Recently I had lunch with a former leader whose life had come undone in a major way. He literally crashed and burned and in the process lost his job, his marriage and for a long time his way in life. Today he is deeply reflective about how he got to where he was and it revolves around a subversive spirituality that fooled him, others and was the cause of his undoing.
Like many evangelicals he had a performance based relationship with Christ which caused him to throw himself into his ministry leadership role in a subconscious effort to win God's approval - and probably the approval of others. Like many, he had a lot to prove by being successful. In the process he started to neglect his inner life, margin and he discovered too late, his marriage. In the name of ministry and serving Christ he kept running faster and faster, until life simply unravelled. He went from running a world wide ministry to bagging groceries at a local supermarket.
I asked him what he had learned through the process. He told me that he understands now that his identity cannot be found in his ministry but in Christ alone. He now has a rhythm of life where once a month he spends a day alone with God in a spiritual retreat. He has become deeply introspective regarding his life and walk with God and has surrounded himself with other men who challenge him and provide mutual accountability. Over the past several years he has focused on making his relationship with God central and ensuring that he has the margin to do so.
My observation is that subversive spirituality - a form of spirituality that looks good but is in fact detrimental and even toxic infects many Christian leaders and is a threat to us all. At its core is the pattern of working hard in ministry to the detriment of our inner life. Doing things for God at the cost of being with God. Overloading our schedules at the cost of time for thinking, introspection, and time with the Father. Believing subconsciously that God's favor is dependent on how well we serve Him when what He first and really wants is us. Allowing our identity to be in our ministry or position rather than in our sonship as a family member of His family. All of these are dangerous, toxic and subversive substitutes for the most important: a healthy relationship with God, with family and with others. Our "importance" and public ministry fool us into thinking that all is well and our schedules mask the emptiness of our personal walk with God.
How do we prevent a subversive spirituality from fooling us? I have several suggestions.
- Regardless of our job we should not be fooled into thinking that we are indispensable. We are not! We are far less important than we think we are.
- Constantly remind ourselves that our identity is not in our ministry position but in our relationship with Christ.
- Ensure that there is margin in our lives for family, friends and God.
- Surround ourselves with some healthy people who will tell us the truth and provide accountability through relationship.
- Don't fool ourselves that our insane schedules are somehow proof of our importance or spirituality. Sometimes they are just proof of our foolishness and inner need to prove something to ourselves or others. Running fast can be a way of coping with what we know is an inner deficit.
- Develop a deeply introspective nature that probes our own motivations, sin, shadow side and schedules to ensure that we don't believe the lies of a subversive spirituality.
- Slow down. It is in the silence that we face our true selves, hear the voice of God and realign our thinking.