There exists a dangerous and common ministry mistake. This mistake is often the cause of pastoral burnout, weariness, and lack of joy. The mistake you’ll read about in this article is not doctrinal compromise or sexual impurity, though those things are indeed dangerous. It is something deeper and more widespread. It is something that may be affecting you.

“So, what do you do?”

It’s a common question among people who getting to know one another. Everyone “does” something. We want to find out what other people do. We want to understand them. Likewise, we want other people to understand us — who we are, how we think, and how we spend our time. We seek commonality. Obviously, we want to know, “What do you do?”

Sometimes, however we let our answer to this question define our very life. For those of us who are in ministry, our entire life is consumed up in our status as a “pastor,” “worship leader,” “counselor,” or whatever we are.

Is there anything wrong with this?

It’s only natural to live our lives according to what we do. After all, that’s what we do. It’s our occupation. It’s our calling. We were trained to do it. Our entire life is focused upon successfully doing what we’re supposed to doing.

There’s nothing at all wrong with that. The problem goes a level deeper. That’s where many of us make the dangerous ministry mistake.

The Fundamental Flaw

The problem for us develops when we define our identity by what we do instead of who we are. 

That probably sounded theoretical or philosophical, so let me try to explain.

Our identity is the very essence of our being. It’s who we are at the deepest and most basic level.

As men and women in ministry, we can become caught up in the idea that our identity is pastor or church leaderThat’s who we believe we are at the deepest and most basic level. In other words, we have defined who we are, by what we do — ministry. This is a fundamental flaw, and one that will create life challenges for anyone who is in ministry.

Why do I call this a “fundamental flaw?” 

The reason why this is so dangerous is because we are living a delusion. Our identity is not what we do. That’s not who we are at the most basic and fundamental level.

What we believe about our identity affects how we behave. So, if we believe that our identity is, say, being a pastor, we will look to our calling as a pastor for satisfaction and fulfillment. When our identity is in delivering Bible messages and helping other people, we will subtly deny that we have need of help ourselves. When our identity is in leading others, we will live apart from a sense of needing our own leader.

Most importantly, we will never ultimately be satisfied. Because we are living a delusional identity, we try to satisfy an elusive need.

Let us remember this:  We derive our identity not from what we do, but from who we are.

So, who are we anyway? 

When we realize that our identity is not in what we do, it may create a crisis. For so long we’ve been living our life under the belief that what we do is who we are. Finally, we’ve come to the point where we realize our identity is different. Here is where we reach a true identity crisis.

Who are we? We are created by God, created to glorify Him, created in His image, chosen by Him, redeemed by Him, rescued by Him, sanctified by Him, and we will eventually be glorified by Him. Our true identity is not wrapped up in us after all. Our true identity as Christians is inextricably bound to someone else — Jesus Christ.

We may lose our pastorate. We may change careers. We may someday lose our ability to speak, sing, play an instrument, lead a business, balance a ledger, design software, answer the phone, clean the house, care for children, plan a worship service, or prepare a message. All of that may change.

But one thing will never change:  our identity as blood-bought, born-again, grace-purchased believers. This identity doesn’t depend on our doing. It depends entirely upon what someone else has already done. It is our essence, our core, our most fundamental and basic identity.

Rethinking Your Identity

When we readjust our thinking it creates a profound change. People who define their identity by what they do often become disillusioned with their life or their calling. Perhaps that is why we see such a high rate of attrition among pastors and church leaders. It is refreshing to see someone living life in light of their identity in Christ. It is a life of deeper satisfaction and fulfillment. It is a life of complete rest in Christ. It is a life of freedom and grace. It is the life we were meant to live as Christians.

So, when someone asks you, “What do you do?” go ahead and tell them what you do:  pastor, worship leader, CEO, graphic designer, student, musician, writer, homemaker, whatever.

But that’s just what you do. That’s not who you are.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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