I have just finished a fascinating chat with Malcolm around ministering and working from our wounds, compared to working out of a healthy identity in God. I am far from an expert in this field but I thought I would share some of my thoughts. I know of many theologians, psychologists and philosophers who are far more insightful on this subject but here we go.
As I reflect back on why I stepped into ministry, I can clearly see it was partly because I wanted approval. Growing up, like all of us I yearned for approval from my parents and others. I never felt I received enough. From a distance, full time ministry seemed a great place to heal my approval wound, although I was not conscious of this need at the time. Standing in front of people, encouraging them and reminding them of God’s love, bringing new people into a church setting and having them come out feeling good, continue to encompass my yearning for approval. There are many problems with this unhealthy reason for ministry. Let me share some; you may be able to think of more.
We all yearn at one level for approval from man but this is an insatiable desire. If this is the ultimate reason for ministry, our jobs or even our lives, we will always be thirsty for more. The desire for approval of man will end up controlling us. We can fall for the thought that a Utopian existence is just around the corner – that we will reach it if we just receive more approval. The promise of Utopia is false, a lie which doesn’t bring life but a desert where nothing good can grow or be used.
The yearning for approval of humans can easily become an idol. All idols are phonies, counterfeit gods who promise freedom but are actually legalists. If we don’t feed them to gain their affection, they attempt to make us feel worthless. It is also an unpredictable idol. If we do good, the idol approves of us; if we do bad, the approval idol hates us. This is the exact opposite of the gospel of Jesus. The essence of the gospel is that we are made good, not by gaining God’s approval by good works but by receiving the free gift of forgiveness from a loving Father who sent his Son (Eph. 2:8-10).
Ministering out of a yearning for approval also means that I risk never lovingly challenging people. I can fall into the trap that having people come into a group and feel loved is the ultimate aim. This can result in approval from the person feeling loved as well as others who see it happening. Don’t get me wrong, people feeling loved and safe is crucial. When I read the Bible, however, it doesn’t seem to be all that that makes us disciples making disciples of Jesus. Although we are saved purely by grace, the life of a Christian is fundamentally built on repenting and believing, changing and doing. I read this week, that along with being accountable in our Christian walk, the best question we can asks ourselves in a small group or Bible study is, “Since we believe that the Bible is God’s word, how are we going to change this week?” The Christian journey is one of obedience and change through and in the love of God, not man.
Malcolm and I also discussed how we often like to save people from their suffering – to want to take people off their cross because it is uncomfortable for them and uncomfortable for us watching them. It’s easy to get approval when you take people off their cross. It can be easy for me, out of a desire for approval, to find myself trying to be people’s saviour. Instead, I should let God do his work of making people more like Jesus.
Well there we are. Far from an exhaustive paper on unhealthy approval; more like a musing. I hope you still like me!