We all want to be the best ministers that we can be. We all want to do big things and have a big impact. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, we should all want to excel in the ministry that God has called us to. However, what we sometimes think of as healthy ambition is actually a destructive desire for our own glory. Let’s look at a couple of ways that ambition can hurt our ministry and our careers.
The Need for Fame
It only took a few weeks in student ministry to realize that there are certain big names in student ministry. These people write books, have websites, or lead ministries. Other big name folks are those who serve at big name churches. It was really easy to fall into the trap thinking that the goal for me as a minister was to become one of these people. Once I had a website and a few books under my belt, I will have really “made it.”
The problem with this need for fame is that it makes ministry a means to an end–and an extremely selfish end at that. If any part of your ministry is meant to do anything other than to help people grow closer to God, you might need to rethink your motivations. There is nothing wrong with becoming a big name in student ministry or any other field, but there is a danger if making yourself known is more of a focus than making God known.
Playing Your Position
Ambition can also be a problem when it comes to career plans. One of the realities of student ministry is that there are those in student ministry who are working toward a senior pastor role. They need to start out somewhere, and student ministry is a great place to get some church staff experience. To be honest, I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. It becomes a problem, however, when a student minister fails to understand the importance of ministering where they are, rather than look forward to the next church or position. Student ministry is not the B-league of ministry. In fact, student ministry can be extremely difficult and is an intricate part of any church. It is obvious when a minister is simply “putting in their time” with students. It is important to be present in the ministry that God has led you to.
Another element of this is that many student ministers begin to think that they could do a better job running the church than the people currently running the church. I have seen young ministers go to churches and instantly think that they can preach better than the pastor, administrate better than the administrator, and lead worship better than the worship leader. It must be hard to be so gifted. If you feel this way, it will also be really hard for you to be a part of the team. It will also be hard for you to contribute to the health of the church.
Bigger May Not Be Better
One more way that ambition can get the best of us is in our programming and events. Yes, it would be cool if you had 500 students at your midweek program. It would be great if your students performed 52 service projects in one year. Here’s the problem: many of these things are just unrealistic. It is not bad to dream, but if you continue to set unreasonable goals, you will become very disillusioned when your plans fail. When I started here at Bluegrass I wanted to make my first full year a year of service with our students completing something like 30 service projects that year. I also threw in a special two week program and set a huge goal for our Disciple Now weekend. The problem was that I had no real foundation for these programs, and I really did not fully understand what our group was or what our group needed.
We have a tendency to think that if we had more students, things would be great. Sometimes we think that a new program or a better curriculum with be the answer to all of the problems in our ministries. The truth is that in our ambition we sometimes think of ministry as a sprint rather than a marathon. Having a five month plan is a lot more motivational than a five year plan, but the reality is ministry is usually about relationships and relationships take time. It took me nearly a year to get our group back on solid ground with students and parents having positive attitudes about our program. It took that same year for me to get to know some of our students. I would have loved to have come in and righted the ship in two weeks and three weeks later be able to have deep spiritual conversations with our fringe students. We need to be realistic about how ministry is done.
Being ambitious is not a bad thing. We need to have a vision for our program. We need to have a desire to become a better minister with a bigger impact. There are plenty examples of student ministers who lack ambition and simply oversee a status quo program. However, going to the other extreme can be just as problematic. In the end, we need to rely on God to direct the paths of our careers and give direction of our ministries. When we do that, our impact will be greater than we could have ever imagined.