by Dave Hintz
Being paid for ministry puts me in an interesting position. On one hand, it’s my job and something that I must do in order to provide for my family, but on the other hand, ministry is a privilege, and is something I am commanded to do whether I am paid or not. Sometimes when I show up at the office or a ministry function, I do so with mixed motives. In such situations I must ask myself, “Are you doing this because you love the people, or do you just want to keep a good job?” Maybe you can relate. Although you are not paid to do ministry, the ministries you’re involved in can still bring obligations. You must show up to your Sunday School class, teach children’s church, serve in the kitchen, or sit in on a committee meeting, whether you are joyfully communing with the Lord or feeling a little dry. While it is better to do the right thing with mixed motives than not do the right thing at all, God prefers that we do the right thing with the proper motivation. In other words, God does not want us to just go through the motions. Unfortunately, ministering for the wrong reasons is a pitfall that many laborers in the church fall into; namely, they serve out of love for themselves rather than love for God.
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul tells us what God thinks of someone who ministers without love for God (as manifested in love for others):
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
This person speaks forth the most spectacular manifestation of tongues the world has ever known—in fact his gift of tongues might even trump the apostles’. But without love, God’s ears hear nothing more than the clamor of an annoying gong.
“And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
This person knows every fact there is to know about the Bible, delivers eloquent and beautiful sermons, and has the faith of Elijah. But without love, he is merely a beautifully wrapped gift containing nothing inside.
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
This person may have helped more poor, downtrodden cast-offs than Mother Theresa, but without love he is not minister of mercy but a mercenary minister.
In all three of these examples, Paul gives an account of what God thinks of those who use their gifts for selfish ends—those who seek to draw acclaim, honor, and glory for themselves instead of God. Their selfish hearts sour God’s assessment of their ministry, as they are motivated by love for self instead of love for God.
Can you relate at all? Are you a mercenary minister? In other words, looking at your life, do you go through the motions of ministry without love? Here are some questions to help us diagnose this problem in our own service to God:
1. Do you only serve in a formal capacity, so that others will recognize you?
2. Do you only sporadically pray for the people you minister to?
3. Do you limit your service to your assigned ministry?
4. Do you get easily discouraged when people don’t recognize your efforts?
5. Do you only show up when needed; for instance, are you most faithful when you teach, but consider other times optional?
6. Do you turn away from ministries that would inconvenience you? For instance, if it requires waking up early or sacrificing watching a ball game, do you choose not to do it?
7. Do you minister to gain something, whether money, food, or friends? Do you complain if you did not build the desired relationships while serving in a ministry?
8. Do you desire to be in charge?
9. Are you more satisfied with a smooth program than with spiritual growth?
10. Do you grieve over the failures of others in the ministry because it makes you look bad, rather than because it grieves God?
11. Do you take short cuts in those parts of ministry not seen by others?
12. Do you only sacrifice when it will benefit you or when a lack of sacrifice might tarnish others’ perceptions of you?
13. Do you never want to take on more ministry, believing that what you do is enough?
14. Are you legalistic in your service: “If I give such and such amount of money I am giving enough;” “If I spent so many hours in ministry I am doing enough”? Do you think it unreasonable for others to ask for more, and look down on others who do less?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are a mercenary minister. Realize your sin, repent, and pray that God will give you the supernatural love for others which He Himself has for them. Continue to diligently examine your motives as you serve, seeking to correct them at every turn.