I wish I could believe that every congregation throughout the world had nothing in mind but building the Kingdom of God. I wish that was the first thing on every pastor’s mind. But the truth is, building your own kingdom is tantalizing and sometimes feels more rewarding, at least for the moment anyway.
It’s sneaky and deceptive though. Not many of us got into ministry because we wanted to build our own kingdoms. We got into ministry because we wanted to help people and see them draw closer to the King; but if we’re honest, building the sand castles of our own kingdoms feels more rewarding sometimes.
Sand castles are easy. We can build them up quickly and see an immediate return on our investment, but they crumble with the slightest fault. It’s hard to stay committed to building a kingdom when you know you won’t see the results in your lifetime, but building God’s Kingdom will always be more rewarding. His is the Kingdom that will outlast any other, so beware of the trap of building your own kingdom.
Here are three warning signs that you are building your own kingdom.
1. THE COMPLIMENTS TASTE SWEETER
The “attaboys” you receive after preaching a good sermon, and the praise that’s heaped on after a successful event feel really good, right? When we’re concerned about our own kingdoms instead of His Kingdom, these generous compliments can puff us up with that ever-lingering monster of pride. And it’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re working for God’s Kingdom when we’re really building the parapets of our own sand castles. After all, the prophet Jeremiah’s words still stand true: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV).
Every week, you’re pouring dozens of hours each into crafting sermons, counseling people, and planning events. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that you’re building your kingdom, your legacy; that you’re working for your glory. When the compliments get sweeter, it’s more tempting to chase after them instead of chasing after God’s heart. When you’re building your own kingdom, the compliments and praise that come in are like bingeing on your kid’s Halloween candy: satisfying for a moment, but ultimately you’ll be left unsatisfied and full of regrets.
2. THE CRITICS CUT MORE DEEPLY
Just as the compliments carry an extra dose of sweetness for those working hard on their own kingdoms, the criticisms can cut like a Sawzall through butter. Every light critique becomes a personal attack. This leads us to either get caught up in people-pleasing or to growing callous to our critics. When we’re trying to please people, it makes it hard for us to call out the sin in their lives, for fear that we might offend them. If we’ve grown callous to our critics, we harden our hearts into just not caring about their salvation. Either way, we are handing the victory over to Satan.
When we’re entrenched in building our own kingdoms, it can be easy to mistake a critique for criticism, and a friend for a critic. I know I’ve been guilty of this before and have overreacted to what was supposed to be a helpful critique. A fellow Kingdom worker should be able to point out your mistakes or missteps, or even just offer a better way of doing something, without fear of setting you off like so much dynamite.
One of the best ways to temper both the sickening-sweetness of the compliments and the pain of the wounds inflicted from critics is to have people in your life who can speak honestly with you. Our lead pastor likes to refer to this as someone who loves you, but is not overly impressed by you. You need a few people in your life who love you enough to celebrate your victories with you but who will also call you out when they see that you’re starting to fly too close to the sun.
Too often, people get polarized into one camp or the other; we become enamored with someone and can’t imagine that they could do anything wrong. Or else we are so unimpressed with someone that we can’t imagine that they could do anything right. Find some people to share your joys and your struggles with. If you’re married, your spouse should be at the top of this list, but must not be the entirety of the list. You’re too much for them to handle. Find another pastor in our district or down the street from you, who you can speak honestly and openly with, without fear of losing your job. Engage a close friend who can speak into your life, and for whom you can return the favor.
3. THE CHURCH NEXT DOOR BECOMES THE ENEMY
The problem with building your own kingdom is that you’re generally the only person concerned with its wellbeing. The beauty of working for God’s Kingdom is that you’re not alone in the work. Sure, some natural charisma or charm can convince some people to work for your kingdom, but if you’re making God’s Kingdom your life’s work, you’re already on the winning team. Every kingdom has enemies and people who want nothing more than to see it fail. If you’re building your own kingdom, you can expect your enemies to total around 7.5 billion people. If you’re not building their kingdom, why should they care about you? At best, maybe you could be advantageous to achieving their own goals, but once your utility is gone, what good are you to them?
On the flip side, there are a host of people throughout the world and throughout history who have sought to build God’s Kingdom. Hopefully some of those people are in your congregation, but they’re also in the congregation that meets down the road. If you view the church next door as being opposed to your kingdom, they’ll naturally become the enemy. If you and the church next door are working for God’s Kingdom, you’re allies in the same war. We’re on the same team.
Instead of being upset at the pastor down the road for stealing your people, celebrate their Kingdom wins. What are they doing that is attracting people? How are they engaging people with the Gospel and spurring them into service? Is there a way that you can partner together to build God’s Kingdom instead of your own sand castles? One of the things that I love about the Evangelical Free Church of America is the high value we place on pursuing unity in the essentials of the faith, charity in the non-essentials, and in all things, Jesus. But are we just paying lip-service to this concept? Are we allowing non-essentials to divide our congregation from the church next door? What are you doing with local congregations to advance the Kingdom of God in your community?
Take some time to get to know the closest pastors to you. Hear their hearts for God and for the community that you’re in, and see how you can work together to build God’s Kingdom. Stop trying to do everything by yourself. Your congregation can’t solve all the world’s problems, but if we work together with the Body of Christ across the world and across the street, we know that the One who created this world can redeem it for His glory.
Go grab some coffee with the pastor whose outreach ministry you envy. Listen to the sermons for the other churches in your town. Pray for the church across the street.
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