Selfless or Selfish?

Something occured to me the other day that I have never thought of before.

We think of those that go into ministry or some other type of service to humanity as selfless individuals. They are seen this way because of the great sacrifices they seem to make while serving others. These people are regarded highly because they seemingly forsake their own needs to meet the needs of others. One of the things we applaud these people for is their willingness to forgo the financial stability that might come from a “secular” job. We admire, respect and, in many cases, support them because they are willing to serve selflessly.

But is that actually the case?

Is it possible that what passes for selflessness and sacrifice is actually selfishness and indulgence? Think about it with me for a second.

As a former pastor, I have recently given thought to the idea that it was very selfish of me to pursue my passion of ministry even though it meant many personal sacrifices for my family. I indulged my dream and “call” while my family often struggled financially. I selfishly spent many precious hours building my ministry while my family observed from a distance, waiting for me to get home. We uprooted and moved away from stability to instability while I chased my dream. And each and every Sunday, while I was serving others, my family came to church without me, sat without me and most days went home without me… all for the sake of the ministry.

And at every place I served I was applauded and thanked for the sacrifices I made.

Sacrifice? SACRIFICE? It wasn’t a sacrifice. It was me feeding my ego… subconsciously mistaking my “need to be needed” as a call from God.

Of course, I know that no one else can relate to this. As a matter of fact, I am probably just talking to myself here. Yeah, I am certain of it. I am completely alone on this one.

Yeah… it’s probably just me.

35 thoughts on “Selfless or Selfish?”

  1. Sheildsy says:<>Can any of us say our motives are comletely pure?<> So I would be safe in saying that at the very least, you agree that pastors are not unlike the rest of us… with impure motives?Also.. you state: <>This post just follows the general supposition of the site, i.e. the motivation of the majority of church leaders is selfish & egotitstical.<>I believe there is “ego” involved in everything you or I do. You commenting on this site is an evidence of your ego. Me creating this site is an evidence of my ego. Pastors starting churches, preaching, building buildings… none of this would be possible if it were not for the sake of ego. And I think there is a point where we all must check our egos, to make sure that they are not moving in an unhealthy place.I believe pastors are subject to an unhealthy ego… in that they begin to believe their own press clippings. All I can do is speak from my experiences… but most of the pastors I have been around struggle with this… whether they are aware of it or not. Most were not.They stand in front of a group of people week-in and week-out, they prepare a message – one from the very mouth of God (or so it is perceived) – and share it with others with passion. Afterwards, they invite people to respond to what they have said. They see people cry, come to them for counsel, applaud them and shake their hands for the great message, thank them for “changing their lives”… it’s all rather ego-inflating and leads to a dangerous sense of self-worth.Sheildsy, I guess in the end, all I am asking is that pastors and church leaders check their egos. I am encouraging them to not strive for success in ministry to the point where it causes them to miss out on the really important stuff – like time with their spouses and children. I believe I made plenty of mistakes in the area (and have seen plenty of other pastors do the same), and I am just wanting others to not make the same mistakes as I did.

  2. Well, I’ll leave the bible interpretation to you. I was being tongue-in-cheek.Seems to me that there are a good number of ignorant and humble people God uses throughout the bible – and yet we rarely see these kinds of people in leadership roles in the church.

  3. “It should be mandatory that churches build in some amount of protection and accountability to protect pastors and their families.”How about having more than one senior pastor? Break up the year of have 4 pastors each take one week of the month. They do one day and then are off for the rest of the month to focus on their families.The church I just left has 17 on staff and have hired an outside service to find a new senior pastor. That to me is ridiculous. It seems like most departments in the church have a pastor associated with them… Pastor of the Men’s Minsitry, Pastor of the Youth ministry, Pastor of the High School Ministry etc. You have 17, one of those can’t fill in now that the senior pastor has retired. LOL

  4. regarding quiet old ladiesI am not old, but sometimes I am quiet. I have noticed church leadership, in any capacity, is more likely to be bestowed (or maybe they are more approachable and get asked) on the extremely outgoing. I love God and want to serve; I left my church of many years about 1 year ago because the pastor was railroaded out by a small group. I couldn’t take it any more. That pastor did try to take care of his family, preached well, visited some, but it was expected he do whatever a particular group wanted him to do. So when a new church started and he was the pastor, that is where I began going. Still, only the outgoing people are involved in leadership/ministry/anything. I have gone to church to worship and no one has spoken to me. That is even though almost every Sunday I am outgoing and greeting people at the door. I have volunteered to do things but am not asked. I agree with the pastoral team instead of the hierarchy/CEO model. I am about sick of that. Most of the time I am about meeting other peoples’ needs. But the rare occasions that I need something, there is no one there. I work as a nurse, which I consider a hands-on ministry ,but it is not counted as real ministry. I think the Lord may have other ideas. Lonely at the Quiet Side

  5. “To obey is greater than to sacrifice”, God isnt interested in your sacrifice, just your obedience to him. That is where you went wrong.

  6. I guess I commented in the wrong place for that.but if any of you sing more than 3 praise songs monthly or even bi-weekly, then you need to rethink your life.On a strange note, there is an episcopal church in Tallahassee, FL that has a Cafe now. An actual Cafe. Apparantly salvation and a tall mocha latte are a package deal. Sounds yummy!

  7. I tried that, Societyvs, and was accused point-blank of “hating rich people.”*blink* *blink*And people wonder why I don’t go to church anymore?!(Oh, and that was just one of many reasons.)

  8. This post is cool because in one of my history classes, the professor was talking about how during the Middle Ages in Europe, a lot of incredibly wealthy and successful people would give away all their money and possessions and become monks. This looked selfless, but in reality, being a monk during that period was one of the most powerful, influential, and well-respected positions. Plus they had ways around their rules against owning anything, so many of them became wealthier because of it. What looked selfless was just a ridiculous power grab.

  9. Dear Steve,Please don’t ever feel like God did not have a call on your life because the ministry wore you down. Your innate desire to serve is God given, deeply seeded, and hard wired within your being. You will never feel fulfilled unless you are doing it in some capacity. Your ego may have been driving your need for recognition in your servitude from time to time, but that does not mean you served solely for that reason. To even entertain the thought that somehow you would not have had a fleshly need to be recognized in your ministry by the people you ministered to is ridiculous. You are a HUMAN BEING who is also hard wired from the beginning of time to have a sinful nature that seeks that recognition. This world needs people in the ministry to be REAL by sharing their struggles as well as their victories. By admitting your struggle, you have just gained my trust and ear to listen. Remember when God tried to reach us from His deity in Heaven? We as humans couldn’t play by the rules and failed to connect, so it only further necessitated Jesus. He had to be tempted, struggle with the temptation, and conquer His fleshly nature to verify that it could be done. That doesn’t mean that the moment we accept Christ we can snap our holy little fingers and fall into line. Our transformation is a life long process, so quit being so hard on yourself please. As far as your family’s needs are concerned, Paul cautioned people considering the ministry (i.e. “as a full time job”) because I think more than anything he knew the demands. Husbands and fathers have the tendency to be concerned with the needs of their family, again not only are you appointed to the head of the household by God, but also because you are wired to be the provider. If you care at all for your family, the tendency for you to get some of your self worth by how well or how poorly you do this job is inevitable as well. I am sure no one in your family went hungry or naked while you served God. As the head of your family, you have been given the authority to make decisions that impact all of your lives and that is huge (thinking about how huge makes me happy to be a chick). If a soccer game was missed because a parishioner was ill, or a dinner plate got cold because you wanted to finish your sermon while you felt the Spirit was moving on you… it was most definitely not killing anyone. Heck, my dad was a civil engineer and he missed a few things along the way (and bless his heart he was home for most of them). As the head of your family you also have every right to ask your family to sacrifice some things that are not vital to their existence. Under my father’s authority, I watched him make personal sacrifices and I even had to make a few sacrifices of my own for the sake of others (gasp); and because of that I was taught that there are more important things in life than serving myself and my own needs. You are teaching your family more positively than you think. Again, please do not be too hard on yourself.Here’s my real point (finally)… Matthew 6 was spoken by Jesus to help us keep our hearts and motivations in check with what our intentions should be. If you question your motivation in ministry, you have never been more alive and prepared to continue serving God. When you stop questioning where your motivation is coming from you are setting yourself up for the biggest hurt and disappointment of your life. Your pride will have handed over your heart to people, who by nature, will drain you (possibly even to your grave) because they were given the power to do so. No one has earned that place in your life other than God because He is the only one that has proved that with that power He will not abuse it.Much love to Steve.

  10. Was Jesus selfish? He didn’t seem to care about the feelings of his mother or brothers. He was rude and aggressive when some of his closest friends tried to intervene in his plan for ‘martydom’. He did nothing to stop the addulation he received from the masses.Can any of us say our motives are comletely pure? Weighing ones motivation is a difficult enough task even for the person involved. This post just follows the general supposition of the site, i.e. the motivation of the majority of church leaders is selfish & egotitstical. I disagree. But guess we’ll never really know this side of heaven.

  11. Steve- This is a great post. It is a very challenging thing to “check the ego” and to think of family as my first place to serve and sacrifice.I don’t know how many times I have heard people in ministry talk about “their dreams” for ministry and only include gaining more position and more “followers”. Rarely do I hear pastors say that their dream is to “see followers of Christ live like Christ by serving the poor and hurting”. Rarely do I hear dreams that lead to less recognition and less power. I think I am even guilty of this at times which is one of the reasons I have remained where I am and not returned to mega-church ministry. In smaller churches, I can spend more time with my family and I don’t have as much pressure to also bring in more numbers. I also have my wife and some friends who don’t stroke my ministry ego so I am able to just keep doing what I do without seeking more power. I also believe in the teaching pastor/ teaching team model and having a “lead pastor” who directs the church without the “stage presence”. I think this leads to better checks and balances. This post is a good reminder to continue doing the things that keep the family first and to always ask “Am I doing this for me or for God”.BTW- I am not the same RYAN who commented earlier. I feel violated seeing the same screen name.

  12. Hey Zecryphon, I like where you’re going when you said “How about having more than one senior pastor?” I’m thinking, why have any senior pastor at all? Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, so the saying goes. Isn’t the church supposed to be a group of people? Why can’t different people do different things in the church? Why must one person run everything?

  13. Man who is Jacobsen and where did he come from? I agree with him on the issue of a church without a leader idea or sharing the power amongst the whole congregation. I do this with a group I have (I am the so-called leader but no one has more power than the next person) and guess how we make decisions…you guessed it…by majority agreeance. How does each person feel, they don’t know how to feel…because they are important to the success of the group and not under my or anyone’s egotistical rule (it’s new to them). Tell you something though the idea makes all of us closer.

  14. wow, i cant imagine how you have become so selfish. you were called to ministry by a pwer so great you cant even understand it. i promise you, there are many many people out there whos life have been made better by your sacrifice

  15. I have to agree with you on this post. The church creates positions of power (authority) and they have the lime-light (they are respected beyond sliced bread). Everyone wants to be on stage, similar to karoake, but with more crying involved. I think the servanthood thing about Christ is to really be a servant. How many pastors really take the time to help the poor and develop programs for them? (not even a soup program, damn!). Single mothers get left out of real help when they need it the most. I say we should start asking our ‘so called’ leaders for a little more of servant-hood and no more of this ‘rah rah yay yay we’re blessed and they’re not’ crap they sell at every church.

  16. I’m not sure there is any Selfless people. I mean, Humans are all selfish, aren’t they? The Human way, I say. Although I’m sure all of us would like to think we’re Selfless(and if you are selfless, you’re not human(which is a good thing, to me at least)), but we’re not, and it’s a joke to think we are. We do stuff for our sake, not others.

  17. <>“I am encouraging them to not strive for success in ministry to the point where it causes them to miss out on the really important stuff – like time with their spouses and children”<>No-one’s likey to disagree with you on that. And I’m glad that you made your “Dallas Cowboys” comment that made it clear that this isn’t a church problem, it’s a people problem (and I’d go as far as saying a male-problem in particular). But it’s a difficult judgement to call becuase it’s quite clear from scripture that following Jesus’ call must take precedent over any other call or respobsibility you feel you might have. John Wesley treated his family appalingly by our standards … maybe God wasn’t really calling him to do that. And who would have wanted to be David Livingstone’s wife? Were Wesley & Livingstone missing out on the ‘important stuff’? Would God still have used them to bring about amazing things for the kingdom without their sacrifices (and those of their families)? And in my own experience, if our spiritual enemy can’t deter a Christian from doing God’s calling he’ll often start to get at you through attacking those you love the most. It’s a distraction that’s incredibly difficult to ignore but sometimes we must – though it’s a real test of just how sure you are that it’s God that’s called you and not just your own ambition.I was really helped out on the whole life-priorities thing a few years back by someone who taught me the ‘non-hierachy’ of priorities. I’ll try to explain it but it’s easier to show it visually than to explain …Most people when given a list of priorities will put them into some hierarchy (e.g. 1=Church, 2=family, 3=work, 4=Devotion, 5=study, 6=recreation etc). The ones higher up the list always “trump” the ones further down the list. Problem is that it always creates difficulties and clashes, especially for those things/people who feel they are always being ‘trumped’ (does that word have the same meaning on your side of the Atlantic?!).Instead priorities should be ‘linear’. I’ll explain by way of personal example … between 5.30 – 7.30 my children are my #1 priority (bath time, tea-time), between 3.30 – 5.30 my pastoral vistis are my #1 priority, on Sunday afternoons my recreation is my #1 priority. Everything is #1 priority in it’s own time and nothing has the right to ‘trump’ it … my family know that nothing will ‘trump’ them at certain times. Likewise, they know that they can’t ‘trump’ my time on my pastoral visits. The church council can’t ‘trump’ your round of golf! The only person who has right to ‘trump’ any of them is an unmistakable intervention by the almighty!! Can’t remember the last time he exercised that right though!! It’s revolutionised my whole way of prioritising and I think it has introduced some safe-guards to protect against some of the dangers you talk about.Here endeth the lecture … but it’s been so helpful to me I just have to share it!!

  18. Zecryphon, what I meant when I said I liked your idea of more than one senior pastor was the idea of having a teamlike style of leadership. I don’t believe the kind of hierarchy we see in the church is from scripture at all. I see more an emphasis on the church as a community, and a plurality of leadership without personal authority. Del Birkey’s “The Fall of Patriarchy” has a great section on this.I think our entire concept of church would have to change. We have really high expections on the senior pastor because we’ve created an entire institution that needs a CEO. I’ve been musing about this for some time.. how would a non-hierarchical church look? I totally believe that people can make decisions together. That leaders can facilitate this. We have the Word, and the holy spirit. Is that not enough? Handing a senior pastor so much power has so many negative effects. Not only is it too high of an expectation on the pastor (who’s personal life often suffers as the previous discussions show) but it can also lead to spiritual manipulation and abuse of the church members. It often causes church members to put their faith in their pastor, instead of in the Lord (even if they would never admit this).I’ll quit now since this really is a whole seperate discussion and opens a can of worms. Just wanted you to know what I was thinking.

  19. Joe,That is actually a very simplified and uninformed view of how the apostles functioned. I like your idea of a pastor having a life outside of church but I certainly hope you don’t think the role of the pastor is nothing more than a random choice of who is going to teach, nourish , and lead a local group for the day. If you are saying that it would be nice if Pastors were more simple and humble like an ignored person in the pew, then I agree and I think that can be the case but it probably wouldn’t happen through random choice… and of course that isn’t even close to how apostles were chosen.

  20. Really? I think quite the reverse, we have an over-schooled, over self-reliant, over-theologised clergy who tend to treat other people as their personal salvation project rather than as people on the same intellectual/social/spiritual level.I know plenty of old ladies who could do a far better job than most ministers I know, even without the masters degrees and the smart suits. They don’t get asked because they’re old and quiet rather than young, loud-mouthed and brash.

  21. Maybe.Don’t kid yourself – many ‘secular’ businessmen/politicians/whatever have f-d up families too. I guess what makes it worse is that as a pastor you’re supposedly f-ing them up In The Service of God so that’s ok.At least a businessman is being honest that he is f-ing them up for the sake of some serious cash.I’ve often wondered at our priorities in church. Isn’t one of the values we actually want in a pastor that they are regularly not available (attending the kid’s sports day or visiting aged parent or having a long hot bath)?Isn’t the person who wants to be a pastor the very person who is most unsuited to being one?I think we should operate a Pick the Straw Pastor system. You’re a quiet old lady ignored in the pew and whatdoyaknow? Today you’re the pastor!Good enough for the apostles…

  22. Let me add something as well…. this also doesn’t just pertain to pastors… so noone thinks I am not beating up on them. Years ago I remember that Jimmy Johnson, who coached the Dallas Cowboys to consecutive Super Bowl wins in ’92 and ’93. There was some sort of special on him during that time that I recall watching, and it recounted that his success and dedication to his job also caused a great deal of personal sacrifice. While coaching the Cowboys, and becuase of the time he spent concentrating on winning. he lost touch with his wife of over 20 years (resulting in divorce), he lost a time with his children (missing birthdays and school events) and things like that….I think striving for success (at all costs) in any endeavor is done with a great amount of selfishness hidden behind the appearance of sacrifice. It just seems we often allow our pastors to “get away with it” and then are surprised when they act human, succumb to burn-out, affairs or any other normal human failing that is an outgrowth of this type of behavior. It should be mandatory that churches build in some amount of protection and accountability to protect pastors and their families.

  23. yeah i couldn’t agree with this post more! As a youth pastor i struggle with this stuff all the time. I have to all the time examine myself and see what my motives are. It is very easy to have the comments explode your ego. But I have to remember that it is through the power of Christ that I am doing all this, not by my will or power. Once I take into account all that then it seems to humble me.

  24. Ryan: Do you play praise songs or allow praise songs to happen? Are praise songs part of your routine in some way? If so, shut up.

  25. I embrace my ignorant inner child. Walking forward in ignorance is how we demonstrate our trust in God, i.e. faith. True humbleness comes from making mistakes, being knocked on your arse, then getting back up to have a go at it again… knowing full well you could screw it up again. Timidity can be mistaken for humbleness. That is just fear from the hurt of rejection or feelings of inadequacy; it’s pride turned inside out. We need people in ministry who openly admit they screw up and who are willing to share how they are working to overcome their screw ups. As a visual learner, I don’t need someone to tell me how it’s done (I can read the scriptures for myself) just show me it works and how it’s relevant to me.You are right, joe, my 93 year old grandmother has forgotten more about theology and ministry than some suits will ever learn. When she was once asked if she “knew the Lord” my grandmother replied, “Know him? Shoot, we grew up together. What do you want to know about him?”. {smile}I guess we should all keep in mind we all have a lot to learn.

  26. Jacobsen,I don’t get it. How can you like where I’m going with the idea of having more than one senior pastor and then jump to having no senior pastor? Like I said the church I just left had 17 pastors, those were all different people in charge of doing different things. So just what is it you’re suggesting? A church with no leader? How does that work? When I think of that I think of a bunch of people with no power all thinking they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Sounds like a surefire way to split a church in no time.

  27. You as well as other posters here, sound like a person in crisis over what your faith is or was. Have you ever heard of The Walk to Emmaus? Go on an Emmaus walk and discover what faith is and see if you can recapture it. You might also consider the United Methodist Church. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of UMCOR but it’s the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It’s a fabulous branch of the UMC. UMCOR is often the first entity at disaster sites around the world even arriving before the Red Cross. UMCOR offers real help for people, food, supplies and other aid. Unsung heroes, they were firston the scene in Indonesia when the Tsunami struck. But you didn’t see that in the news. Funny how the media ignores all the good Christians do. They were also first in New Orleans after Rita struck and first in many other disaster areas around the world. All unsung heroes doing God’s work. You don’t have to be a preacher to serve God anyway. Ask yourself the question. . .would you have done anything like that even if you’d NOT been a preacher? We’re all called to serve by utilizing the particular talents God has given us. Why do you have to wait for someone else to do something? What’s stopping you from implementing the changes you’d like to see done?

  28. sounds like you gave the devil an inch, and he took more than a couple miles. It is a sad truth how we can get misled by our emotions and circumstances. One reason why some might highly esteem or regard those in the ministry to some of that extent is because it will involve sacrifice and suffering for Christ. I cannot relate to your situation, I have never been there. I do believe people can get caught up in their calling and make their ministry more important than anything else(ex. family) I have seen it happen to some people; they get so caught up in serving God and their works, that they lose focus and no longer work on their relationship with God. Also, we have all been called to ministry, Jesus commissioned us in fact, to spread the truth: the Gospel. And I know many people, myself included who have secular jobs and it is our ministry. Please don’t be discouraged, everyone has a different circumstance, and not all pastors are called to live the same kind of life. But until you get focused completely on God and seek His face and will in your life, work on that first, totally humbling and yielding yourself, you won’t get very far.

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