The Rise and Fall of the “Be Better-Do More-Try Harder” Trinity
When I began my “ministry career” back in the mid 90s, I was driven by two primary convictions:
- My calling was to do all I could to win young people to Jesus, and
- Encourage them to go out and “change the world for Christ.”
These primary convictions shaped how I went about doing youth ministry. They followed me into and shaped the early years of my senior pastoral ministry, as well.
It took me years to recognize that these convictions were more tethered to my notion of what success in ministry meant than they were connected to a deep love for Christ and a growing desire to be transformed into His image.
Faulty Frames Lead to a Faulty, Fragmented, and Fractured Gospel
I had, in other words, framed, imagined, or thought of Gospel-based ministry as a performance-based calling. It was a calling (for myself and others) to be better, do more, and try harder. I, of course, told myself that all the effort expended serving this be better-do more-try harder trinity was for the glory of God alone.
In reality, the consequence of framing ministry in this way resulted in a desire to grow larger in both numerical and spiritual categories, but primarily numerically.
Suddenly, the number of people coming to church, the amount they were giving to the church, and the time they spent serving the church equaled “winning them to Christ and encouraging them to change the world for Him.”
Assessing ministry effectiveness according to those metrics provided validation for my ministry. For example, if and when my effectiveness was called into question, I could pull out the unspoken but ever-present be better-do more-try harder trinity and justify any behavior as necessary to achieve the goals I set and to see the results we were seeing.
Sinking in the Shifting Sands of a Consumerist Gospel
During the early years of ministry, from 1995 – 2006, this was the dominant frame from which I worked and served the church.
To this day, it’s the dominant way to measure ministry effectiveness within nearly every congregational setting in the Western hemisphere!
Whether spoken or unspoken, the be better-do more-try harder trinity is the false god to which many, if not most, Western pastors now bend our knees, and to which American congregations encourage us to worship!
Around 2007 my perspective began to change.
That’s the year Melissa was diagnosed with lymphoma. The next two years of our lives were enveloped in and absorbed by the battle for her health! God used her struggle to reshape us both.
Truthfully, He used it to reshape our children as well.
This reshaping led us to plant a church. Our experience in church planting has led to a rejection of and reformation of nearly everything I believed to be right about Pastoral Leadership.
Not As Much What, But How and Why
I can state this reformation (or re-framing) in the following way:
While what we do in ministry and as ministers (the Five Pillars) is vital, it’s not nearly important as how we go about doing it or why we do it in the first place (the Five Rhythms).
My experience serving as a pastor also reveals that what we are doing may not be what we should be doing, after all.
Let me explain that by giving some more details regarding the Pillars and Rhythms.
I will start at the fifth and work my way backward. I will also begin with the Rhythms and notice how beginning with Rhythms in ministry changes, in fundamental ways, the ways we approach the Pillars of ministry.
Let’s begin with Rhythm #5: Cultivating!
The calling or Rhythm of Cultivating is, of course, as old as creation.
In Genesis 2:15 we see that God placed Adam in the Garden to cultivate it.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
His was to tend, care, and nurture the soil in which God had placed him. Adam and Eve are the primary caretakers of God’s good creation.
They are, in essence, the first to care over the soil on which humanity was placed.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'”
In its best sense, to cultivate means to literally create or build Culture, and rightly so. The original calling to making culture is one our Jewish brothers and sisters have always taken seriously in this world!
Culture-making Begins with Soul-Care
Over time, however – particularly within the Evangelical church, the focus on building strong cultures has shifted to winning souls for Christ. This focus no doubt comes from a desire to spread the Good News of Christ far and wide.
I wonder, however, if the focus has been misplaced. The focus is, at the very least, a misunderstanding of our primary calling and a misapplication of the promise of the Gospel.
The Rhythm of Cultivating that I’ve discovered is neither of these that I just mentioned.
I am, instead, suggesting that the Rhythm of Cultivating is how we actually go about doing the ministry of Discipleship and Soul-care. As we practice this Rhythm of Cultivation, then culture making becomes the outcome of a well-loved soul, rather than the focus of a worn-out disciple!
I love how beautifully Ruth Barton pictures this reality when she says,
“There is something about the process of having our emptiness filled in solitude that eventually enables us to engage with those around us on the basis of fullness rather than need. If we relax and trust God’s initiative in the spiritual process, eventually something new begins to shimmer around the edges of our lives and relationships.”
In future posts, I will explore three primary passages to build my case. They are:
- Genesis 1:26 – 31
- Matthew 22:34 – 40
- Matthew 28:16 – 20
In the next few posts, we will take a look at the other four Rhythms and Pillars of Transforming Pastoral Ministry!
Then we will dive into the specifics of each area!
Disrupting to Renew!