What Kingdom are you building? I’m not sure there is any more important question to ask, particularly for those of us in full-time ministry. I don’t think anyone enters ministry with a deliberate intention of gaining notoriety, being respected, or having a “following.” I believe most people enter the ministry with the best of intentions – to introduce people to the hope, joy and peace that come from following Jesus.
But somewhere along the way, we can lose focus and start building the wrong kingdom. We don’t intend to. It may come through a church leadership that needs “results” but doesn’t know how to quantify it outside of sheer numbers. It may be a personality thing…a desire to please people and avoid confrontation that leads to compromise. Or it might even be resting on previous successes – instead of relying on God’s wisdom, we pull from our own wells of previous positives.
Whatever the root cause, it can be an easy trap to fall into. Here are 5 tell-tale signs you might be building your own Kingdom instead of His.
1. You live and die by numbers
I remember having lunch often with a good friend and fellow Youth Minister in Indy. We always enjoyed fellowship over a burger and would talk about life, family, and ministry. While it was clear he loved his church and his students, he was always feeling the pressure to get more students to come to events. Obviously, we all want to impact more people. But this went beyond the desire we all have to win the lost. This was an outside pressure placed on him by his leadership. He was constantly being told that he had to get “more students” in the doors, even though the church as a whole wasn’t growing.
Tracking attendance, creating opportunities for students to bring their friends, and having fun and attractional events are all great. But if you are living and dying by your attendance stats, you might be in it for the wrong reason. Numbers can be a sign of healthy, growing ministries…but it can also be a sign of an attractional model that isn’t hitting on all the discipleship cylinders. Don’t allow your identity and success in ministry to revolve around how many seats you fill.
2. You aren’t developing the leaders around you
Those interested in building their own kingdoms aren’t typically interested in creating success for the people around them. In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman describes two types of leaders, multipliers and diminishers. Diminishers are more interested in being the smartest person in the room and impressing people with their knowledge and prowess. Multipliers seek to utilize not only their own abilities and wisdom, but to create an environment where everyone on their team contributes to the overall success. Team members will perform at a higher capacity and feel smarter and more valued under a multiplier.
Are you developing and pouring into the leaders on your team? Are you giving them space to flourish and connect with the students and parents with which you serve? Or are you seeking to be the focal point through whom every single decision must be managed? If so, perhaps you’re more concerned with your kingdom than His.
3. You steal sheep
There are a LOT of churches in Indianapolis where I served as a Youth Minister for 17 years. Just about 10 minutes down the road from my church was a healthy church that was at least 3-4 times larger than mine. Students from my church would often visit this church with friends, where they would meet Brian Leslie, their Youth Minister. I can’t tell you how many of my students told me over the years that they visited PCC, met Brian, and were told, “Hey, we’re glad you’re here, but we really believe in what Keith is doing at HCC, so make sure you stay plugged in there.” I would always receive a text from Brian the next week letting me know that one of my students had visited, which opened the door for me to follow up with that student and make sure their needs were being met. I repaid the favor whenever one of Brian’s students came by our youth group, and have carried this tradition on even in my new context.
If you assume every other ministry in your area is a train wreck, or if you think every other pastor nearby is a moron, you might not have God’s Kingdom in mind. Hear me on this – there are PLENTY of students out there who don’t know Jesus. Get in the schools, build a missional youth group focused on winning the lost, and create great opportunities for new students to plug into your group. But avoid poaching students from other ministries in your area. Keep bigger Kingdom in mind.
4. You run over other ministries for your own gain
We all believe that our ministry is important, otherwise we probably wouldn’t be devoting ourselves to it. But Scripture is clear that we are the Body of Christ, and every part is important. When we have our own kingdom in mind, we get territorial about the facilities, resources, and people in our own church. We get so worried about our own ministry within the walls of our own church that we completely silo ourselves from the other ministries. We don’t care if they have a need, or if they are struggling…as long as our little world is flourishing. We stop going the extra mile for our teammates to focus our energy on “our thing.”
But when we have Kingdom eyes, we recognize that every ministry in our church is vital, and that ours is simply a part of the larger Kingdom God is building. We realize that winning while another ministry is losing isn’t winning at all. Keep in mind that while God called you to this ministry, He also called your fellow leaders and volunteers to their ministry as well.
5. You do ministry in your own strength
If there was ever a “preaching to myself” point, this is it. So often, we end up doing ministry in our own strength instead of through the Holy Spirit. When we are building our own kingdom, we often take a formulaic approach to ministry instead of truly seeking God for our next steps. We take our past successes, line them up with our strengths, sprinkle some “cool stuff the youth group down the road is doing,” and top it off with some sweet graphics and assume that God will bless it. Oh, if I could take back all the times in the last 20 years I’ve missed the opportunity to see God do His thing because I was too busy doing my own thing.
Jesus says in John 15:4-6, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Fruitful, meaningful, lasting ministry is found by abiding in Christ and resting in Him. Only through Him are we capable of bearing fruit. Too often, we try to bear fruit on our own. We struggle, toil, think, plan, execute and assess…and through it all, we forget the source of our strength. May we instead abide in Him and work from this posture of humility.
These are just a few signs that you might be building the wrong Kingdom. What signs did I miss that you would add to the list? Which one stands out to you as the one that is most dominant in your own ministry?