closely this dynamic of passion loss and how to get it back.

But before we do, let me ask, “Do you know Joe?”

My hunch is that everyone in ministry has a little bit of Joe inside: Bursts of initial ministry passion and energy followed by experiences of ministry highs and success. Only then to be followed by moments or seasons of expired enthusiasm.

Can you identify with this conundrum?

4 Comments on to “How Joe Lost His Passion in Ministry”

  • Rick Duncan says:

    Totally can identify! I have lived this.

    I came across this prayer today in “The Valley of Vision.” It encouraged my soul in light of the challenges and pain you have so compellingly articulated.

    “Heal me of any wounds received in the great conflict; if I have gathered defilement, if my faith has suffered damage, if my hope is less than bright, if my love is not fervent, if some creature-comfort occupies my heart, if my soul sinks under pressure of the fight. O Thou whose every promise is balm, every touch is life, draw near to Thy weary warrior, refresh me, that I may rise again to wage the strife, and never tire until my enemy is trodden down… Give me a draught of Thy eternal fountain… Then shall my hand never weaken, my feet never stumble, my sword never rest, my shield never rust, my helmet never shatter, my breastplate never fall, as my strength rests in the power of Thy might.”

  • I know Joe well. We’re knocking on that door of success in attendance and I find myself avoiding public places… Wal-Mart, Kroger, and yes, Starbucks.

    Looking forward to your posts Will.

  • [...] Ways that Success Diminishes the Passion (that Got You There) Be sure to read the intro post: How Joe Lost his Passion in Ministry. I will use Joe to illustrate each of the five ways as we  unpack the passion-success conundrum: [...]

  • [...] Or check out Will Mancini’s take on how success in ministry adversely affects pastors. [...]

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