We hear stories all the time of an athlete playing with a "chip on their shoulder" that pushes them and motivates them to excellence. Tom Brady can still recite the names of every quarterback taken ahead of him in the 2000 NFL Draft, Clemson heard all season about how Alabama was potentially the best team in college football history, and perhaps my favorite of Michael Jordan making up beef with LaBradford Smith in the 1990s.
As fans we love watching when athletes play with the chip, especially if they're on our favorite team. It brought me great joy to watch Lamar Jackson light up the NFL after being told he would be a receiver instead of quarterback.
I don't think pastors are immune to a chip on their shoulder. But we have to be careful not to allow those chips to become idols in our lives. The difference between a chip and an idol is that a chip fuels motivation for something, but an idol becomes the thing we serve. So a pastor who got a failing grade in his seminary preaching class might use that as a reminder to give his best effort every time preaching. When it becomes an idol is when our motivation for doing well becomes less about God's glory and our effectiveness and more about proving a point.
Warning: Unusual transparency ahead
For me, I had to take a long look in the mirror and ask if the chips that I had on my shoulder had gotten out of hand. What I thought I was using for motivation as a chip so I wouldn't, as Alexander Hamilton said, throw away my shot, was more and more an idol that would consume me. Instead of wanting to be the best pastor I could be so I could be a vessel of God's glory, I would hear the voices of people I had served under in my head"
No matter what you say, no one will listen. You're just a kid.
No one is going to read your book. Who are you to have anything to say?
At first it pushed me and I had really productive months of writing and research and ministry. But then, like every idol (in this case the idol of being taken seriously) it became a snare. Instead of wanting to be the best minister, I wanted more than anything to be taken seriously. There wasn't joy anymore, it was an ax to grind.
So pastors, my call to all of us is three things:
1. Have a short memory - You shouldn't keep your failed exam from seminary and post it on your mirror like Rocky fighting Drago. Forget about it. Move on. Don't dwell on what someone said to you and buy into the lie of critic's math.
2. Stay humble - Ministry isn't about proving a point or proving someone wrong, nor is it about success or fame and glory. It's about faithful plodding. And we can't faithfully plod if we're not humble.
3. Please God, not Man - Your faithfulness as a pastor or ministry leader is what's most important, not the scoreboard. You can get all the accolades and back-pats in the world, but if you're not first/foremost/solely/only seeking to honor God, none of it matters. We're not in this to make people like us or take us seriously. We're in this to point people to Jesus.
Have any of you as pastors struggled with a chip on your shoulder that turned into an idol? How'd you smash that idol?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.