This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.
It’s something we have to deal with every day, something that makes life exhausting and hard, something we recognize better around us than inside us—the world we live in is sadly and dramatically out of balance. The world as God created it was designed with perfect balance.
What is balance? It is everything in its right place doing what it was meant to do. We cannot even picture such a world, where everything is predictable, and there is nothing to worry about, where life is easier to live, decisions are easier to make, and relationships are easier to maintain and enjoy. That’s how it was meant to be by God’s design—creation in its proper place doing what it was meant to do, peace reigning from the earth’s deepest valleys all the way up to the highest heavens. No brokenness, no dysfunction, and no impending problem around the corner—everything, everywhere and in every place, in balance.
Best-selling author Paul David Tripp offers 12 gospel-centered leadership principles for both aspiring leaders and weathered pastors as they navigate the challenging waters of pastoral ministry. This resource shows the vital role that the leadership community plays in molding leaders.
The Bible has a name for the balance: shalom. Shalom is everything in its right place, doing what it was meant to do, in the way God intended it to be done. Shalom was the way it was meant to be, but like a fine crystal goblet now in shards on the floor, shalom has been shattered. The world is out of balance, so much so that Paul says in Romans 8 that the whole world groans. It groans in need of help. It groans in need of repair. It groans in the pain of imbalance. It groans for a redeemer. But it is important to notice that Paul tells us that it’s not just the created world that groans; we too groan. Why? Well, we groan because the imbalance that has inflicted our world is not just outside us; that would be difficult enough. No, it is also inside us. We are out of balance.
Our hearts struggle to keep things in their right place, so we don’t always think, desire, live, relate, plan, and decide with a proper sense of balance. Certain visions, desires, and created things take on greater weight in our hearts than they were meant to take and throw our lives out of balance. What is important to God isn’t always important to us. What God knows is needful for us isn’t always needful to us. What God says we should treasure, at street level we don’t always treasure. Things gobble up more space in our hearts than they should, and things that should have prominence in our hearts often don’t. The brokenness, drama, pain, and sadness in our lives are the result not just of the imbalance around us but also of the imbalance that still exists inside us. Thankfully, by the power of divine, transforming grace we are being progressively brought into greater balance, and we live with the surety that someday balance will be fully restored, inside and around us, and things will be where they were meant to be, doing what they were intended to do. Every leadership community should be periodically discussing these things.
The Bible has another way of talking to us about imbalance. It is a term that, on the surface, seems like a religious descriptor but is actually vocabulary that God has given us for understanding the most fundamental functional struggles of every human being: idolatry. Idolatry is not just when a religious god replaces the one true God, and it is not just when your heart is ruled by an evil thing. In its most fundamental everyday form, idolatry is when good things are out of balance in our hearts. Idolatry is when things take on a greater weight in our hearts than God does. Consider the words of Romans 1:23, 25:
[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. . . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The world as God created it was designed with perfect balance.
Paul expands his definition of idolatry from the formal religious dimension to the dimension of the deepest worship, that is, the deepest motivational function of the heart. Idolatry is your heart out of balance. The words here are important. Idolatry is when the glory of God the Creator is exchanged for the glory of the created thing. It is interesting and important to note that the Hebrew word for glory, kavod, at its root means or connotes “weight.” Think of your heart, as a leader, as an ancient scale with weights on either side. On one side is the Creator weight, and on the other side is the creature weight. In God’s design, the Creator weight is meant to be hugely heavier than anything on the creature side. Sadly, sin throws the scale out of balance, causing created things to have more control over your thoughts, desires, choices, words, and actions than God does. This means that as long as sin lives inside you, you will struggle to keep things in your life and ministry in proper balance.
I am convinced, as I examine my own ministry leadership life and have assisted others to do the same with theirs, that our lives get out of balance, not first because of the demands of our job description or the multitude of ministry opportunities that are before us but because of a lack of balance in our hearts. In ministry good things become ruling things. Leaders are tempted to look to ministry to provide for them what it was never intended to provide. Leadership position, power, respect, acclaim, and success begin to take on more weight in our hearts than they should ever take. And because they do, they cause us to make bad choices and to participate in regrettable decisions. In the fear of not getting things we think we need, we work longer, try harder, control more, delegate less, and take more credit. Good godly habits get left behind in our ministry drivenness. Necessary relationships are not properly maintained. Private worship becomes perfunctory, if not abandoned altogether.
Here’s the scary reality. In ministry, the way you pursue your idols is by doing ministry. This reality should be in the thoughts and conversations of every ministry leadership community. Take prayer, for example. You would think that prayer is the most purely Godward act in our lives, but even prayer becomes something entirely different when our hearts are out of balance. If in a leadership gathering, you rehearse your prayer before you speak the words, that rehearsal is not driven by your worship of God but by something else entirely. God hears the rehearsal! Such a prayer is not an act of worship but a means of aggrandizing yourself in the minds of those who will hear you pray. You want to appear humble, contrite, worshipful, grateful, and theologically informed, not to God but to the other people who are in the room.
If prayer can serve the purpose of something other than honoring God, seeking his help, and committing to his service, then so can everything else in the life of a ministry leader. Every good thing that takes on more weight than God intended becomes a bad thing, something disruptive and dangerous. It’s not wrong to want to be respected by your fellow leaders. In fact, you could argue that you can’t do your work as a leadership community without healthy mutual respect. But that respect must not take on more weight in your heart than the honor of God does.
Could it be that the lives of many ministry leaders are out of balance not because they are asked to do too much or deal with too many ministry opportunities but because they have hearts that are out of balance? As long as sin still lives inside us, balance will be an issue for every ministry leader and should be a consideration for every leadership community. You see, if you begin to want things out of ministry and leadership that you shouldn’t want, other areas of calling will not receive the attention from you that they need. The more private parts of your life (marriage, family, body of Christ, community, private worship and devotional study, physical health, financial health) will begin to suffer neglect. The negative results of the neglect of those private things on your emotional, spiritual, and physical health will begin to negatively affect your function as a leader. For example, regular tension in your home can cause you to be tense as you enter your leadership day, making you easily irritated and impatient with your fellow leaders. Debt can create worry and anxiety that get dragged in with you as you consider important and weighty things with your fellow leaders.
A spiritually healthy leadership community should be always considering and regularly discussing the question of balance in the lives of its leaders. It should always be lovingly looking to see if there is evidence of imbalance in any of its leaders. It should care about the health of each leader’s marriage, each leader’s relationship to his or her children, the devotional life of each leader, the physical well-being of fellow leaders, etc. You should care about those things not only because you love each leader but also because they function as key indicators that something is out of balance in the heart and life of one with whom you lead. This side of eternity, it’s loving to assume a struggle of heart balance (Creator vs. created) in the members of your leadership community, and because you do, to look for signs of imbalance. A war of desire and motives still goes on in all our hearts and will only cease when our Savior has welcomed us into his final kingdom.
This article is adapted from Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church by Paul David Tripp.
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