Pillars of Corrugated Cardboard: Reflections on Ministry from Tony Reinke
Last week Tony Reinke, one of my favorite authors, posted on social media some reflections on Christian ministry (Instagram, Twitter). The theme of his observations is that for Christian ministry to be Christian, it must be about Christ not the minister and ministry.
Reinke didn’t necessarily write to have his comments shared far and wide, but with his permission I wanted to post his reflections here to help them reach a few more people.*
A few thoughts on ministry. As voices for the gospel, we must never allow our ministry output to become our identity, something that gets talked about more and more these days — thankfully —a hard awakening we all need to experience at least once.
But here’s why we need this path in the first place. It’s too easy to allow our “faith” to devolve into a mere expediency, a means to get or maintain ministry prominence. As personal faith wanes, platform and paychecks can prove powerful to prop up a façade for a hollowed heart. Eventually when the job evaporates or the platform declines or the money stops, all semblances of the “faith” will crash, too. Very often this same heart will reflexively turn against the very doctrines, denominations, publishers, etc. once used like duct tape to keep the façade up.
(1) Don’t be shocked when prominent Christian leaders, who seemed to be so strong and stable for so many years, fall away from major doctrinal convictions or even from the faith itself. Apostasy will increase, not decrease (2 Tim. 4:3–4). And the most inauthentic heart motives for why ministers “believe” can be very complexly masked by a host of worldly perks.
(2) Pray for your leaders. Pray for the authenticity of their doctrine and faith and marriages. Pray that prominent leaders who do fall away, and who maybe are just now confronting the hypocrisy of their own faith, would be restored to Christ through a real and robust faith, a faith that rests on nothing else than the beauty and worth of Christ himself.
(3) For all of us, we must never allow our personal trust in Christ to subtly become replaced by pillars of corrugated cardboard — public affirmation, a paycheck, book sales, or popularity within a movement, church, or organization. We must treasure Christ above all other things, because one day, whether in this life or when we stand before God, all those other things will disappear. And in that moment our faith in Christ will be called on to stand alone, naked, unsupported by popularity or paychecks.
I love this writing. Note the lyricism in “platform and paychecks can prove powerful to prop . . .” and the use of concrete, earthy images like hollowed heart, duct tape, and corrugated cardboard.
But most of all, I appreciate the conviction these thoughts bring. I am in fulltime vocational Christian ministry, which means to some extent my paycheck comes through my performance. That’s not wrong, but it is dangerous for a minister’s soul.
May we all desire most in our hearts what John the Baptist said of Jesus—that “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)—because on the day God unveils forever and we stand stripped of ministry trinkets and public accolades, both of us will: Christ will increase, and we will decrease.
* As I moved Reinke’s words from a tweet to a blog post, I made a few tiny formatting changes.