We conclude this discussion of how ministry may be adversely affecting your marriage by looking at the third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. So far we have demonstrated the ways self-relianceand approval seeking can cripple both your ministry and your marriage, we now move onto the temptation to take a short cut.
Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you bow down and worship me.” ~ Matthew 4:9
Jesus already knew that one day his father would give him the name that is above every name. He knew one day every knee would bow, and every tongue confess him as Lord. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and one day all of creation will acknowledge him as king of kings and lord of lords.
Satan knew this also – and in his final temptation he offered Jesus a short cut.
We take shortcuts because ultimately we trust ourselves to achieve God’s purposes according to our timing and methods.
- Abraham and Sarah took a shortcut by having a child through Hagar
- Jacob took a shortcut by stealing Esau’s birthright and deceiving his father into giving him the blessing of the first-born son
- Moses took a shortcut by killing the Egyptian in an attempt to gain freedom for the enslaved Jews
Shortcuts in ministry always bring immediate relief, but long-term stress. And that long-term, cumulative stress will erode the strongest marriage. In fact, once a leader begins justifying shortcuts in ministry it is a very small step to begin justifying them in marriage.
I took a shortcut while pastoring when I decided to hire a youth pastor prematurely. John was a good friend and he and his wife sacrificed much to help plant our church. I promised that as soon as the funds were available he would be our first hire. Only a year into the church plant, long before we were financially viable, we raised enough money to bring John on staff.
Was having a youth pastor a good thing? Yes. Did John do a good job ministering to students? Yes. Was our church ready to take on an additional salary and launch a full-blown youth ministry? Absolutely not! I totally forced the issue. By making it happen too soon there was immediate relief (I kept a promise and John was very helpful to me as I led the church) but there was an incredible amount of stress and pain a few years later when our church had to let John go because we just couldn’t afford his salary any longer.
Feeling stressed out and guilty about John, I began taking other shortcuts attempting to fix the problem. I convinced myself that if I took less salary, we could still keep John on staff. So, I began giving leadership to our denomination’s church planting efforts to reduce my financial burden on our church. Immediate relief – we could keep John on a few additional months. However, with my focus now divided between a baby church plant (that needed my full attention) and my new job with the denomination, my own stress level crossed the redline.
Once my stress got out of control, my health and our marriage started to suffer. I had painted myself into a corner by taking shortcuts, and I could see no way out. A year later, suffering from a panic disorder, I resigned. There was huge fallout, and the church never fully recovered. We all paid a heavy price because I trusted my leadership instincts more than I trusted God. By going into problem solving mode I was able to fix the short-term issues, but in the end I mortgaged our future. I got what I wanted – what I believed God had promised – right now, but by not waiting upon God’s timing and methods I missed the far greater blessing.
Taking shortcuts is like trying to borrow your way out of debt – the hole just keeps getting deeper.
The hidden reason I was willing to take those shortcuts? I felt desperate to succeed as a church planter. If the church plant failed, I believed I would be a failure. Since being a failure was not an option I was willing to do whatever it took to lead our church into success. My unresolved struggles with self-worth and identity blinded me to the long-term consequences these shortcuts eventually brought.
So, before you accept that next ministry assignment or continue sacrificing the wrong things for ministry “success” take stock of what is really driving you. Talk to a good friend who knows you well and loves you enough to speak the truth. Have a frank discussion about your track record with the temptations of appetite (meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate way), approval (seeking self-worth and identity in the affirmation of people), and ambition (taking short-cuts that sacrifice long term health for short term gains).