We Build One Kingdom
I’m ashamed to even admit this, but I used to have a big desire to build a small empire.
I looked with longing at Christian ministry moguls of our day, hoping that I could build something similar to what I saw. Part of it was birthed by the desire to expand God’s glory. Sadly, not all of my motivation was quite so noble. The other half of me desired these achievements because I mistakenly believed it would produce a deeper sense of significance in my soul.
As a result, I perceived preaching, podcasting, publishing, and church planting all as potential pieces of this future empire I longed for.
The result was envy, covetousness, disappointment, and idolatry.
Don’t get me wrong. God has always been faithful to work in spite of the mixed motivations that live in my heart. By His grace, I’ve planted two faithful churches that have been a blessing to many. He led me to write a book I’m proud of. I was privileged to host a podcast that had success and opened the door to some new relationships from which I learned immensely. I even got to pastor a large church for a season.
God was faithful and my ministry has been fruitful.
The problem is, through it all I was guilty of what Jesus refers to as “hypocrisy” in the Sermon on the Mount. The English word we translate as “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek word “hypokrites” and originally referred to a theatrical actor.
When you and I think about someone being a hypocrite, we tend to understand it as a conflict between what someone says and what someone does.
I think of pastors who rail against sin and preach about holiness, but are then unfaithful to their spouses; leaders caught stealing money, or hiding some sort of immorality in their lives. We think of Christians that talk about the importance of love and grace, but then turn and treat people like trash.
That’s what we tend to think about when we hear the term “hypocrite.” While those are obvious expressions of hypocrisy, they are not the form that Jesus consistently warns against in Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus talks about something equally dangerous, perhaps even more so, because of its subtle nature. When Jesus refers to someone as a “hypocrite", He refers to a conflict between one’s outer action and inward motivation - doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
That’s what I’ve been guilty of.
Preaching, planting churches, podcasting and writing a book for pastors - these are all good works. The problem wasn’t the work. The problem was my underlying motive - building my little empire.
It wasn’t my sole motive by any means. I love people. I deeply love Jesus. One of my favorite things to do is teach the Bible and help people understand Him more. But this mixed motive of loving God while wanting to build my own mini-empire is what has made this so difficult to identify in my heart.
A Painful Lesson.
What it took was pain.
God used the pain of watching Him expose shortcomings in some of those I admired, looked up to and had patterned my ministry aspirations after.
God also used pain in my own life and ministry to expose this fallen motive.
He used the disillusionment of having people I thought I could count on to be co-laborers in what was supposed to be our vision for ministry turn out instead to be impediments. God used the discouragement of discovering that some I believed shared my values ended up squarely opposed to our ministry efforts at what felt like every turn. God graciously used the disappointment Tami and I felt when He gave us so many things we longed for, just to discover they weren’t all we desired them to be.
It was excruciating at times, but it was good.
I would never presume to say that I no longer have any mixed motives in anything I do. What I would say is that God has done a profound reshaping of my heart, largely destroyed my taste for empire-building, and given me a renewed passion to build one kingdom.
The Only Kingdom That Matters.
Three or four years ago, reading an article like this would have made me defensive and sent me seeking to justify the motivation driving my ambition. If you’re where I was, you may not be able to hear this and that’s okay. God is super effective at getting our attention and teaching us what we need to learn.
But my hope is, if any of this is in you, maybe God could use my pain to help you start to see similar motives in your own heart. Don’t wait for Him to help you see what’s in you by applying His loving hand to your heart in the form of personal pain.
The healthiest truth we could embrace in this is:
Our names don’t matter.
Our empires, regardless of size and influence, don’t matter.
Our platforms don’t matter.
What matters is God’s kingdom. We aren’t little emperors, we’re just normal people in service of an extraordinary King.
We may write books. We may plant churches. We may preach to thousands. We may even become well known inside of our little tribes.
We may raise great families. We may build innovative and influential companies. We may create things that change the world.
None of that is bad. Wanting it for the sake of our own empires is.
I’m fighting to be done with that and want to invite you to do the same.
I’m finding it a far better way to live.