My father contracted Parkinson’s disease and struggled with it for the last eleven years of his life. The disease progressively attacked his short-term memory. So sometime in the fourth year of his struggle, he found himself unable to preach or teach because he couldn’t focus on any thought for more than a few minutes. He felt distraught beyond words. He loved to preach and teach so much that he happily flew thousands of miles to teach a class of only five or six students. But after four years of Parkinson’s disease, he exclaimed, “I am now useless. If I cannot preach or teach anymore, what good am I to the Kingdom of God? I cannot do ministry.”
Thus, he needed to refute what I call the secular “Lie of Productivity.” This lie states that our value results from what we can produce. One day, however, I asked him if a newborn child has value even though he cannot produce anything — I pointed out that a newborn child produces little else than poop. But the parents and grandparents will argue to their death about the value of that child, especially to the Kingdom of God. Like my father, I find that some retirement age ministers also struggle with the same secular lie of productivity.
Many ministers believe the secular lie that productivity produces meaningfulness. In their search to increase their productivity, these ministers focus on more teaching, more preaching, bigger and newer churches, winning more lost souls, and raising more money. Like my father found, everyone eventually reaches a point when they can no longer keep producing more and more. Sometimes a physical illness gets in the way and sometimes a simple administrative change gets in the way. Regardless, productivity is fleeting. Evangelical ministers in particular can easily spend their entire lives chasing the secular lie that their value is based on their productivity. A focus on productivity produces more productivity. When we mistakenly believe that it also produces meaningfulness, we base our identity on a secular lie. Indeed, productivity produces meaningfulness, but only to secular humans and only temporarily. As Christians, we base our identity and meaningfulness on something much more permanent than productivity.
When ministers base their identity on productivity, they grow co-dependent and sometimes even abusive. Co-dependence happens when our self-value (our identity) depends on being able to accomplish a task. Unlike secular people, a minister may pursue tasks that help someone else. But when that minister bases his/her self-worth on accomplishing those tasks, he/she grows co-dependent on positive feedback from his/her efforts. As we adopt this lie, we let others determine our self-worth, not God. Almost every minister understands that his/her self-worth is determined by God’s sacrifice, not manmade efforts. Yet we sometimes let a secular lie determine our worth. So the secular culture can sometimes insidiously distort how we value the self.
Consider this self-assessment for co-dependency: when rejected, do you feel emotionally hurt or do you feel grief? Those who feel hurt may suffer from co-dependency. That is, they sometimes feel hurt because their self-value is based on positive feedback from others. Jesus was rejected, but expressed grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37). So His self-value was based on The Father, not on positive feedback from others.
In search for more productivity, some people can even justify trashing a relationship if it will help them to teach more, preach more, build a church, get a ministry position, build more status, or raise more money. In contrast, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40 NIV). So for Christians in particular, relationships with God, self, and others form the basis for all meaningfulness—not productivity. And our value is determined by His sacrifice—not our productivity.
Try this exercise:
- Name the five wealthiest people in the world in 1950.
- Name the last five winners of the Miss Universe pageant.
- Name the Academy Award winner for best producer in 1950, 1960, 1970, etc.
Although everyone on the above lists succeeded with productivity, at some point their value by others probably faded. Regardless, their productivity had value in the secular world, even if only temporarily. However, their productivity never affected their value to God, and so it never produces true self-worth or meaningfulness.
When asked what makes their lives most meaningful, most people first refer to their interpersonal relationships (Fehr, 4), not their productivity. Relationships represent the only earthly possession that we can take with us to heaven. Sadly, some ministers may arrive at heaven with lots of church buildings to their credit but few souls who know them personally. When I get to heaven, my first priority after meeting Jesus is to reconnect with my father and grand-parents. How about you? What is your priority?
Reference—Fehr, Beverley. Friendship Processes. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.
For those wanting to sharpen their relationship skills, we recommend Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers, available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1475231350/. This book helps ministers learn:
- How to prevent and eliminate relationship obstacles
- How to cultivate research-proven relationship skills
- How to adapt each relationship skill to their ministry
- How to develop interdependence instead of co-dependence