September 24, 2012

Mistakes in Ministry: Performing

I've made many mistakes as a ministry wife, most of which make me cringe when I recall them. I recently laid myself bare regarding my mistakes in church planting: my "us vs. them" mentality, how I let my heart harden toward my husband, and my underestimation of the spiritual warfare we would encounter. But my biggest mistakes--the ones I'm going to share with you this week--are the overarching beliefs and heart attitudes that have affected my ministry throughout the years, the ones that have been difficult to shake.

As before, I share these to encourage you that you are not alone in your struggles, that His grace is sufficient for you, but also that you might avoid what has derailed my own heart and ministry. 
The most pervading mistake in all of my years in ministry is this: placing priority on my role as the Pastor's Wife over my being a disciple of Christ.

And this is what occurs when these roles are skewed: I perform. I play a role, performing for God, for others, and even for myself. I place more importance on the things that I do and how people respond to my performance than I place on abiding in Christ and letting Him produce fruit in my life. 

Take, for example, my first attempts at teaching women. My husband being a college minister, I enthusiastically agreed to teach a class of college girls. If you really want to know, it's because I thought   I could do a good job and that I had a whole lot of good things to say to those girls. I wanted them to look up to me and think I was fabulous and follow me around like little ducklings. So, obviously, I jumped at this opportunity to mold their young, impressionable minds around the idea of my own greatness. (I'm sorry to put this in writing, but it's the truth.) 

The problem showed itself early. I taught my first class, I sent the girls off, and I drove home with Kyle wondering what I had done wrong. Surprisingly, no one had come up to fawn over me with exclamations of how great my teaching was. I decided I would try harder, work longer, anything to play well my role of Pastor's Wife, but each week I left that class feeling dejected. 

The fact is that I was not a disciple. I didn't spend time with the Lord consistently, I just studied the Word to prepare for those talks. I also plotted how I might win over everyone with my charm and perfection. I was a performer, plain and simple.

I write about this mistake in my forthcoming book, The Church Planting Wife:

I don’t like the word “role” because it implies an aspect of activity, duty, and expectations. If being a church planting wife is a role—something we do—then it is about our performance. We may begin feeling like an actor who must respond to direction or dutifully speak scripted lines. Before long, we find ourselves playing the stereotype—what we think a church planting wife does—and our hearts, with our gifts and passions, get buried underneath the so-called role. Sometimes, because we are trying to fulfill some standard we have set for ourselves or we believe others have for us, we even lose the ability to hear the Lord or authentically fulfill this calling He’s given us.

When actors prepare for a role, they search for their character’s motivation. The motivations for the role of the Perfect Church Planting Wife are often internal "shoulds" that result in "good" activities.

A church planting wife should reach out to unbelievers, so I will invite the neighbors over for dinner.

A church planting wife should be accessible to women in the church, so I will accept every invitation. 

If we live this way—dedicated to the "should," performing for others and for God, trying to meet some false standard—it does a number on our hearts, causing a wild vacillation between pride and self-condemnation. We begin needing the role in order to feel like we’re doing the right things, that we’re doing enough, that we’re enough. We need validation and confirmation. We train ourselves to act, speak, and live in such a way to garner our audience’s approval. When we receive it, we relish the glory, the attention, and the respect. But when the audience grows quiet or critical, we despair about what we are doing wrong, complain that we’re unappreciated, and commit to earning their favor once again.

Thankfully, I've come a long way since those early days of ministry, all through God's breaking and grace-giving. The breaking started with my constant feelings of failure. My attempts at performance only shone light to the truth: that life and ministry require my death and Christ living in me.

My role as a pastor's wife is important to me and a major part of my life, but it does not define me. I am a disciple of Christ; that defines me. I may not always be a pastor's wife, I may not get pats on the back or the approval of others, I may not see fruit from my ministry, and, frankly, I may not be all that good at this role. But when my identity is as a disciple of Christ, it doesn't matter anyway.

Have you made this same mistake? How have you fought to keep your identity as a disciple of Christ rather than as the pastor's wife?