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Ambition is a good thing. God made us with a desire to work at something, and for our lives to count.

The problem isn’t ambition. The problem is our hearts. We can take the desire to work at something significant and begin to disdain the work that God has given us to do, wanting to make a name for ourselves and to rob God of his glory. Godly ambition is about God’s glory; proud ambition is about human striving and earns God’s disapproval.

Pastors need to recognize which kind of ambition is driving them in ministry.

Ungodly Ambition

I’d pastored the church for seven years. The church was humble and a little quirky. The most creative novelist couldn’t imagine a more interesting cast of characters.

I poured my heart into that little church. We saw God move. I remember a young man come to Christ and absorb God’s Word like a sponge. We baptized him. He continued to grow, but he would struggle too. One of his struggles led to a difficult case of church discipline. He repented, returned to the church, and publicly thanked the church for loving him enough to do the difficult thing.

Best of all, we loved each other, imperfectly but truly. But I grew frustrated. The church wasn’t growing as much as I wanted, and some of the characters in the church began to wear at my soul. I began to imagine that my gifts were being wasted there, and that I would be better to find another church that would be better suited to my dreams.

I’d succumbed to the temptation of ungodly pastoral ambition.

Francis Schaeffer warned of this danger. We’re all tempted to say, “I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” But this is not the Christian way. “We should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord Himself extrudes us into a greater one,” he advised. To be sure, it’s sometimes better for pastors to move from one church to another. But it’s generally dangerous to do so because of the belief that one’s gifts are being wasted.

It’s not always wrong to leave, but we’d better be careful about the motives behind our desire to look for something “better.”

Godly Contentment

I know other pastors who’ve taken a humble assignment and decided to stay. One acquaintance said to his denominational overseer, “Give me your hardest church, the one that no other pastor wants. I’ll go there. It would be my pleasure to be their pastor.”

I know of one pastor who took on a humble church in 1994. He didn’t expect the church to grow. He decided he would stay there as long as they would have him, even if numbers didn’t increase. Preach, pray, love, and stay. A quarter of a century later, that church is thriving. But I get the sense that the pastor would still be glad to be there if the church hadn’t grown. It’s simply a privilege to serve and love the people God’s entrusted to you.

You’re not really ready to be a pastor until you can look at your people and count it a privilege to be their pastor, no matter how humble

Ambition is a good thing. God made us with a desire to work at something, and for our lives to count.

The problem isn’t ambition. The problem is our hearts. We can take the desire to work at something significant and begin to disdain the work that God has given us to do, wanting to make a name for ourselves and to rob God of his glory. Godly ambition is about God’s glory; proud ambition is about human striving and earns God’s disapproval.

Pastors need to recognize which kind of ambition is driving them in ministry.

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