I’ve never had the urge to bow down to a metal cow, a carved human, or a wooden pole. The idea of chanting or dancing around a six-armed deity or pot-bellied statue doesn’t even come close to getting me excited. I’ve never wanted to make offerings to rats living in a shrine.
But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to idols. The idols that trip me up as a church leader aren’t tangible figures of supposed gods and goddesses. They’re ideas and beliefs that can, if left unchecked, crowd out my worship of the one true God.
Pastor Carey Nieuwhof hits on this idea in a recent article for Charisma News. He transparently lays out the eight idols that commonly impact him in his desire to serve the church:
“John Calvin was dead on when he said, ‘Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.’ Discard one, and you’ll simply create another…”
So, what idols cause him fits?
What this idol looks like in action: Overplanning. If your church board spends hours (or what seems like it) arguing over the placement of a comma in the organization’s bylaws, you may be a victim of strategy.
Planning how to get things done is great, and every church needs a strategy. But the problem is that such plans can’t pre-empt trusting God in faith. Have you heard the saying, “Map out your future in pencil, but give God the eraser”? Be sure to leave room for God to move in your plans.
What this idol looks like in action: Seeking perfection. If you are so wrapped up in perfecting your gift that you fail to use it for God’s glory, you have idolized your skill. Don’t fall into this trap.
God has gifted us all for service in the Church. That’s a good thing. Often, though, we’re tempted to substitute our skills for God’s supernatural work in the lives of people.
What this idol looks like in action: Believing bigger automatically means better. At the same time, some leaders idolize the small church – they may enjoy the feeling of being a big fish in a small pond.
Size is no indication of a church’s value. Either way, we have to remember that God gives the growth and prunes as He sees fit.
What this idol looks like in action: It comes in many forms: volunteers, attendance, baptisms, giving, website numbers, etc. What’s worse, these stats might dictate your mood.
Stats don’t tell you your worth. While data is helpful, overanalyzing it isn’t. Be sure that your church is watchful for things can can’t be itemized as well. For example, while you can count the number of baptisms in a year, it is much harder to measure how your church’s generosity to impoverished people in the community changed lives.
What this idol looks like in action: Believing your strategic partners (whether that be sister churches, your greater denomination, etc.) are your saviors.
Sad to say, but our tribe or denomination can also be source of pride. Alliances like this can be good, but tribes don’t save. Only God does that.
What this idol looks like in action: Fantasizing about having more… whether that be staff, space, money, instruments, or anything really.
What you have is a gift from God. First of all, appreciate it. Be a good steward of it. Next, understand that more will not make or break your church. Do everything you can for God’s glory with what you’ve been given, instead of focusing on what you think is missing.
What this idol looks like in action: Seeking only positive-trending charts, and worrying when they don’t. Basically, you are failing to put your trust in the Lord.
Church progress can’t always be measured in upward-trending bar graphs (like we might prefer). God may want to take us through ups and downs. And remember, it is in those downward-trending seasons that God may be wanting you to grow.
What this idol looks like in action: Using balance as an excuse not to work is an idol, too.
Most leaders get caught up in achieving excellence, but there is danger in letting our inner sloth get the best of us as well. Work-life balance is not a synonym of laziness. Do what you can with all your heart, soul, and strength. Rest is important, but be sure to give God your best.