By Daryl Neipp
In his book Satisfied, Jeff Manion describes a fictional interaction to which we can all relate. It’s a warm evening. A dad calls to his son, who is playing in the backyard, “Would you like some ice cream?” The son bounds into the house, where he finds a large scoop of ice cream in his bowl, and life is good (especially if it is mint chocolate chip).
However, what if there are two boys? The dad calls them both in from playing. What if they find their ice cream but the scoop distribution is not exactly equitable? It wouldn’t be long until the dad heard, “That’s NOT fair!” from one of the boys.
We can conclude that the issue would have nothing to do with what one boy received; rather, it would have everything to do with what the other received. This is how comparisons work: we look at what someone else has, then become discontent with what we have. While this little story is something we can all smile about, the problem of comparison is not something we simply outgrow. Well into adulthood we carry this tendency to always search for the greener grass, which can be particularly harmful within ministry contexts.
How many workshops, conferences, videos, and books have you experienced about “leadership?” Ten secrets of that, nine habits of those people, or seven principles about leadership that are sure to transform your ministry? Those who present or write those books seem so competent, so successful, so energized.
I want to tell them, “Chill out, won’t you? Stop with adrenaline already!”
I have long been disenchanted with the evangelical world’s obsession with leadership. Leaders have developed an entire (extra-biblical) leadership science. These secular principles are often “baptized” with Scriptural examples to give them an air of authority.
The emphasis on leadership means spotlighting particular leaders. Both the fundamentalist and evangelical communities are noted to gravitate toward the “personality cult,” a modern day version of, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos.”
Some people are drawn to the mystery and otherworldliness of the great leader. They are looking for someone who is above the fray of normal human existence. It is easy to admire a well-known speaker and/or author who is verbally gifted, filled with unbounded energy, and motivational.
But you don’t know what his family is like, what he is like when he is out of the limelight or in a grouchy mood. Perhaps unlike your pastor who serves a small church and is ready to quit every Monday, the mystery celebrity pastor seems a model for what could be, a man who has mastered life.
Google the phrase “What is success” and you will get 1.13 billion results. I’d like to examine each of those with you today (not really). Much has been said about success. Everybody seems to want it, but it is surprising how few actually can define it.
One dictionary defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the attainment of popularity or profit, or a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.” But what should be the aim or purpose? And how do we define prosperity?
Some suggest success changes with age:
For some unidentifiable reason I enjoy tormenting students with an important albeit slippery theological and philosophical question. What is good? As you might imagine, the answers I get are quite diverse. One student recently responded by citing an online dictionary that offers forty-seven definitions of the word. Forty-seven! Most, if not all, of the forty-seven were not legitimate, as they typically erred by defining the word by the word itself. As you might expect, the question itself is simple, but an appropriate answer has been far more elusive for the unaided human mind.1
Perhaps you already see how this question is critically foundational. For example, as pastors if we are to engage in ministry that is good, with the hope of good results, don’t we need to understand what good is? If we fail to understand this one issue we are in grave danger of heading in an entirely wrong—dare I say bad—direction. It would seem that if there is one thing we can’t afford to miss it is a proper understanding of what is good.