When Ministry Becomes Your Identity

By May 12, 2014Faith

This is a blog from our dear friend Ben Hardman. Ben now works for 3DM Launch, an initiative aimed toward working with church planters and missional community leaders. He moved to be apart of our Pawleys Island Oikos in January with his wife Sarah, and their 3 kids. We love working with him and love his heart for student ministry.

Your ministry is not your identity.
image My four-year-old daughter Claire has a box of masks and costumes in her bedroom. She has at least four Disney princess costumes, loads of tutus, a gymnast leotard, and a Sophia the first costume. Everyday she comes out of her room with different combinations of costume’s, there is never just one. She will suddenly appear from nowhere wearing part Jasmine the princess, part Doc McStuffins and part Sophia the First. She will proudly proclaim, “I’m a Princess doctor!” It’s cute, creative and fun to try and guess who she is today. I know, as my kids grow older they will develop a more sophisticated version of mask wearing. We see it everyday in our students and we know the consequences of young people trying on identities each day, hoping that one will finally fit. The simple reality is that young people try on masks, identities and roles, until they find one they believe others will like and then they wear it. The scary thing for our students is this; over time our masks become our identities. From a ministry perspective, we know how to talk about identity. We even know how to point our students to the correct biblical understanding of identity. The problem is that although we see the answers so clearly for our students we so often fail to communicate the same truths to ourselves.

The issue of identity is the most crucial issue young ministers must address if we are to bear fruit in our ministries. If we continue to think if I do this, if I create this, etc, then I will be a successful minister. We strive and strive to prove our identity as a pastor instead of living into the grace of God, and finding our complete identity in Him as His child.
As kids we spend all our time trying to deceive others about our identity, as adults we simply deceive ourselves. The best lies we tell are always the ones we tell ourselves! I was far to young when I was given large amounts of responsibilities in one of the largest churches in the nation leading their student ministry and student staff teams. I had some level of competency and skill but my character had not caught up with my competency, which is a recipe for disaster in young leaders. I can remember the pressure to perform each week. The pressure to preach amazing engaging messages, to lead with great wisdom and create incredible environments. The pressure to be loved by students and also to also be a wise sage who could lead parents. I was way out of my league and way over my head, I had no one leading me, guiding me or walking beside me. So I did what I see thousands of young ministers doing ….I made ministry my identity. For any of you leading young pastors or leaders this is why it is critical that we create cultures of development for our young leaders vs. a culture of performance. As Mike Breen has said here The temptations of Jesus have also become the temptations of the American church and everyday I battled them.

Approval – Desire to be accepted
Appetite – Desire for more
Ambition – Desire to win

While I forgot that all of those things had already been given to me:

Appetite – God has given me all I need
Approval – I am deeply loved by the father
Ambition – God has already given me his authority, power and ability to rule his creation

I loved the stage; I loved getting calls from other leaders asking me what was our secret to success. I loved the pats on the back I received, and the requests to speak or write. I found out very quickly that you can fake the stage, but you can’t fake the living room. As much as our ministry was thriving, my family was struggling, my heart wasn’t where it needed to be and deep down I was not only exhausted but I didn’t like who I was becoming. Bill Hybels, once said, “The rate I was doing the work of God was killing the work of God in me.” Never had that been more true than in my life. I tried to change roles at the church, I took a lesser role with less responsibility, but the issue wasn’t my role. The issue wasn’t the church I worked at. The issue was my own heart! Freud once said, “The things we fail to accept about ourselves are always given increased power.” Paul said it this way in Ephesians 5,

12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

For some reason though as leaders we feel like we can bring everything to Jesus except our shame, except our sin, except our brokenness. So we put on our best self and continue to never look at the deep things the Father really wants to address. Over the past 5 years, I have battled with my temptation for ambition, appetite and approval. I have slowly and painfully begun to strip off the masks that I wore for so long. I am finally beginning to believe that I am a son of a good father who does not expect me to perform for him each day. Ministry is becoming a joy and not a burden. I am finding identity in the father and I’m learning how to operate out of my true identity.

So what about you?
Where are you tempted to make ministry your identity?
– Adapted from David Benner’s book: The Gift of Being Yourself

ID In Ministry​​​​​​​​
– Significance is achieved by success, by what we accomplish and by what others think about us
– Happiness is found in winning, achieving and approval
– My identity becomes what I want others to see about me – My “facebook-profile” self – only the good sides of me can be seen
– Identity is only achieved, I have to fight for it, I have to battle pretense, practice and pain
– Identity is maintained by effort & control
– The foundation of my identity is my success, my achievements and other approval

ID in Christ
– Significance is found in being deeply loved and accepted by God
– Fulfillment is found is surrendering all I have to my fathers greater purposes
– My identity becomes a child of the king, who is both sinful and fully loved
– Identity is received as a gift, I don’t have to earn it, its given to me
– Identity is maintained by grace
– The foundation of my identity is Jesus

So where are you tempted to make your calling in ministry your identity?

What are the lies that you my have begun to believe about yourself?
There are only three places where we search for identity, from others, from ourselves or from God. If you had to measure where you are receiving your identity today which of those three has the loudest voice in your life?

Imagine Jesus spending a moment with you, drawing you close and reminding you of who you are, and who’s you are. In that moment, what would he say to you and where do you need reminded of your true identity?


About Ben Hardman


  • tmabie@verizon.net' Tom Mabie says:

    Awesome article! I wish I had heard/learned this 30+ years ago when I began in ministry and I wish I could understand it and apply it effectively in my life today!

  • drew@gatheringsanantonio.com' Drew says:

    Great Ben! so true. Thanks for sharing and inducing twenty or so kairos moments.

  • pastoradavidgriffin@gmail.com' A David says:

    I have been living and walking out these truths with the help of my wife and children for the past 17rs. I have been so blessed by 3DM and am looking forward to learning more so that we may live as a Family ‘on’ Mission here in the Orangeburg, SC area. I just listened to a mp3 of ‘a cultural earthquake’ and am so refreshed as these principles speak to the core of my ministry DNA. God’s peace and good journey!

  • Calitten7@aol.com' Chad Litten says:

    Thanks Ben. Great reminder and new insight for this young youth director and Pastors husband. Can’t wait to hear you speak at Epworth, 6-11 of July ’14.

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