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Psalm 23 for the Idolatry-Prone Minister

Psalm 23 for the Idolatry-Prone Minister

Reclaiming True Identity in Christ

Logan Bailey

Discipleship Pastor

Peace Church

Published On:

August 7, 2023

When I was young and excited about starting in ministry, my youth pastor gave me a warning: “too many pastors let ministry become their identity.” He explained to me that when we let ministry become an idol, it drains our spiritual health and consumes us. I became terrified that I would make that mistake, and I vowed to fight against the temptation. After a decade of church ministry, I’ve failed miserably.

The problem does not persist from lack of caring. I still heed my pastor’s warning and am constantly fighting the temptation to make an idol out of ministry.

However, idolatry always finds a way to slither back into my heart. And idolatry is not pretty or godly. I become discontent. I become restless. I become easily irritated with the shortcomings of others, yet blind to my own. I am blind to God’s presence. I am nihilistic. I am pessimistic about the work of the church.

Idolatry takes hold whenever I start to treat ministry like it gives my life meaning. This is extremely dangerous. Ministry cannot create purpose; nothing I accomplish could ever do so. Ministry is certainly meaningful, but only as much as it connects us to Something deeper.

On those days (or in those seasons of life) when I have made an idol out of ministry, I am forgetting where my true identity and confidence lie.

Whether you are a minister or not, your identity is in Christ. It is sobering to realize that idolatry doesn’t happen without our permission. We sadly often fail to depend on Jesus to do what he has promised to do.

Psalm 23 is invaluable to me because it has continually reminded me of where to place my confidence. Whenever ministry dominates my heart, Psalm 23 redirects me to the Caretaker of my soul.

Simply put, I struggle with idolizing ministry because I forget about Jesus. I lose sense of my identity in Christ because I neglect the Good Shepherd.

King David wrote Psalm 23 using two images: the Lord as a Shepherd and the Lord as a host. That makes us the sheep in his pasture and the guests at his table. These metaphors are no accident; it is God’s intention to care to for his people. Psalm 23 reminds us that God intends to: meet our needs, give us rest, restore life to our souls, lead us in righteous God-glorifying living, embolden and comfort us by his presence, heap blessings on us, and prepare a place for us in his house.

Psalm 23 reminds us that Jesus intends to care for our souls. He is set on it for the sake of his name and the sake of our good. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin and death. In Christ, we can find contentment no matter our circumstances, successes, or failures. In Christ, we have a Shepherd who gives our lives eternal meaning and significance. If Jesus intends to care for our souls, why do we look to our ministries to do it instead?

Our ministries cannot sit on the throne of our hearts if Jesus is already sitting there. We won’t be begging our ministries to “fill our cup” if our cups are already overflowing by the grace of our God. This is why Psalm 23 is so important for ministers: if what you need most is to be reminded that Jesus is your Shepherd, then it is what your volunteers and students need the most, too. Despite all our talk about models, philosophies, and vision statements, only Jesus can meet the needs of a soul.

Every so often, Psalm 23 has been used by the Holy Spirit to pick me up out of a pit of idolatry and allowed me to once again worship my Savior, the Caretaker of my soul, rather than worship ministry. My ministry (and my overall spiritual health) is always strongest when I am most dependent on Jesus for my identity and purpose rather than what I accomplish through ministry. May it be so for all of us as well.

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